Holaaaa! Jordin and I have been home for over a month now and can’t believe that the time has flown so quickly. We arrived back in Philadelphia on May 16th, though we were originally supposed to arrive on the 15th – we found out in the airport that our flight was cancelled and there was no other option until almost 24 hours later, so after spending a night in a very nice hotel in Santiago in which our airline put us up (as they should’ve), we finally arrived home and everything has been absolutely fantastic. It is so wonderful to be home with my family, my cuddly cats, my extremely comfortable bed, and to wake up to NPR (specifically my absolute favorite host, Marty Moss-Coane) and my mom’s fantastic coffee every morning! Amy’s homemade bread is even better than I remembered. It hasn’t been difficult to adjust back to life here because I did feel ready to come back after our final week, especially because I was feeling under the weather after over a month of being out late every night. But of course I’ve had some reverse culture shock, most of which stems from not hearing Spanish around me all the time. It’s strange to not hear and speak Spanish in the supermarket and restaurants, and that I can completely understand people on the street and vice versa. I’ve already said “Permiso” to a few people when I should’ve said “Excuse me”, but I usually realize right afterward – that is pretty strange though! Jordin and I absolutely love speaking Spanglish, because there are so many words in Spanish that are just easier to say than in English. Sadly, I’ve only been out salsa dancing once, with a group that is apparently the only group that dances salsa cubana (Cuban Salsa) in Philadelphia – I have more research to do. It wasn’t nearly as fun as our classes in Chile (l@s extrañamos a tod@s en Ritmo & Guapería), but Jordin and I hope to dance more throughout the summer. Hearing the song “Despacito” on the radio is great, though I prefer the original version which is all in Spanish. But I’m glad this song is spreading even more throughout the world, because it is pretty catchy (and would play at least five times in one night in a bar in Santiago).
Before I get into my reflections/final thoughts, I created a video documenting our experience in Chile with lots of little video clips that I shot throughout our 7.5 months. The video is a great way to see a lot of what we did, especially if you didn’t see pictures and/or read much of the blog! And if you’re reading this through your email, please didn’t click on the title of the post to see this post through the website, as videos tend to have fewer problems when played through the actual website. So click on the title or click on this!
VIDEO PREVIEW: the crowded metro, our host parents and host toddler (Leo), the time I woke up to a tarantula next to my bed, our travels to Buenos Aires and Mendoza in Argentina, Chilean Patagonia, Machu Picchu in Peru, and to the north of Chile in the Atacama Desert (La Serena and San Pedro). And of course, salsaaaaa! Enjoy, and please ask me any questions if you have them (I’ve shown this video as a presentation of sorts, so I’m used to explaining certain parts).
There are countless reasons why I’m glad I lived in Chile this year, and so much of that is the immersive experience – Jordin and I came to Chile with Spanish immersion as the main goal. We both took Spanish classes in college, starting with Spanish 101 during our freshman fall semesters, but that was only about three hours a week, which is nothing. We both learned a lot of grammar and vocabulary, but there is only so much you can learn in a classroom. Throughout our 7.5 months in Chile, I learned so much just by living in a Spanish-speaking country, especially because we lived with a family who didn’t speak any English. It was obligatorio to speak in and improve our Spanish. Below are some Spanish phrases that are incredibly common – I heard them multiple times a day – that I only learned by being immersed:
- “[Espero] que te vaya bien!” = I hope it goes well [for you]!
- “[Espero] que te estes bien!” = I hope you are well!
- “Voy” = Coming! (The direct translation of this is “I go”, which isn’t correct in English; the English-to-Spanish translation would be “Vengo” or “Estoy viniendo”, but that’s just not correct in Spanish)
- “Me parece bien” = Sounds good to me
- “Lo que pasa es que…” = What happens is…
- “Viste?” = You see?
- “A ver..?” = Let’s see…
- “Te gustó?” = Do/did you like it?
