All of us who study abroad want to understand the people who we are around, right? After all, this is how we grow and become better citizens of the world. Well, I am no different in that. I, too, have the desire to fit in with the people in my host country.
Prior to coming to Chile, I spent hours on YouTube and random blogs trying to figure out how Chileans were, what they did for fun, the things they ate, the things they didn’t–I basically wanted to know how to act when I got here because I didn’t want to look like an outsider. What I didn’t know was that not a lot of people post things about Chilean pop-culture and if I hadn’t already spoken/read/understood Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to get the little information that I did get from the YouTube videos and blogs; however, I have also found that the insight and advice I got from these sources could have been a little more general and applicable to most places in the world and because they weren’t, I’m gonna give you the general and updated version of “how to fit in with locals (you need this, especially if you’re going to be living in a foreign place for an extended amount of time).” Anyway, here are ways that I’ve found are helpful for fitting in.
First of all, you have to talk to the locals your age. Since I’m studying abroad, I have an advantage in that I can meet people in my classes or in extracurriculars that I’m involved in, right? Not exactly. I’m studying abroad through USAC, which developed a specialty program to fit the schedule of the United States school system and it turns out that Chileans are currently on summer vacation until March! So how am I socializing with locals? Some, by meeting them online.
I’ve always thought apps like Tinder and Bumble were kind of weird because I feel like I’m forcing friendships rather than going out into the world and finding people ~naturally~. Does that make sense? Apps just never seemed like my thing. Not at least until I came to Chile.
I’ve made only one actual friend who I’ve met off of these apps, but I still use them to get to know locals and figure out what they like doing to give me insight on what to do myself. It’s also a great way to practice the vernacular in the area (which is critical if you’re in Chile because they speak a different kind of Spanish here that I never knew existed). Overall, I think these apps are a great way of socializing. Now, I realize a lot of people find meeting others online to be weird, or uncomfortable. That’s fine. If you don’t like the idea of making friends online, you can meet people in other ways.
Going to clubs is a fun way to meet people if you’re into that stuff. I’ve met two of my local friends at clubs and I think it might be a little better than the apps because this way you know there’s no way of getting catfished. Also, people you meet here are most likely very social people and they’ll be open to showing you around the city you’re living in and teaching the ropes of being a local.
I think these two things would break the barrier between you being a foreigner and being a local. As long as you associate with them, you should be fine, a plus that I feel has helped me understand Chilean people a little better is following Chilean meme pages on Instagram. We are living in the age of memes (hahaha I can’t believe I just typed that) and comedy is very big in every culture, so keeping up with new trends and the way their humor works is very important. The way I found my meme pages is by asking my Chilean friends to send me memes and then I would just follow the pages they sent me.
These are the better ways to learn how to fit in wherever you are going, but picking up their humor and normalizing their habits takes time. You will not hang out with a local one day and wake up as one the next day. In fact, you may never really be “a local,” some people just like being with them while staying tied to their American identity and this is fine too. It’s a different form of fitting in. Whatever the way is, though, I have found during my time here that is crucial to try to fit in in order to feel at home and understand people better.
I’ll end this by posting this picture of some fun friends I made: