Annelise in Chile
There has never been any doubt in my mind that I would study abroad. Why? Well, I love to learn and I love to travel. Why not combine the two for one awesome experience? I couldn’t say no.
I came to St. Cloud State as a transfer student my junior year pursuing a degree in Spanish Education. Always succeeding in my basic courses, I was ready for more in my education. Spanish classes had assisted me thus far in my acquisition of the language, but I knew then that nothing would be better than finally immersing myself in a Spanish-speaking culture. So that was it! In the Spring of 2010 I began the process of planning my study abroad experience.
To begin, I started by journaling what was going to be the most important to me during my experience. I also began forming my support group which was mainly my parents, my boyfriend, and my professors. (Thanks to all of them!) In the end, going to Chile was my best fit.
My next step was visiting the Education Abroad office. The staff helped me begin my application through St. Cloud State- I thought it was all smooth sailing from there. However, in February of 2010, Chile experienced an earthquake measuring a whopping 8.8 on the Richter scale causing much damage to the central regions of the country and St. Cloud State’s partner university in Concepcion, Chile. Through much consideration, the Education Abroad office decided to cancel the program for the semester. What was I supposed to do then? Answer: Apply for a non-SCSU study abroad program! (Because it is totally possible!)
I decided to study abroad through the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) who also has a program to Chile. The process was easy, and not much different than the SCSU application process. I simply contacted UNI and told them I was interested. My friends at UNI helped me apply as a student to their university in order to complete my study abroad application. I followed their deadlines and regulations and soon, I was registered and ready to go.
Finally, I re-visited the Education Abroad office at St. Cloud State to apply for a non-SCSU study abroad program. This allowed me to be a student of SCSU but also study through a different university. This part of the process was important because it also affected how my financial aid would be disbursed while I was abroad. So that was it, and I was officially going to be studying abroad in the Fall of 2010. My nerves tingled, my stomach fluttered, I was excited.
I began my journey on July 31, 2010. Saying goodbye to my family, friends, (and especially my boyfriend) was super difficult, but I knew the plane I was boarding was going to take me to a place I’ve never been before physically or emotionally.
After many flight cancellations, I arrived in Arica, Chile on August 5, 2010. I’m pretty sure my anxiety level was a ten, and my panic attacks had surpassed counting on my ten little fingers by this point (Don’t worry; this doesn’t happen all of the time), but I put that all behind me and was so excited to be in my new home city. My friend from UNI had met me at the tiny airport in Arica with my host dad, Guillermo. Culture shock #1: Don’t be alarmed to be hugged and kissed by a total stranger in public (In this case my host dad is pushing 65 years old, and to a girl that’s only 5’2”, he was probably 8’ tall- Who was this guy again? I’m just kidding. He’s the coolest dad I could’ve asked for.) On a serious note, Guillermo welcomed me with open arms (literately) and we began our journey to my new house.
Culture shock #2: Chileans speak really fast (Sipo. Chachai. Wueón. If you have these three words- you’re golden). I’ll admit, after the hectic drive from the airport, (Culture shock #3: Chileans are never on time, and being late is an accepted practice; however, when a Chilean gets behind the wheel they suddenly are concerned at how late they are by driving or flying their vehicles across the freeway) I met my beautiful host mom, wonderful host brother, and the Peruvian girls I’d be living with, my friend showed me my room and I totally cried from the intensity of my new situation. How embarrassing. At that point, I thought I wasn’t good enough for this experience. I was angry because I thought, “Um, Spanish I, II, III and so on never taught us this and then they just send me here like I’m some sort of guinea pig?” (Culture shock #4: Peruvians eat guinea pig. It’s called cuy (koo-ee). Try it fried.) At this point, you must remember, choosing to study abroad is a personal choice and also a personal challenge, but you will never regret being there. So that’s what I did and my first choice was visiting el centro to get some grub.
While abroad you’ll find lots of food, and if you’re a picky eater like I usually am there are rules involved. Rule #1: Always accept the food. Rule #2: Don’t ask what is on your plate- just dive in (Especially when it comes to meat- I liked to call it “mystery meat” because even when it was beef and looked like it could be llama, I just didn’t ask, I ate. Likewise, I ate “chicken” that ended up being duck and a red “mystery” meat that ended up being goat- delicioso.) Rule #3: After you have finally stepped out of your comfort zone and enhanced your new experience through your taste buds, you may finally decide if you like the meal or not. You’ve given it a chance; you can say you’ve tried it. Finally, ask what you’ve just eaten. You’d be surprised at what you ate that you thought you never would. For instance, I hated seafood before I left; and I today I absolutely love it, even the slimy mussels that put sand in your teeth. Anyways, the first Chilean food I tried was called a completo- a steaming hot dog loaded with mayo, guacamole, tomatoes, and onions that in the end probably weighs three pounds. Sound disgusting? You decide!
