Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mi Vida en Chile

The beginning of my travel.

July 30th, 2015.

At the end of July, I packed all of my belongings into a suitcase and caught a plane to South America. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

It was my very first time traveling out of the United States and I was going to travel all alone.

I planned to fly out of the Denver International Airport to the capital of Santiago, Chile before travelling to Viña del Mar, Chile. I booked my flight through my program AIFS and it was scheduled to depart on July 30th (AIFS does not offer flights to Chile out of Hawaii unfortunately). My first appearance  in the airport however, did not go smoothly.

When I arrived and began the check in process on July 30th, I was told that I was not allowed to fly out of the United States due to not have obtaining my student visa. Although, I was told by my program director at AIFS that I would obtain the student visa upon my arrival in Chile and I would only need to show the airport and immigration my acceptance letter into the University. However, for DIA this was not sufficient. After countless phone calls back and forth from the immigration in Chile, the University, and AIFS. I was rescheduled a flight for the next morning.

(However, every other student who participated in the AIFS program, flew out of the U.S. with no problems at all. None of them had student visas issued before their departure out of the U.S. and half of them did not even have to show their University acceptance letters. So for this one, I am not sure.)

My program AIFS helped me immensely throughout the entire process at the airport and re-booked me a flight through a different airline the next day at no cost. Therefore, I do not blame the program at all for this happening to me and I feel that AIFS is a good program to study abroad with.

We also did get our student visas in Chile with the assistance of the University and the AIFS program with no difficulties and barely any cost later on in the semester.

So, Advice.

  1. Make sure you obtain the necessary travel documents before studying abroad, such as your student visa. (So, you don’t miss your first flight!)
  2. Travel Insurance is always a good idea.
  3. Arrive to the airport early.
  4. Always stay positive. Things will work out in the end!
  5. An extra day to spend with your family is always a good thing.

July 31st.

Adiós USA! Today, I was able to leave the Denver International Airport without any problems. Although, my new flight itinerary was very lame.
My first flight was Denver to Toronto, Canada, a seven hour layover, and then Toronto to Santiago, Chile.

After flying in the opposite direction to Canada and then back down South, I finally landed in Santiago, Chile.

Once, I arrived in the Santiago airport, I felt a wave of excitement wash over me. I found my way to the baggage claim and retrieved my guitar and large suitcase. After I made it through customs, I began to realize I could not understand a single word of Spanish from anyone.No one spoke English around me.

The Chileans also spoke Spanish rapidly and the words often times did not have endings but rather merged together. So, if your main goal is to become fluent in Spanish in Chile, you will not become fluent in the grammatically correct Spanish, but instead with Chilean Spanish!

If you do book a flight through AIFS, they also provide you with transportation from the Santiago Airport to your home stay family in Viña del Mar.  Even though, I was a day late the University still sent a nice professor to pick me up from the airport.

The professor was Manuel Casanueva, a Spanish, Politics, and Culture professor for international students. He turned out to be a professor for two of my classes. (Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism in Latin America and Culture and Identity in Latin America) He was very friendly and eased my nervousness the entire drive to Viña del Mar. He also became one of my favorite professors as he was easy to talk with, adventurous, extremely intelligent, and not the typical college professor.

After about an hour and half of driving, we reached my home stay family in Viña!
Profe. Casanueva helped me grab my luggage out of the taxi and rang the doorbell for my host mother.

She was not at all what expected.

She was short, extremely tan, and very beautiful. (keep in mind she's 66 years old). She was wearing larger heels than I have ever worn and was dressed extremely well. She then gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek. Below is a picture of my host mother and I.

My home stay was a cute, cozy home. There was a living room, dining table, kitchen, and bathroom on the bottom floor. The upstairs was also very nice with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. 

I lived only four blocks from the beach, two from the shopping mall, and one block from the main street Libertad. (A perfect location within the city.)

As soon as I set my things down in my new bedroom, my host mother came up to get me. If I’m honest, I could not understand a single word she said, but she understood my confusion and remained very sweet to me. She said we would be going to eat lunch at her daughters restaurant and I would meet my host father there. 

We then walked down side streets that were filled with graffiti. Some of the graffiti was beautiful and was more of a street art and others were different. This was the first significant difference I noticed between the U.S. and Chile. The city was filled with graffiti and it was rather normal for them. On the way, there were many small shops, restaurants, and parks along our walk. My host mother continued to talk to me, even though I'm positive she knew I understood nothing. I kept saying si and nodding and it seemed to get me by.

Eventually, we ended up in front of a restaurant called Aji Color.  Once inside, I was introduced to my host father, Manuel, the daughter, Veronica, and the granddaughter, Victoria. I was hoping the granddaughter would speak English….but not really. She could understand what I was saying and helped me with the menu but she did not speak to me in English. This made understanding and holding a conversation with my host family extremely challenging in my first few days.

At the restaurant I tried my best and communicated as much as I could with my new family. We had an amazing lunch filled with three courses. I also later discovered, my host sister Paula was well known in Viña del Mar for traditional Chilean food.

Although, I could not understand much of what my host family said. They were all very sweet to me and I already felt very welcomed and at home. My inability to understand them often brought us to laughing and the food was better than I ever imagined before. 

Gracias Familia. 

My next few days in Viña del Mar included getting to know the other AIFS students and having a walking tour of Viña where we saw the famous "flower clock", German castle, casino, and many other places. We walked along the coast and through the city. My host mother also took me shopping in the mall and to the beach. (Although, the beach was freezing in this time of year.) 

Unfortunately, within my first weekend, there was a terrible storm that destroyed a restaurant and many vehicles along the coast. I did not go out, but instead stayed home with my host parents and attempted to communicate with them more. 

A truck damaged from the storm

A nice restaurant that was destroyed 

The aftermath of the storm

There are more posts to come! 

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