By Tom MacMullen, CASA Chile Fall 2018 (Brown '20)
You would think over 5 months in Chile would feel like a large chunk of time away from the States but the reality is that it has felt like 5 weeks. As cliché as it sounds, it is truly remarkable how fast the semester passes. During the orientation week members of the CASA staff told us that the Spring Semester (Fall in U.S.) in Chile has beautiful weather and before you know it you will be enjoying the sunny, blue sky days of December. This was in July and now I’m sitting at my desk in my host families’ apartment reflecting on my experience here in Santiago with the December sun and blue sky out the window.
When I arrived on July 21st I was nervous. I lacked confidence in my Spanish abilities and felt overwhelmed trying to understand the Chileans. Moreover, I guess I didn’t really do my homework on Santiago and I was completely shocked to see how big and hectic Santiago was. Coming from a town with roughly 6,000 people, I felt ill prepared to navigate the metro, the micro, and the general rush of this capital city. Luckily, this stress was quickly tempered with the help of the CASA orientation week which took us around the city and through the public transport system. Looking back at the worries I had coming into the semester, I can proudly say that I feel I conquered them. Although I’m still nowhere near fluent, I feel much more confident in taking up a conversation in Spanish, and navigating the city of Santiago now feels like navigating my home rather than a big foreign metropolis.
I must admit that Santiago was a place I grew to like. For more than month I would tell people that I didn’t like the city and it was too hectic and big. Over time this attitude changed. As I started to truly navigate the city and become able to hop on the metro and busses with ease, I started to explore the city more and appreciate all the communities and activities that Santiago had to offer. The clubs of Bellavista, the markets of Barrio Franklin, the restaurants in Providencia, and the hikes on the edge of the city were all beautiful parts of the expansive city of Santiago that I became a frequent visitor of. Although I could sit and write just about Santiago, that would be quite ironic because one of the most glaring things I learned while in Chile is that a lot of people see Chile as just Santiago. Incredibly centralized, Santiago contains roughly a third of the entire Chilean population and although I hate to use the word “developed,” Santiago is much more developed than the rest of Chile in the sense that it has towering skyscrapers, an efficient micro and metro, and cafes with Wi-Fi on nearly every corner.
While many people may dwell on Santiago, my fondest memories of Chile were the times when I was outside the smog filled capital. My visits to Pucón and the Atacama desert were some of the coolest places I’ve visited in my life. Reaching the peak of an active volcano, making new friends in hostels, and biking on a carless highway in the driest dessert, I was truly most happy when traveling throughout the North and South of Chile. The diversity in climate of this long, skinny country made for an array of experiences and as someone who prioritizes the outdoors I was quite content in Chile.
Obviously I spent my semester in Chile, but I think it is also important to reflect on my choice of South America. Studying International Relations, my options for Study Abroad were Western Europe or Latin America. After 5 months here, I must say that I’m so happy with my choice of Latin America. During my time here, I have had the amazing privilege to travel to Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. These countries are the most beautiful places I’ve visited and I really question whether I would have ever visited them in my life if I had made the choice to study in Spain. You can always go to Europe and travel to the typical holiday destinations but it seems much rarer that you will find yourself in Santiago, Cusco, or La Paz. If you are looking to study in a Spanish speaking country, I highly recommend you consider the countries of South America. There’s an endless amount of knowledge and experiences to absorb and I’m already planning my return to explore more of this amazing continent.
Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
Enjoying a wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina
Plaza Murillo in La Paz
Selfies from Cerro Manquehue in Santiago
Valparaíso with the Fam
The main port of Valparaíso
The El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires
Trip to the Atacama Desert with the Fam!