I realized I haven’t done too much blogging about my actual life on exchange; things I’ve done, places I’ve travelled, the ups and downs of life in Santiago. Since my return date to Canada is approaching faster than ever, I figured what better way to end exchange than by reflecting on this last amazing year of my life! If you’re going to Chile on exchange, maybe this blog will give you some ideas of how to make the most of it. If you’re friends or family back home, this can serve as a primer for all of the questions you will inevitably ask me. With that being said, let’s go all the way back to February, where this adventure began…
February: Kevin, Jackie and I touched down in Santiago on February 11th. The next week or so was spent breaking in the apartment, getting accustomed to life in the new city, and trying to check off as many tourist attractions as possible. The week was also spent waiting for hours in line for a phone, visa registration and national ID cards (all part of the fun). After a week and a half in the capital, we decided it was high time to start getting to know the rest of the country. Kevin and I made for the Chilean coast, specifically Viña del Mar/Valparaíso, where some of our fellow BIB classmates were just settling in for their exchange. We spent two nice days as a group getting sunburnt on the beach, hanging with the dogs in our hostel, and then applying aloe vera to the aforementioned sunburns. After returning from the coast, the four of us in Santiago (Zach and Florian had joined us by then) realized we still had some time before classes started and that Kevin’s 21st was soon approaching. The logical conclusion we drew was to pack up and cross over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina’s famous wine region. Not only did we manage to experience one of only two massive rainstorms that the region experiences every year, we also stumbled into the city in the midst of a massive wine festival (completely unplanned). Needless to say, it was a great (grape) weekend. We visited bodegas, wandered through the city’s many beautiful squares and parks, and chowed down on asados and empanadas. Before we knew it, we were heading back over the Andes to start our first semester of exchange.
March: March was a flurry of a month. It started with international student orientation day, followed by a hectic first week of classes featuring lots of stressing about courses and setting-in of realities. Throw in the first waves of culture shock (and a bedbug infestation) and you have quite the rollercoaster ride of cross-cultural frustrations. That being said, we still managed to have a BIB reunion on the coast again, with our friend Antonino dropping in from Buenos Aires for the first weekend of the semester. The next week I took a day trip with an exchange friend south of Santiago to the Laguna de Aculeo. Completely devoid of water, but with just enough mud to permanently change the colour of my white shoes, it was a strange but fun day where I started to appreciate the cultural differences between large Chilean cities and the smaller ‘pueblos’ dotting the countryside. The rest of March was spent studying in Santiago, with the exception of another day-trip to the town of Rancagua later in the month. The town was home to a company that I consulted for as part of one of my courses, however as the purpose of the trip was to interview employees we didn’t spend any time sightseeing. And before I knew it, the first month of class had blown by.
April: April was around the time when culture shock began to subside, as the nuances and flows of Chilean culture became more understood and manageable. The first weekend of April was fantastic, as the coastal BIBers came into Santiago for the massive Lollapalooza Music Festival. It was that weekend where I began to realize how polite and docile the crowds at Canadian concerts really are. The following weekend was both good and bad. Good because the four of us in Santiago took a wonderful day trip to the small town of Isla Negra, where famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had constructed his eclectic and charming seaside escape (one of his three famous homes). Bad because I proceeded to lose my Chilean identification card a mere 24 hours after I had picked it up, dooming me to another 6 hours of bureaucratic hand-wringing. Those who know me probably are not surprised. The second half of April was spent mainly in Santiago, but I did find time to spend some time hiking around the outskirts of the city with friends. The 17km mountainous Aguas de San Ramon hike was quite fun, until the next day when my legs decided to let me know they were not happy with the work they had been put up to. Quebrada de Macul, another Andes mountain hike, was less punishing (except for Florian, who received a slight knock on the forehead from a tumbling stone). And just like that, another month had passed. Be warned: time does really fly when you’re on exchange.
May: The beginning of May was characterized by two fantastic trips. Our school had two weeks off for midterms, but I was lucky enough to have already written all of my midterms in the preceding weeks, so it was off to travel I went. The first trip was back to Argentina, to visit the capital of Buenos Aires. Our BIB-Argentina friend, Antonino, was kind enough to let Florian, Kevin and I crash on his couches/floor in central BA, steps away from the famous Recoleta Cemetery. We spent time sightseeing, walking through the beautiful streets, eating more than we should have, and meeting famous Argentinian football stars (at least in statue form). After a few days in BA, it was time to say hasta luego. I headed back to Santiago on my own for what was to be another incredible trip: Easter Island. Two of my close friends from Canada were coming down to visit, so we decided to hop on a plane and fly 3,756 kilometres into the middle of the Pacific Ocean to visit the tiny Polynesian island. From sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, to lounging on Anakena Beach, to snorkeling in the middle of the Pacific (with some volcanic craters and truck drives in between), it was a trip to remember. Even though we were still technically in Chile, it felt as if we had travelled to another side of the world. I also managed to get a tan, which felt nice as Chile began to transition back into winter. I ended the month with a short trip to the Viña del Mar to touch base with the “coastal crew” (that nickname never really caught on), before buckling up for the final month of my first semester.
June: June was a more work intense month, seeing as it signaled the end of the semester. I spent most of it in Santiago, but by then life in the city had become much more interesting. I had made lots of friends in the city, both exchange students and Chileans. I was actively participating in activities within Santiago, from attending concerts on the weekends to playing pickup soccer after class. And I was getting to know which parts of the city I loved the most, from the trendy café neighbourhood of Barrio Italia to the tree-lined Parque Forestal. I really felt at home in Santiago at that point. It was simultaneously a bit sad, however, as the end of the semester meant that most of the exchange friends that we had made were starting to head back home. But the last few weeks of the first semester were quite fun. Zach and I went skiing in the Andes outside of Santiago with some of our friends one day. And there more than enough parties to say goodbye to everyone as classes and exams wrapped up. And soon after, I had a full semester of exchange under my belt. During the last week of June I took a solo trip up to the town of La Serena. It was my first time travelling alone, but the freedom of doing so was quite enjoyable in many ways. I spent one day touring the picturesque Elqui Valley, where the majority of Chile’s Pisco is produced. I ended that day with an astrological tour at Mamalluca Observatory, where I saw the clearest night sky of my life (Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and more). The next day, I hopped on a two-hour bus up the coast to the Humboldt National Penguin Reserve. I toured two islands by boat (Isla Damas and Isla Choros), and saw penguins, sea lions, otters and a number of beautiful sea birds. The town of La Serena itself was quite pretty, dotted with colonial-era churches and old public squares. I returned back to Santiago on Canada Day, feeling refreshed and accomplished after tackling my first trip completely on my own.
That was a summary of the first half of my exchange. I’ve glossed over a lot, but hopefully this gives future Santiago-exchangers and idea of things to do, places to visit, and where the ups and downs of every semester often fall.
Hasta luego, and stay tuned for part two!