In July 2016 I travelled to Chile, South America with my university as part of a Scholarship. The purpose of this was to have an ‘intensive Spanish course’, where the other selected students and I had to attend one of the university’s there during the day to learn and then we had the weekends and evenings to ourselves to explore. I was only there for 2 and a half weeks but it really was such an amazing experience, and I wish I could have had more time out there.
I lived in a place called Viña Del Mar with my host family and 2 other girls from uni- we soon became good friends. Being the only one who could speak a fair amount of Spanish, I usually translated from Spanish to English and vice versa at home and when out and about because our host family couldn’t speak English and a lot of the locals couldn’t either. I went to a university in Valparaíso, the next town over (kind of) that was only about 15 minutes away on the ‘micro’ (bus).
Having Spanish family from mainland Spain, coming to Chile threw me off a bit because there’s a lot of ‘Chilenismos’ which are Chilean ‘slang’ type words as well as just different words for the same things in Spain. For example, juice in Spain is ‘Zumo’ but in Chile its ‘Jugo’. Not a major thing but there were still lots of opportunities to learn different words. My favourite Chilean words actually were ‘pololo’ and ‘polola’ which mean boyfriend and girlfriend; whereas in Spain they are ‘novio’ and ‘novia’. There’s no real reason why these words were my favourite, I just love the way they sound.
Some things I learned about in Chile:
In Chile, they have a very bad stray dog (‘kiltros’ in Chilean) problem, where a massive amount of dogs live on the streets. One night my friends and I were walking and we had probably a pack of about 8 dogs walking with us. It’s a crazy amount. They weren’t nasty at all, which made it worse for me really as they were just normal dogs that wanted love and attention. The problem is, a lot of people don’t want responsibility for the dogs so they leave them to the streets, and where people don’t neuter them (even though it’s free, unlike in England), the problem keeps getting worse. (One of my Chilean teachers told me this, she is one of the few who care for the stray dogs. She takes them in her house and cares for them when they are hurt and feeds them.) As a dog lover, it was really heartbreaking to see so many dogs on the streets. Sleeping/ eating wherever they could- even cardboard boxes (which I do have a photo of, but haven’t attached in this post)
I’m glad I travelled there because it opened my eyes to many things about the lives of Chilean people. Money is a struggle. I mean, money is a struggle for many people in many places, but I spoke to people who had multiple jobs in order to get enough money to live off of, and that was the norm.
They don’t have dinner there. That threw me and took a little while to get used to. Basically, we had a breakfast and a big-ish lunch and that was it. It might seem strange, especially because where I’m from we always have breakfast, lunch and dinner (and I pretty much always look forward to my dinner) but it was enough. That’s the thing, we don’t need to eat loads to sustain our bodies, we’re just used to eating that amount.
Chile opened my eyes to a different way of living and I will keep that close to me forever. I learned a lot (not just Spanish language) but about people and life, and not only did it inspire me to travel and learn more but it also inspired me to try my best to make a change in the world. Now, I might not ever be able to inspire/change a lot of people for the better. But, as Ghandi said:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
So I’m trying to change for the better and maybe, in the future, I can help the change spread further than just me.
Is Chile worth visiting?
Yes, I think so. If I had had more time there, I would’ve loved to travel around Chile a bit more. What’s amazing about it is, there are all sorts of things to experience. It has beaches, sand dunes (would totally recommend sandboarding if you haven’t done it), mountains and forest- something for everyone! Just be careful, we were advised to always stay in groups especially after dark. But, there are a lot of hidden gems there, you go up a hill and find a collection of shops/ restaurants/ art and it really was more than just what you see on the surface and this is just something I am glad I experienced.
Why I loved Chile:
Part of the reason was the people. My host mother, in particular, I loved. She was a very kind woman who had a lot of love in her heart and a lot of struggles, but she was still so welcoming and friendly. A few locals I met were really nice, the teachers we had were awesome and one of my teachers and my host mother both said to me that if I were ever to go back to Chile, their doors would be open for me. And that really touched my heart.
The sites. Having lived in England my whole life, it was amazing to see the different sites that Viña and Valpo had to offer- they were really beautiful and very different to what I’m used to seeing in England.
The colour. There was colour everywhere! Street art is a bit of a thing in Chile, it was on the houses, on the walls just along regular streets, on the sides of shops- it was lovely. There are clearly a lot of really talented people out there and seeing art everywhere really was one of my favourite things.
The language. Not going to lie, I just love speaking Spanish. I’m not super good at it but I do love it, and especially as I was emersed in Spanish every day it really did increase my confidence and there is just something special about speaking to locals in their own language. As Nelson Mandela said,
If you speak to a man in a language that he understands, it goes to his head. If you speak to a man in his own language, it goes to his heart.
The friends. I went out to Chile not knowing anyone. I’m quite a shy person and I’ve never really found it super easy to make friends. But I met some really great people, we formed our own friendship group and they really did make the trip the best.
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Thanks for reading,