1 month after my plane landed in Santiago, Chile I have grown accustomed to my day to day life, but in this initial period, I have searched for ways to meet locals in order to get the most out of my experience. The first two weeks I mainly spent getting to know other students in my program, adjusting to my role in my host family, and exploring the city as much as possible to familiarize myself with the metro and the layout of the huge city.
Once comfortable with my day-to-day activities I decided it was time to find ways to dive deeper into the local culture. The best way to do this is to find a space where you can learn from locals. Whenever I move to a new place I try to take a class of some sort in order to meet locals and so that I can grow as much as possible. For example, when I was working in Amman, Jordan I took an Arabic course for 2 months; when I was working in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina I took an intensive Bosnian class for 3 hours a day for 3 weeks. Similarly, I wanted to find a course in Santiago, but an artistic class of some kind to balance out my full school schedule. This is how I found an improvisation class at a beautiful theater in an artistic neighborhood called Bellavista. Two weeks ago I attended the first class and knew I had made a great decision. Despite the class being in English, 25 of the 30 participants were Chileans looking to improve their English skills.
The first class consisted of team building games, concentration, and supporting one another. There was this brilliant energy in the room accompanied by a variety of laughs that made me feel like I’d found a home away from home. After class, everyone reverted to Spanish, so I had the opportunity to practice my language skills with locals and to learn more Chilean phrases.
In addition to joining an improv workshop, I also devoted myself to meeting and getting to know a few local students at my university. Something I struggled with during the first week was the isolation that I felt being ushered around in a group of American students. I felt isolated especially because all of our classes are only for the 7 cohort members, and sometimes I craved a change in scene or a different perspective on the issue of education. Thus, during the two seminars we shared with students at the university, I took an assertive role in finding at least one student who I could stay in touch with. Two weeks later, I have loved every meal that I have shared with local students. It is sometimes difficult to converse socially with local university students because they speak very quickly and use many Chilean sayings that make it harder to understand, but I believe the challenge will allow me to improve the extent of Chilean phrases that I know.
Ultimately, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Santiago, Chile thus far. I look forward to finding other ways to further immerse myself in local culture through friendships, events, and interests. I have had the opportunity to attend 3 birthday parties thus far, and I find family events are great opportunities to learn more about day-to-day life.