- “Sí o sí” = Definitely
Fantastic English words that sadly don’t exist in Spanish:
- Awkward (people use “incomodo/a” for this, which means “uncomfortable”, but I think there are differences between “awkward” and “uncomfortable” in certain situations)
Public health observations:
- As I’ve mentioned before, there is a huge cash culture in Chile – it is very common to buy fresh produce, packaged food, and freshly cooked/prepared food on the street. There were many vendors outside the Universidad Católica metro station, which is where our salsa/bachata classes were located, selling all sorts of vegan sandwiches and desserts. I would buy a sandwich there when I was out all day and wasn’t going home for dinner (and they were DELICIOUS). Street food like that just isn’t as common in the U.S., and when it is, there are a number of health codes that have to be followed (whether they are or not is another story). In Chile, it is extremely common for people to buy fresh food on the street and not give it a second thought. Packaged food is sold cheaply on the street, and especially on the metro: you can buy two huge chocolate bars for 1000 pesos ($1.50 USD), three big Snickers bars for 500 ($0.75 USD), etc. While produce is also sold on the street, it’s not nearly as widespread as candy and junk food. Obviously pre-packaged food is much easier to transport, but I think this is a huge contributor to the sugar consumption here, as well as the fact that junk food is often considered a snack, not a dessert. I constantly saw people on the metro eating this food on their way home from work (also, no one walks around with a snack NOR a water bottle, as I do), and at home the typical dinner is white bread with meat and/or cheese and/or jam and/or avocado – the snack and dinner combined don’t make a very balanced meal. I noticed that while there isn’t as much obvious obesity in Santiago as there is in the U.S., there are still many overweight people (according to this NPR article from August 2016, 67% of people above age 15 are overweight or obese).
- Warning stickers on packaged food – In June 2016, food labels in Chile changed to include stickers that look like black stop signs, informing consumers of the calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in packaged food (e.g. “Alto en calorías”). In my host family and in public, I noticed the extremely high consumption of sugary drinks (or, to put it another way, drinking things other than water). Juice, coffee and tea (with anywhere from 2-5 teaspoons of added sugar), soda, carbonated fruit juice, and more are widespread and common. In my house, people only drank water at lunch, if any at all, and no more than two small glasses. I chug water all day long, especially while eating, so this was definitely a cultural difference for me. According to the same NPR article as above, Chile is the “world’s largest per capita consumer of sugary drinks”, ahead of both Mexico and the United States. No surprise that cardiac problems and diabetes are the leading causes of death and Chile’s most chronic public health issues. Also, there are pharmacies EVERYWHERE in Santiago – literally on every corner. Someone told me once that because of the high frequency of pharmacies, it’s easy for everyone to walk into a pharmacy and get the necessary medication to treat their diabetes. These black stop sign-shaped labels were added to give the consumer an idea of what’s in their food before buying it, since people often take a very short time to decide if they’ll buy something or not. I do think this is a good idea, but I also think people can be confused about what the stickers mean. For example, Jordin and I noticed that peanut butter sold in the supermarket has stickers advising that it’s high in calories and saturated fat. While this is true, if someone compares peanut butter to a candy bar which only has a sticker advising that it’s high in calories, they may think the candy bar is a better choice because it has fewer warning labels. Jordin and I talked about this a lot and concluded that while the stickers are a great idea in terms of informing consumers about the nutritional content of their packaged food, they can also be misleading. I learned in one of my public health meetings that black-labeled food also cannot be marketed to children under the age of 14, nor can it include toys or other material incentives.
- The produce in Chile is unbelievably cheap. I know some of this comes from me comparing the Chilean prices to U.S. prices, but it really is very cheap and extremely affordable in Chile. Healthy food is always more expensive than unhealthy food everywhere, especially in restaurants. But in Santiago, there are farmers markets all over the city, both during the week and on the weekend, that everyone can afford – one person might spend 5000 Chilean pesos, or about $8 USD, for one person for the whole week. Jordin and I think our host family spent no more than $30 USD on a week’s worth of produce for the entire family – 5 adults, 1 toddler, and whatever guests eat at the house a few times throughout the week. I realize that part of this price is become all of the produce is grown in Chile, but unfortunately the food subsidies in the U.S. are directed toward food other food, much of which isn’t particularly healthy for us.
