Making friends in Chile

Before beginning my semester abroad, I had this idea in my head: I was going to spend all my free time hanging out with Chileans (or other permanent residents), not other U.S. students studying in this city. I have nothing against U.S. students, I am one! But I’ve had four years of college with other U.S. students: when I was going to be in Chile, I wanted to spend my time with Chileans. This was not only to improve my Spanish but also to better learn how life is for the locals. Being in a foreign country, especially one with a different language is a fantastic opportunity that I feared would be wasted if I did not spend most of my time with its inhabitants. I didn’t even want to think about English! let alone speak it (for the sake of improving my Spanish, I have nothing against English).

It turned out, though, making friends in another country is harder than I imagined. Unlike my home university that is made up of students from various states and countries, almost all at Universidad Adolfo Ibañez live near the campus. As such, everyone already seemed to have their friend groups. Before each class, I noticed how everyone would be in groups talking to each other. I was the only foreigner, and that’s what I truly had wished to be fully immersed in. But to experience it was different. I admittedly felt a bit uncomfortable during my first few sessions of classes.

Fortunately, though, some students were nice and would talk to me between classes and share funny stories. I hadn’t yet formed friendships, but I was starting to feel more comfortable conversing with the students, something I never would have guessed I’d have been timid about before. As classes progressed, we started getting put into groups for projects, and this was the single-handed best improvement to my social life on campus. It forced me to converse with my classmates, and fortunately, my partners were really friendly, funny and helpful. There were in-person moments where I couldn’t understand the jokes, but fortunately, in the group chat, they found it fun to explain some of the humor. 

I naively thought beforehand that if I just go to class I’ll make friends, but it became apparent after a couple of weeks that I should put in more effort if I want to make serious friendships. I started going to a Cross Training class offered at my university, and while I still haven’t hung out with anyone there, I enjoy the activity and it’s been nice getting to know the coach. I joined a local Meetup.com group in my city, and that was a great opportunity to meet new people. I came to know decently well people from Chile, Brazil, and Venezuela, and there were also people from various other countries such as Colombia, Japan, and England. I went to a (national?) park with a Brazilian couple, a Chilean and another U.S. student and it was a great experience, both in visiting the park in of itself as well as getting to know all of these people. Later, I went on a date with a Chilean I met from the group, and I enjoyed it. It was great getting to hear about her work, what she thought of her town (she’s from one town over), her research, and just various things about her life. Hopefully, there’s a second date!

My host family has been one of the strongest relationships I’ve had here. They’ve been kind and I love spending time with them. Whether it’s playing Mario Kart with my host brother and host sister’s daughter, playing a trivia game with the whole family, all of us going to a movie, or just eating meals together, I’ve enjoyed spending time with them.

I have gone to a couple of events with some Chilean classmates, but if I’m being honest, I have spent more time with U.S. citizens. It’s not what I had planned, but I can’t deny it has been nice given that making friends with the locals has proven more difficult than expected. Fortunately, though, making U.S. friends can be an opportunity to meet their host family, which can be nice. It is easy, though, to get stuck in the loop of hanging out with U.S. friends and not pressuring myself to hang out with the locals. Nonetheless, I am very grateful and happy to have these new friendships with U.S. students as well.

About three months in, I’m not quite where I imagined I’d be. I had pictured I’d have super strong Chilean friendships right away. Yet, after some time, I have started to build various friendships. Now I just need to develop them further. I have learned that humor is one of the best ways: I can normally converse with people without much problem, but there’s no getting around that I’m always going to stick out here. However, when I make people laugh, everyone seems to relax. It can be a bit tricky knowing what will get someone to laugh, and it doesn’t always work, but after getting to know someone, I usually seem to get an idea of what their style of humor is, and this has been incredibly useful. If you can make someone genuinely laugh, they’ll want to spend more time with you, and you will relax as well. I may not be where I was expecting me to be right now, but I have two months left! Now I just need to apply what I’ve learned and made these new friendships stronger. 

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