June 01, 2020
When it happened
My classes were all canceled; however, due to anticipated disruptions from protests that began the first semester, all classes were prepared to be taken online. So it was a relatively smooth transition academically. I had an interesting first semester. In October the protests started and I found a lot of parallels with the classes I was taking on feminist philosophy and literature. At first, I was really inspired by the activity and the people, but then it got sad. Since my campus was in San Joaquin, it was near an area of the city that was unsafe and classes were mainly online.
In terms of COVID-19, things didn’t start until much later in comparison to the rest of the world. I found the government’s handling of the social and political unrest unsettling. Citizens had already been protesting for awareness towards their respective precarity and for more livable, equitable conditions. And the government has, for the most part, failed to acknowledge their demands and used the imposed curfews from COVID-19 as opportunities to repaint/’clean up’ protest sights that are important symbols to citizens. I worry about the street vendors in Chile and those in general who don’t have regular, contracted employment, or those who perhaps lost their jobs due to COVID-19. I think that more of us now are having to confront the hard reality of the gaping holes of inequality that exist in our society. I wasn’t too stressed about contracting it since there weren’t too many cases and I was with a supportive community. My parents, however, were quite stressed and wanted me to come home. I ended up coming back on March 27th. Overall, I am grateful to have had the option to come home where I can be closer to friends and family during these uncertain times. It has been interesting to experience and compare the different strategies implemented by the governments in both countries to combat COVID19. And also how cultural differences influence these decisions.
Coming home there were definitely some differences, some stereotypes that I’d previously known but then was able to see again and anew. For example, how big everything in the U.S. is, roads, cars, shopping centers, everything. During my 14-day quarantine, I did keep in touch with people that I met while studying abroad, other exchange students as well as Chileans. It was obviously strange not to be able to greet my family when I got home, but I was still grateful to be there. Overall, I’m pretty content with my decision. It’s nice being back in a rural area, but it is a bit of a homogenous bubble. I enjoyed the quarantine a bit for a break by myself. I do still keep in touch with people from the study abroad program and check in on how the city is doing. I loved Chile, but I knew it wasn’t somewhere I would want to be long term.
Looking back at your experience
I miss the excitement of city life, the creativity that flowed from Santiago’s streets was awe-inspiring, especially after the protests. I loved the street art, the performances, and the authenticity of it all. Something that I tend to always miss when returning to the U.S. after traveling is how people of other countries occupy public spaces. In the U.S. everything is very private, there are parks and neighborhoods but people tend to keep to themselves and stay within the boundaries of their homes. But in Santiago people take to the streets, to parks and plazas to spend time with one another or to simply be with themselves and decompress. Couples would seek privacy from their families in public spaces, kissing and rolling around in the grass of parks. Rather than going to gyms or studios athletes, performers and musicians preferred to practice in parks and plazas. After a day at the office, or when school got out, you’d head to the park to drink a beer, hang out with friends, read, nap, what have you, the park was the public living room. One of my favorite times in the city was when I went to this party/fundraiser for a local cafe. It was just a small party at some one’s house but it had the best live music! The first band, which was my favorite, had instruments made out of ‘trash’/repurposed items. One instrument in particular that had an incredible sound was a stick with a wire attached to it so that it looked like a bow. Then attached to the stick was a mini microphone and the wire was struck with a knife so that it sounded like someone shredding the electric guitar. There were so many innovative artists that night, I met a lot of amazing people. The last question is hard to answer because there is so much that I learned about myself while abroad. But something short and sweet that I can share, that ties into something that I mentioned earlier, is that I was able to practice opening myself up to the world. Things that I would normally do just with myself, or just for myself I practiced doing with the inclusion of others. For example, I really enjoy painting and normally for me, this is a solo activity, but in Santiago, I began painting with other artists. I sold my paintings on the street, I had my first art show, I felt really encouraged to show myself which ultimately allowed me to experience myself in new ways. Being in a different country, you are able to let go of the expectations you held of yourself. I always found myself making art with people, playing music, working in a community garden, and just being together. I was introduced to nice circles and found more like-mindedness to open up, share ideas, and learn diverse styles.
For future students studying abroad
Chile geographically is the land of extremes. It may be a long skinny strip but it is incredibly diverse. There is The Atacama Desert in the north, the highest and driest in the world. To the south, the land is lush, green, and fragmented by expansive lakes as though it is being taken back by the sea. There is so much wilderness in Chile, it is a great place to visit if you like extreme sports or the great outdoors. Again, if you think of Chile geographically it is kind of like an island, as in it is isolated from its neighbors. Desert in the north, a mountainous spine to the east, a harsh yet beautiful arctic climate to the south, and it is partially engulfed by the rough waters of the pacific ocean. Therefore, the people of Chile are distinctly Chilean and they take some time to warm up to outsiders. Additionally, their dialect of Spanish is very distinct and will take some getting used to. Generally speaking, whenever you travel there are some risks involved. You’re leaving your comfort zone and so you should be prepared to experience a little bit of discomfort and expect some growing pains. It can be intimidating but it is most certainly worth it. I think that studying abroad is a great way to begin traveling if you’ve never left your home country before. You have this sort of safety net of connection through your program peers and on-site staff. Overall during the outbreak of COVID-19, I felt really taken care of by the on-site staff. Also, the U.S. embassy is another helpful resource when it comes to emergencies abroad. If you are personally worried about expenses, your financial aid should apply to your program, and living expenses might even be cheaper in your host country. If you want to learn a language, expand/deepen your relationship with yourself and the world, meet new people from all walks of life, see new sights, have new experiences, or simply explore, (the list goes on) then you should study abroad!