While I’m not completely fluent in Spanish, my language skills improved drastically and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to live in Chile for this year. I know this was worth it, not just for the Spanish skills but for this immersion experience as a whole, especially living with a Chilean family and having to create a life for myself (finding jobs, friends, hobbies, etc).
- I’m very glad that I stayed in Chile for the time that I did in terms of what I want to do afterward, but Jordin and I think that staying for about another year would be ideal in terms of improving our Spanish even more and solidifying our relationships. We only met the majority of our friends in Santiago in February, the people who became our solid two groups of friends (Spanglish and salsa), and even though we spent a lot of time with them in those three months afterward, staying for more time would be much better to really solidify those friendships.
- If you’re interested in improving your Spanish AND are living someone for a longer period of time, it would be better to get an actual job instead of teaching English. I’m so glad I taught English because of my relatively short timeframe here, but teaching English means that you’re speaking English. Jordin and I definitely did this the right way in terms of our timeframe here, in that we didn’t teach too much (1-2 classes a day), and our only friends here were Spanish-speakers (with Kimberley, our TEFL course teacher, as our exception). Additionally, if I stayed in Chile for more time, I wouldn’t be able to teach English for much longer because it wasn’t mentally stimulating enough for me. I loved seeing my students improve over the months I taught them, especially the student with whom I started with in November when she didn’t know a word of English, and finished with in May having great conversations. She’s definitely still a beginner, but it made me feel really good knowing she learned so much over the 6 months that I taught her.
- I’ve heard from a few people and read on a few websites about teaching English falling into the “voluntourism” or “white savior” category. While I think this can be a problem in some cases, I always made sure to ask my students what they wanted out of our classes rather than projecting my beliefs onto them. American English isn’t the only type of English, and I made sure my students knew that when we began classes. I found students who wanted to learn English for themselves, for their jobs, to travel, etc. I wasn’t taking the role of a teacher would may have had more training – my students chose me as their teacher and kept me for however long they wanted, and for a few of my students, that was the entire six and a half months that I was teaching.
- When I studied abroad for a semester during my junior spring at Wesleyan, it was crucial to be flexible, because our schedules were packed and constantly changing. We were constantly moving around within the cities, and had to be ready for change at all times. I’ve definitely become even more flexible during my time in Chile through two things: teaching English and dancing. Jordin has more experience with being flexible with students since for the first few months, his students happened to be extremely flaky; you always have to be ready for your students to cancel class without much of a warning. In terms of dancing, especially in salsa as the “follower”, I have to be ready for whatever move the leader does. When a song plays in the salsoteca and I get up to dance with someone, I have no idea what move my partner will do next, and I have to be ready for anything. I messed up ALL THE TIME on the dancefloor, and part of that is because I like to know what’s coming next – I’m an organized person and I like to know what’s coming around the bend in most situations, though I know that’s not usually how life works (especially in my current job search…). I learned to become more physically and mentally flexible, and just roll with the punches while dancing. It sounds a little silly, but I think this definitely does apply to life outside the salsoteca as well – even though messing up is inevitable, it’s important to take life as it comes, but remember to smile and have fun along the way.
- My only real regret is that I didn’t start the salsa/bachata classes with Jordin until the beginning of February, and he started in the middle of November. Through these classes, our social lives and bodies became much more active, I felt that I had another community, and I was finally dancing again and having a blast.
- I think many foreigners that do something like we did often have regrets about the language immersion, and I know this based on people I’ve met and stories I’ve heard. Though I’m not 100% fluent in Spanish, I did as much as possible to immerse myself in Spanish every day:
- Jordin and I surrounded ourselves with Spanish-speakers, both in our host family and our friends (many foreigners stick with their English-speaking friends if it’s a study abroad program, or find English-speaking friends when they arrive).
- I listened to music in Spanish, particularly the popular reggaeton songs, as well as salsa and bachata music.
- We didn’t teach English a lot – my typical work week consisted of teaching 1-2 English classes per day, though it changed each week. That was enough for me to pay my rent every month, and that was the goal here. If I taught a few more classes each day, I could have earned and saved much more money, but I would be spending so much time in English, and that went directly against my goal here of immersing myself in Spanish.
