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What I wish I would have known: Part one

July 8, 2017

Greetings from my last week in Santiago! I can’t believe that we are getting towards the end of my experience here. It feels like just yesterday I was living in three worlds: a world in Bloomington, IN where I go to school, outside Chicago where my family is, and then a suitcase filled with all the things I wanted to bring to Santiago. I was honestly a mess because I didn’t know what to expect once I arrived and I was extremely anxious about the whole trip. Now, with more than 50 days in Santiago completed, I think I’m ready to pass on some of the things that I’ve learned and things I wish I would have known when I was trying to keep it together eight weeks ago.

Disclaimer: When going abroad, everyone has their own experiences and the things they wish they would have done, brought, bought, etc. So, these are the things I wish I knew for my trip.  

One of the recommendations I would have before studying abroad in a country with a different language would be to review some basic grammar and vocab so starting off, you already are pretty comfortable with the language. The last time I took a vocabulary and grammar focused Spanish class was my first semester freshman year of college and since then, my classes have been really specialized. So, I wish I would have studied up on verb endings so if I wanted to talk about the future, I wouldn’t have to only use “ir + a + infinitive.”

Additionally, I wish I would have reviewed some vocab as well. My main problem with my Spanish here has been the vocab. Just like in the U.S., words have different meanings, uses, or there are just different words all together. I wish I would have refreshed on a couple words from the Spanish that I learned and done a little bit more research about some Chilean vocabulary.                                                      

For example, the word taco here doesn’t mean the delicious tortilla, meat, cilantro, and onion dish I am desperately craving. In Chile, taco means traffic. So, if someone is talking about there being “mucho taco,” don’t go looking for a taco truck. Also, side note: the word tortilla also has a different meaning. Tortilla here refers to the Spanish dish, tortilla Española which is an egg dish that is like a frittata kind of thing. They’re delicious and extremely popular.  

A lot of the words I wish I knew were food words. There have been a couple times where my host mom or someone would be talking about what I was going to have for lunch or some dish and I wouldn’t understand what they were talking about until I tried it and I realized, “Oh! We’re talking about strawberries! Got it now!” For example, I learned the word fresas for strawberries in my Spanish classes. Here, they’re called frutilla. Or, avocado instead of being aguacate, they’re called palta. Again, the more you know!

I have a very vivid memory of the next word I’m going to talk about: micro. My first couple hours here, my host mom was talking about micros (me-crow is the English pronunciation) and I was very confused because we weren’t talking about economics or who knows what. In Chile, micros are buses! So, if you come to Santiago, you’ll take either the metro or micro to work, your homestay, or IES. So, make sure you charge you Bip! Card before you use the metro or micro. IES will give you one when you get here and it will be up to you to cargar (charge) your card when you need to. Also, the word guagua, which in some Latin American countries can mean bus means baby in Chile. You just have to pay attention to the context of the conversation.

There is another more “informal” way of talking that Chileans use. In American Spanish classes, we’re taught that the “tú” form of verbs is informal and the “Ud.” form is more formal. For non-Spanish speakers, the “tú” form is the you form of verbs and “Ud.” is for if you’re talking to an elder, for example.

In Chile, there is a true informal verb form. Since Chile once was a Spanish colony, Spanish from Spain is sometimes still present. So, this different verb ending comes from the vosotros form.

There are two very prevalent examples of this new form: cachai and ¿Cómo estai?. Cachai basically means got it? Understand? You know? Some Chileans use cachai as every other word in a sentence. Some will use it at the end of directions or as a question to reaffirm that the person they’re talking to actually understands. Additionally, ¿Cómo estai? is probably how most Chileans will greet each other. It has the same meaning as ¿Cómo estás? but it’s just the Chilean version. So, if someone asks you, “¿Cómo estai?” now you know!

Finally, I want to touch on one last thing word that I’ve come across here: gringo/a. In the U.S., I feel like it’s rude if someone calls you a gringo because it has a negative connotation. Here, it’s just someone from the U.S., or “Gringolandia.” For example, “Oh, ¿Eres de Gringolandia?” (“Oh, you’re from Gringolandia?” was a real question I was asked.) Anyway, because South America is also America, someone from Chile might also say, “Sí, soy americano” because it’s true! So, just accept being the gringo for a while. I could write a whole post about being from the U.S. in Chile but maybe that’s for another day.

There are a lot of words that I could describe but those are the few that I wanted to make sure to mention. During orientation your first full day in the country, someone will tell you more words that are helpful to know.

This is the first blog in a series of things I wish I would have known before coming to Santiago. The next post will be what to pack before coming to Santiago. Hope you find them helpful!

Thanks for reading!

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