Yesterday I arrived in Arica, Chile after spending the night in a hotel at the Santiago airport. Traveling was long and stressful. I left on Sunday from Jackson, Wyoming and arrived in Santiago early Monday morning. Customs and Passport Control was a bit shocking. I figured that everything was going to be in English but I wasn’t ready for how fast everything was going to be. At customs I got in trouble for not declaring the two packages of beef jerky that I was bringing for my host family, but was fortunately allowed to keep them. Then when I checked in to the hotel, I was informed that Passport Control was supposed to give me a piece of paper but I never got one. This made me really anxious. At that point, I was very overwhelmed and starting to doubt whether or not I was prepared for this semester abroad. I decided to take a nap and relax at the hotel pool to try to de-stress. Then I went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. One of the waiters started speaking to me in Spanish and we had a conversation about how I was a student from the United States who was studying abroad in Chile for the semester. He told me that my Spanish was good and that was what I needed to hear. Then I went to bed since my flight was early the next morning, but I wasn’t able to sleep.
At 12:40 am I decided that it was useless to try to sleep anymore and I got up. I packed up my stuff and checked out of my room and headed to the airport. I was there a bit too early so the line to check bags at Latam wasn’t open yet. I waited about 10 or 15 minutes before they opened the line up to people on the 4:25 am flight to Arica. Then I went through security. I was anticipating security to be similar to the United States but when I got there it was very different. It looked similar but I wasn’t asked to show any ID, only my boarding pass. Then I watched as the people in front of me simply placed their bags down to walk through the body scanners with their jacket, shoes, belt, and jewelry still on. I was given strange looks for putting my phone in my backpack before going through. At the gate I was even more surprised to see a Dunkin’ Donuts.
As we started the boarding process, every announcement was in Spanish. I didn’t really understand that much but I was able to figure out what was going on based on what everyone else was doing. Once we where on the plane they started saying the announcements in English as well which was nice. The flight was about three hours long and I was excited that they not only had drinks but gave us a choice of four pastries for breakfast. And we were allowed to pick two! I was starving at that point so that made me really happy.
We landed at 7:00 am and the earliest pick-up time that my study abroad program, SIT, had given us was 9:00, so I was shocked to see a taxi driver holding up a sign with my name on it. I was honestly a little unsure of what to do but I figured that he had to have been sent by SIT. As we were leaving the airport, the sun was starting to rise. All around me were sand dunes. Only sand dunes. It looked like Mars or a scene from Star Wars. I knew that Arica was in the desert but I wasn’t expecting it to look quite like that. As we approached the city, a colorful arrangement of crowded houses appeared. The taxi took me to a small hostel where three other girls who had arrived early were spending the night. I was brought up to their room where we did brief introductions before I fell asleep for an hour in one of the beds. Around 9:00 am, one of the other girls woke me up to get breakfast. Despite having had food on the flight I was hungry again. The owner of the hostel had set up a table for us with several types of rolls and coffee and tea. He then asked us if we would like eggs and made us scrambled eggs. The other girls filled me in that SIT was picking us up at 11:30 am to go back to the airport to pick up the rest of the group.
The rest of the day was spent meeting everyone and getting settled. The Program Director and Director of Student Affairs picked us up and brought us to a gorgeous hotel in Arica. We were paired up for rooms. My roommate for orientation is a girl named Allison who spent the week prior to the program backpacking in Patagonia with 4 other students. The room was small but nice. However, the patio and the view are the best part. The hotel is right on the ocean. There is a patio with a pool that overlooks a rocky stretch of coast and right next to the hotel is one of the best beaches in Arica. After getting set up, we headed to lunch on the patio. We were sitting with the Program Director, Brian, so all the conversation was in Spanish. I felt like I understood most things but I wasn’t feeling confident enough to join in very much. I was also starting to feel the affects of only getting two hours of sleep. However, after lunch we had two hours of free time before orientation really started and I joined a group of students who were headed to the beach. Being from Wyoming, beaches aren’t something I see on a regular basis and I was excited to be there. The water was cool but felt really nice. There were tons of people there. Most of them seemed to be Chilean. There were also people selling drinks and fruit salad out of rolling coolers that they were walking across the beach with as they yelled out what they were selling.
At 5:00 pm we started orientation. We went over the schedule and structure of the program, then we moved on to icebreakers and get-to-know-you questions. At this point in the day I was feeling a lot more confident in my ability to hold a conversation in Spanish and I felt like I was understanding most of what was being said. Afterwards, we launched into a few mini-lessons about Chilean history and several famous Chilean artists like Pablo Neruda and Violetta Parra, among others. This all lasted about three hours.
After orientation ended for the day, we headed to dinner. I was starving at this point despite the massive lunch we had earlier. However, for most Chileans and other Latin Americans, lunch is the largest meal of the day, so dinner was not as filling despite being three courses. Again, conversation was all in Spanish and this time I was a much larger part of the dialogue. By the end of dinner I was exhausted from the past few days and headed straight to bed.
The next morning my roommate and I got up around 7:30 for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style and the tables were filled with fruit, rolls, slices of bread, and various spreads for the bread. There were also crepe-like pancakes, scrambled eggs, and chorizo. One of the spreads for the bread was dulce de leche which was delicious and very thick.
After breakfast we headed into Arica for a guided tour of some historical sites around Arica. We visited a church designed by Gustave Eiffel that is made completely out of metal. We went to several markets. We visited the location where some of the oldest mummies in the world were found. We also went to the Port of Arica and saw some sea lions. The tour was really informative and it was awesome to see so many places in Arica but I also felt very touristy. We were given bucket hats and nametags. We already stand out as a large group of Americans based on clothing and appearances, but this really made us stick out. Local people would often pass us and speak in English welcoming us to the city. It was very exciting to see that so many people were happy to have us there and willing to speak to us.
Fishing and tourist boats at the Port of Arica.
After the tour was over, the group was split in half. Half went to the police station to begin the process to receive our temporary Chilean identification cards and the rest of us went back to the hotel. The rest of the day, and tomorrow is going to be spent in sessions covering program policies and classes, including information about SIT’s Independent Study Project and the Healthcare Practicum. The rest of the group is going to go to the police to get their Chilean IDs and then we are going to visit El Morro, where Chileans won a battle against Peruvian forces in 1880, as well as Playa Chinchorro, another popular beach in Arica, and the ex-island Alcarán. Alcarán used to be an island but has been converted to an artificial peninsula. I’m excited to see more of the city and I can’t wait to be able to explore it more myself.