What I will miss about Chile
- My amazingly generous and warm host family, and Aly’s (host mom) delicious cooking!
- Very reliable public transportation, and the way people organize themselves: during rush hour when there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to get into the metro, people form nice, orderly lines while they wait to tap their card. This is also the case for busses outside on the street – a neat, quiet line!
- Being in a city next to the Andes mountains – it can’t get much more beautiful than that.
- How cheap fruits and vegetables are, ESPECIALLY avocados, and how readily available they are to everyone.They’re cheaper in the farmer’s markets, but still very reasonable in supermarkets as well. A few days before we left, Jordin and I hung out with Kimberley for the last time, and bought all of this at the feria, all for under $5: 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of carrots, 4 little cucumbers, 1 kilo of strawberries, and 2 kilos of grapes. All of this would cost at LEAST $25 in the states (especially the grapes).
- The garden: fresh lemons (all year round), apricots, peaches, avocados, almonds, various spices
- Fruit juice is offered in all bars (a nice alternative to alcohol) – usually it was a sort of mix between juice and a smoothie. Because it’s Chile, there’s no telling how much sugar is added, but each restaurant/bar is different.
- Everyone is super close with family, and Sundays are often family day. Our host family’s relatives would drop by all the time, and they were always welcome to stay for a meal.
- People are very generous and hospitable – so many of our friends told us that when we come back, we have a place to stay (and some even offered a place to live and even a job!). At one Spanglish in December, a girl invited me to her small, intimate birthday party at her house which was the following day! Additionally, so many emails and texts are signed with “un abrazo grande” (a big hug) and/or “besos” (kisses), and this even happened if I had never met them before!
- Salsa cubana! This was by far my favorite activity in Chile, and is what pained me the most to leave. Going to salsotecas every weekend was so much fun, and we really developed a community of friends and acquaintances through our twice weekly classes and our twice, thrice, or even four-times weekly nights in the salsoteca!
- Seeing people selling all sorts of stuff on the metro/micro (bus)/street: flashlights, handwarmers, rice cakes, chocolate bars, water bottles (everywhere – no one carries their own water bottle), flowers, etc. The list goes on.
What I will not miss about Chile
- The amount of sugar and salt added to everything: in juice, on plain fruit (sugar was added to strawberries that were already incredibly sweet), and in regular dinners. I’m definitely not missing the salad of lettuce, lemon juice, and a big pinch of salt on top.
- White bread
- Getting stared at in the street and on public transportation, and of course the endless catcalling (“piropo”).
- Every house and apartment building in the neighborhood is gated, and it isn’t common to be friends with or even know your neighbors.
- “What did you study in university? Oh, so you’re a psychologist?” “No, the university system is different in the states…I want to work in public health, and later get a master’s in that.” “So why didn’t you go/transfer to a university that offered public health in the first place?”
- Flooded lawns – when people water their lawns, they do it until the grass becomes a swamp. This is not the right idea for a city that’s often in drought.
- People assuming that I didn’t like something just because I’m not actively expressing that I love it, or assuming that I’m angry because I’m not saying anything – Jordin and I think this is the Chilean version of the “resting bitch face”. A few times at breakfast when I wasn’t talking, my host mom said, “Why are you so quiet? Are you angry?”, when I was actually just really tired! And another time, Jordin and I left a party at our friend’s apartment at 2:30am (“early”) because we were tired, and afterward we received a bunch of texts that said, “What happened? Are you mad at us? I hope you’re okay!” I definitely appreciate people checking up on me, but these experiences made me think that if I don’t show extreme emotion on either side of the scale, I must be either angry or sad.
- People greeting each other with the typical Chilean greeting, a kiss on the cheek, and then saying, “So I’ve been pretty sick…” ?!? I know that handshakes can actually be worse than a cheek kiss in terms of germs, but I definitely don’t like learning that someone is sick AFTER their face has touched mine.
- The smoking culture (cigarettes)
- People eat sandwiches and pizza with a fork and knife – while this sometimes makes sense, there are many times where it doesn’t and just looked ridiculous (coming from a typical American perspective).
