My first 4 days here in Santiago were quite a whir! My flight from the states left just 22 hours after my graduation from College ended. I spent graduation day running around saying goodbye to friends and family, finishing my packing, and verifying one last time that everything was in order for my flight and arrival. Among many other errands, these were some of the tasks that I hardly had time for in the previous days and weeks as I was overscheduled with final exams and senior projects, as well as with other preparation tasks for this trip. It was a frantic time, but I was banking on my internship experience being worth the rush.
After 23 hours of flying and layovers I finally touched down at Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International- Santiago’s main airport- at 6 o’clock in the morning. Seven hours later I was on my way to my internship site for the first day work orientation. Later that afternoon I was attending my first class of the program with more than a dozen of the other summer interns/students who I was meeting for the first time (I missed the 5 day program orientation so that I could attend my graduation ceremony).
Later that evening I returned home on public transit, hoping I was correctly following the instructions that my host mom had provided me earlier in the day. At this point I needed to prepare for the upcoming full day of work and class. At the same time, I had to quickly acclimate to the new environment and routine that I was abruptly starting. Besides preparing for work and class, I needed time to process my situation, like the fact that I had just completed undergrad. I needed down time to get better acquainted with my host family, IES staff, and fellow summer interns, but time was more limited since the orientation days had already ended. I was adjusting to the cold weather: I mean, I’m used to cold Philadelphia winters, and I knew it was autumn in Chile, yet it was still colder than I had anticipated.
It wasn’t only the relative cold that caused my discomfort though- it was the cold combined with the cloudy and smoggy weather that persisted my first 4 days in Chile. The bus and train that I took to work every morning- although even more convenient and timely than the decent public transit system back home in Philadelphia- were always overcrowded, which I guess is to be expected in a city of more than 7 million people. This aspect of my daily transit and the fact that I had not yet explored any of the city beyond my daily commute to and from work and class, furthered the sense of confinement that I was experiencing. Furthermore, the warnings from IES staff to be cautious of pickpocketers kept me hyper alert in my hour-long commute to and from work. And finally there was class. I had to ask myself, why am I back in a classroom two days after my undergrad graduation?!... Am I sure this whole excursion so soon after graduation was this the right decision? I reassured myself that once the weekend came I would get settle in. Sure enough, that first weekend I spent much needed down time which turned out to be integral to my adaptation to my new living situation.
The first weekend was extremely restorative and it reinvigorated my enthusiasm for being abroad. I rested, reflected on graduation, began refreshing my Spanish speaking capabilities (very important especially since Chileans speak especially fast), and worked to better grasp the money conversion rate ($636 Chilean Pesos to $1 USD). Additionally, I began exploring the city beyond the same route I was taking to and from work and class each day. I walked over 12 miles of the city that weekend; exploring the residential Nuñoa district of the city where I live with my host family, visiting Cerro de Santa Lucia- the site where the city was officially founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1541 (the native Mapuche had already populated much of the area), and hiking to the peak of one of the many cerros (hills) that surround the city of Chile. The beautiful view from these hills provided me a snapshot of the layout and the vastness of the city of Santiago as well as an impeccable view of the cerros and Andes Mountains that surround the city.
From here, things are only looking up. I am getting used to the colder-than-expected weather here which has been dipping as low as 30º Fahrenheit. I’ve began checking off some of the tasks on my Chile visit bucket list, like: visiting the beautiful Cajón de Maipo section of the Andes Mountains, located about 95 miles southeast of Santiago; visiting the historic Cerro Santa Lucia; and trying for the first time (but definitely not the last) the delicious pastel de choclo (corn pie) dish- a glorious mix of chicken, onions, olives, beef, and egg baked in a sweet corn dough crust. But this is only the beginning, I’m excited to continue exploring, engaging, and learning about Chile, its people, and its food, and sharing these experiences with you.