Do as the Chileans Do

Hola, me llama es Natalie. I am spending this semester “studying” abroad in Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, Chile. I’ve placed those little quotes around the word studying because spending a semester abroad is so much more than studying. Using the word “studying” is just an easy way to explain to strangers or your relatives what you’re doing.

Stranger or relative: What are you doing in Chile?
Natalie: I’m “studying” for a semester.
Stranger or relative, (impressed): Oh, wow!

The context of that word reveals itself to me a bit more each day in many surprising forms. A few ways you’ll know that you are “studying” abroad:

  1. You stare at street signs in frustration and wonder why you can’t read these easy public oriented messages.
  2. You ask your host mom for directions somewhere and understand about two words of the conversation, one of them being el metro.
  3. You feel kind of like a child who lost his mom in the grocery store.
  4. The waiter asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  5. The clerk at the store asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  6. Your host mom asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
for gilman

This is a typical view in the city of Valparaiso, known for its colorful alleyways and care-free spirit.


Alas, I’ve only been in the country of Chile for a week. There is still hope! There is a long list of anxieties I had before I came here and still am having, i.e., I don’t know enough Spanish, I’m too shy, I’m not the “type” to study abroad, I don’t belong here, I picked the wrong country, I’m not trying hard enough.


gilman 6

This is the university that I am attending this semester. The building is located in a very urban part of Valparaiso, right next to a market that has the most beautiful fruits. There’s a constant flow of people, buses, and vendors.


As time progresses I’m beginning to feel more of a connection to things here. Upon first arrival I could acknowledge that everything is pretty and great, but I felt as if I couldn’t be a part of it, or that I couldn’t belong to it. I think that’s a huge factor in culture shock. Now that I’ve made daily trips to visit the ocean, it’s starting to feel like the ocean is there for me too. Claiming stake to things requires confidence in yourself and comfort in your surroundings. Both of those things take time and effort.


gilman 4 new

There’s something about being by the ocean that calms a person instantly.


Another thing that I’ve picked up on and discussed with friends is the breadth of emotions you can go through in a single day. At one point you may be in love with the craziness of the street vending and performance art and hours later after being overwhelmed by the language barrier, questioning why you wanted to be here in the first place. It’s exhausting to keep up with yourself, but it’s a natural process of adjustment.


for gilman 2 new

“What are you doing to change the world?” Colorful, thought-provoking murals are at the core of Valparaiso’s spirit.


I’ve been trying to think more in depth about what I want to accomplish here, but I think its necessary to first understand what Chile can offer. And those possibilities seem to be endless. I’m going to allow a little more time for adjustment before I set specific goals. There’s a lot to think about. And a lot of ice cream to eat while thinking.


gilman 5

The helado (ice cream) here is both cheap and fantastic. I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best helado in Chile. Chileans know their sweets.



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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america

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