After a few days of vacationing in my new home city, I began school. Through my program, I directly enrolled in courses as an exchange student, meaning that I took classes with the Chilean students on campus. One thing that anyone interested in a language-based program should know is that your first few days are going to be very difficult. However, give it time and it will come soon- you will succeed. The schooling system in Chile is a points system, versus a percentage with letter grades attached (3.0 is a very proud score and your family and friends will be sure to congratulate you). And, don’t worry too much about tests. I was fortunate to have modified tests that were generally the same as my Chilean classmate’s exams, but usually my tests were slightly shorter to accommodate for the extra time it would take to express myself correctly in my second language. Also, the university I went to did not require text books, you simply rented from the library, copied the pages you were to read, and returned the book. This was great because it eliminated book costs and allowed me to save up for some of the coolest trips of my lifetime
I did a lot of traveling during my stay in Chile. In 2010, Chile celebrated their 200th year as an independent country from Spain. During this week in September, school is released for the many festivities you will find. I chose to go with a group of friends to Santiago (the capital of Chile) to celebrate the day. Before we arrived in Santiago, however, I started off what would be a two-week adventure in San Pedro, Chile. Here, I visited Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte, and Las Tres Marias. These three areas are absolutely beautiful examples of natural landscape. Another big hype of this stop was being able to hike up an enormous hill that ended up being made of volcanic ash to view all of the landscape and the valleys from a much higher location.
In Santiago, we spent the day in O’Higgins Park where many merchants, performers, and activities took place for the bicentennial. This trip would only grant me one day in Santiago, but on my other visits, I went to such attractions as Cerro San Cristóbal, Plaza de Armas, La Moneda and more.
Our next stop was Viña del Mar and Valparaíso- kind of the Twin Cities of Chile. Compared to my home in Arica with a desert-like landscape, these cities had steep hills, green grass, and a cool breeze. Valparaíso has maintained much of the city’s original structures such as its ports and architecture. Valparaíso is also home to the world’s first public library which is beautiful from the outside. Elevators take passengers from the lower part of the city to the upper part of the city. Before developed roads, these elevators were the only way residents and visitors could reach certain parts of the city. The specific elevator I rode in was shown in the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries. Viña del Mar also had beautiful landscape and beaches. I spent the afternoon here, watching the pinks and oranges of sunset blend into the ocean.
The highlight of this trip was finally making it to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Passing through the winding roads of the Andes Mountains was an absolutely breath-taking experience. I spent two days in Buenos Aires, but wish I could have had a week. You see, Buenos Aires is divided among 48 barrios or neighborhoods. I was fortunate enough to see a couple, but the most memorable place I went in my stay there is called La Boca. This neighborhood is famous for its vibrant colored buildings and live tango performances in the streets. The vibrant colors are a result of previous residents painting their homes with leftover paint from passing ships that has created a very lively location for tourists. I also went on a bus tour of the city, giving me the opportunity to see beautiful sculptures, and architecture influenced by many other cultures. Finally, I visited the famous Plaza de Mayo for some shopping, as well as the home of poet Pablo Neruda.
My next trip would take me all the way to Southern Chile, which allowed me to explore the country’s varied landscape. Chile has deserts, mountains, valleys, millions of acres of green grass and trees, as well as glaciers in the southernmost part of Chile. The furthest this trip would take me is to Chiloé, an island off the west coast of Chile. There, I was able to eat amazing food, stay in a “neat-o” palafito (a “stilt” house or “stilt” village built on bodies of water), and see the South Pacific Ocean, which is wild and unruly compared to the beaches we see here. I was also able to hike valleys structured by lava from volcanic eruptions, sit at the foot of two volcanoes (one being second-best in shape to Mt. Fuji in Japan- Volcán Orsorno), and also visit a National Park of Chile.
My trips away from Arica were each an adventure of their own, but you can’t forget to explore the history and the stories of your own city as well. For instance, my home city wona war against Perú- interesting? My home city was also the location of a church designed by Gustave Eiffel- the designer of the Eiffel Tower in France- sweet! Even cooler than that, my home city was home to an ancient tribe called, los Chinchorros. Evidence of theirsettlement here is recognized through preserved hieroglyphics on mountainsides and burial grounds. (Did I mention this civilization has the oldest form of mummification?) I’m positive I stepped on numerous dead, mummified people as I walked through burial grounds to a preserved view point of the valley. I love Arica, Chile- seriously.
Siempre Arica, siempre. These words line the hilltop of Arica. It means, “Always Arica, always.” It can mean many things for many people, but for me it means that I will always be a part of Arica, and Arica will always be a part of me. Not only because of what significance my experience has to my career or my development as a Spanish-speaker, but because I have a place there with a family and friends. I still communicate with the friends I made and the family I lived with. My host parents call themselves my parents, and I call myself their “hija gringa- ariqueña,” meaning, “white-arican daughter” (more or less). My Chilean accent brings my second home (I’ll tell you, you feel at home in a new country in ways you never think you could. In this case, when the 33 miners were trapped, thought dead, and ended up surviving two months underground- the pride and heartwarming feelings that spread across the United States didn’t even compare to what it was like to be there in the moment- up at 3:00 a.m. watching the first miner come out of the mine- to yell CHI- CHI- CHI- LE- LE- LE so loud your neighbors could hear to declare your pride- it feels good) into classes and conversations, and my experiences enrich the educational experiences of my peers in class and in Spanish Club. There is a world of opportunity and enjoyment with just one experience.
It is obvious I could write all day about studying abroad, Chile, the importance of support from friends and family both here in the United States and abroad in Chile. It is important to know for future study abroad students to gain support, be confident in your choice to go abroad, live a little- try things out, network (it will make your experience rock- don’t forget to keep in touch with them), and plan to go back or go forward in your understanding and exploration of the world. I follow these rules, and it’s got me a place to stay in December to meet my host mom for her 60th birthday again in Arica. I can’t wait!