Getting here was a bit messy, but I finally made it into Santiago, Chile late Thursday night. My checked bag didn’t arrive until Monday, but it’s been ok — I found that I didn’t really need much. Surprisingly, there has been very little jet lag, despite a two-day travel time and only getting 4 hours of sleep my first night here. I guess the effects of my excitement are overwhelming the effects of my transition. This first week has been nothing short of incredible. As I continue to conjure up the words for what it all means, here are some of the basics.
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O•RI•EN•TA•TION : 1. the determination of the relative position of something or someone (especially one’s self) 2. zoology an animal’s change of position in response to an external stimulus; familiarization with something 3. North American a program of introduction for newcomers to a college or other institution
USAC hosted the orientation at Hotel Acacias de Vitacura — a beautiful, quaint, ecological hotel in the area of Vitacura/Los Condes, in northeast Santiago. Tucked away on a hidden brick inlayed street, the small hotel was a much needed sanctuary after a long, somewhat complicated trip. Its pride is plants, and its gardens of the native flora and greenery characteristic of Santiago’s unique climate were comforting. Here, I met many of the students in the program, as well as the program directors, and learned about my classes, public transportation, Chilean culture and the city at large that I will call home for the next four months.
At the end of the two-day orientation, those staying with a host family were picked up at the hotel. For those of us without, it was an entirely different experience — we got to take the Santiago Metro for the first time. All I will say for now is that I am incredibly grateful that the other student I was with is of Columbian origin and spoke fluent Spanish. I was totally overwhelmed, not to mention a little sleep deprived, and she helped me get my BipCard and put money on it at the counter. It was my first exchange — both monetarily and linguistically — and my first immersion into this massive city.
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BAR•RI•O : 1. a district of a town in Spain and Spanish-speaing countries 2. (In the U.S.) a Spanish-speaking quarter or neighborhood in a town or city, usually one with a high poverty level
I am only one of two out of the 50 or so students in the program that decided to opt out of the homestay while studying abroad here in Santiago. When asked by another student why I chose not to stay with a host family, I found myself struggling to find the right, or the honest, answer. There will, I’m sure, be a lot of reflection on this as my time abroad progresses, and there is no way to say whether it was the right or wrong choice. While I recognize the immense benefit of having a host family and the cultural exposure that it brings, I considered it with care, and eventually landed at the decision to rent a furnished apartment. Perhaps it is due to my age — as an adult learner, I am definitely one of the older students, if not the oldest, in my program. Perhaps it is simply my disposition and my reverence for time alone, which is not to say that I hide out — these are two very different things. Perhaps it was largely intuitive. Or perhaps, by the end of my stay, I will look back and say that I would choose differently next time. Who knows.
I met my landlord, Sergio, at the apartment after orientation on Friday afternoon. He did not speak any English, but we were able to communicate the basics with my small working knowledge of Spanish. He was very kind and welcoming. The apartment itself is located in Barrio San Diego in the center of Santiago, about a 10 minute walk from the Universidad Andrés Bello campus I am attending. It is a lively and vibrant neighborhood, rich with murals and tiendas, foot traffic and street vendors. There is also a small indoor carnival/arcade just below my apartment (see link below). I noticed after my first walk around the neighborhood that many of the street vendors were selling books, and later found out that San Diego Street — Calle San Diego — is known for its many bike shops, as well as for buying used books — and this is something that I adore immensely.
Much like in Portland and many other towns and cities across the U.S., gentrification is happening here, too. Barrio San Diego, however, is a very non-touristy neighborhood, and this is something I am super happy about. Some people might consider it to be less desirable than some of the more modern, outlying areas such as La Reina, Providencia, or Los Condes. But for me, Barrio San Diego is a very raw and real part of Santiago, and some conversations I have had with various locals confirms this. It is more of what I was looking for, and I am really happy where I landed.
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Coming up in the next journal, I hope to dive into more of the intricacies and intimacies of the people, the city, and the culture that I have absorbed thus far. It is a wild and lovely city, and I am so, so ecstatic to be here.