What I’m excited for (all of which I’m still very excited about even though I’m already home):
- Cooking for and serving myself
- A normal sleeping and waking schedule, especially after our last month, when the earliest I ever got home was 11pm (on a regular weeknight), but the earliest on a weekend was 2:30 or 3am.
- My mom’s homemade bread and delicious coffee
- Homemade food without (much) salt
- SPICES! 5-6+ spices in Chilean food is considered a TON – the only spices Chileans use are merken, salt, salt, and more salt.
Typical Chilean foods we tried (even though veganism isn’t common in Chile, we still tried almost every typical Chilean dish – our host mom, Aly, veganized some for us!)
- Charquican (stew) – potato, pumpkin, onion, garlic
- Pastel de choclo – ground corn, veggie meat, other veggies
- Pastel de papa
- Pebre (dip – tomato, onion, cilantro, hot pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt
- Humita (ground corn and onion and spices, wrapped up in a corn husk and then boiled) – vegan!
- Chupe de cochayuyo – usually made with cow’s milk and cheese on top. Bread soaked in soy milk, with vegetables (onion, tomato, pepper, garlic, fried hot pepper, olive oil) and cochayuyo, all put together and baked.
- Churrascas – “Chilean stovetop bread” – the bread looks a little like a small pita bread circle, which is baked on a grill and then topped with avocado, pebre, and merken
- Sopaipilla – fried circular bread that is topped with avocado and pebre
- Completos – the Chilean hot dog, topped with everything: avocado, tomato, mayo (not for us), and mustard. We tried this with vegan hot dogs (they exist here), and also one time just with the bread, avocado, and tomato.
- Chapalele – pancake-like thing made of potatoes and flour.
- Mote con huesillo – mote is a grain that reminds me of barley or farro, and huesillo is dried peach. This is a drink prepared with mote, peach juice (aka lots of sugar), and dried peaches. It’s sold on every corner in the center of Santiago, and is extremely popular in the summer.
- Pisco – Chilean/Peruvian alcohol that is typically drunk in two different forms: pisco sour, or piscola (pisco + coke/pepsi).
- Terremoto – Chilean drink made from pipeño (a sweet Chilean wine), grenadine, and a scoop of pineapple sorbet on top. For me, it’s demasiado dulce (way too sweet), but for Chileans, the more sugar the better.
- Fruits/vegetables that don’t exist or aren’t readily available in the U.S.:
- Homegrown avocados – they look like little eggplants, and you eat the skin!
- Chirimoya – tropical fruit
- Maracuya – tropical fruit
- Alcayota – It looks like a honeydew but has an inside like a spaghetti squash. It’s pretty much only used to make jam (aka with cups and cups of added sugar)
- Cochayuyo – sea vegetable
- Tuna (“cactus pear”) – looks like a kiwi but with tons of seeds
- Membrillo (fruit) – kind of acidic, sometimes they eat with salt or sugar
- Noni – similar to a cucumber, filled with vitamins
- Pepino dulce – literally translates to “sweet cucumber”. I wasn’t a huge fan.
After being home for exactly five weeks, this last post is finally complete. Thank you to everyone who followed our journey in Chile that started way back in September – whether you read only one post or every one (or didn’t read any and only followed through Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat), MUCHAS GRACIAS for your interest and for keeping up with us! I loved feeling so supported while I was 5000 miles away, and receiving your comments and questions after each post made me very happy. I’m so grateful that I had this experience in Chile, and especially that Jordin and I were together the whole time – we’ll remember this experience for the rest of our lives. There were definitely some crazy moments, some uncomfortable moments, and even a few scary moments, but all in all, I had a fabulous time. Muchas gracias a mis amig@s y familia en Chile – nos vemos la próxima vez!
P.S. Jordin and I decided to compile a few tips and general information about our English-teaching experience in Chile, especially because we know at least a handful of people who are interested in teaching English abroad in the future, and it also really exemplifies how we grew as teachers during our time in Chile. I didn’t include that in this post because I wanted to keep the final post strictly to reflections, so please reach out if you want me to send you the English-teaching info!