My parents and I met at the Indianapolis Airport to send me off to Chile. After we said our goodbyes and I had already gone through the security lines, I learned that storms in Atlanta had caused a ground-stop at their airport. It turned out to be just 40 minutes of waiting time, so I still had more than enough time to eat and get to my connecting flight once I landed in Atlanta.
On the plane I met two other exchange students going to Valparaíso. Daniel was in the seat next to mine, and Kali was just one row behind us. We talked until dinner, but by then it was already close to midnight, so everyone on the plane tried to sleep before the flight attendants began to serve us breakfast about an hour’s time outside of Santiago, Chile, our destination.
The line to get checked into the Chile were pretty long, but the line for the residents of Chile was even longer, and it didn’t move as fast as the foreigners’ either. Our luggage was already going around at the baggage claim when we got to it, and nothing happened at the checkout point where the government of Chile checked our luggage to make sure we weren’t bringing produce or something that would disrupt their fauna.
CIEE met us outside the customs, and we each got a calling card to call our families, but I only got the answering machines for my mom and brother and it would only ring for both my dad’s cell and home number. Once everyone had called their families, we left on a really nice tour bus to our hotel. It was pretty cold and raining all day.
I shared a room with Ben, which was lucky because the first few pairs were able to get a room when we arrived and take showers. The rest had to wait for about 3 hours to start getting rooms.
We stayed in Santiago for two days, and it was mostly filled with tours and CIEE information sessions about what to expect for our semester abroad. It turned out the husband of the director of the Valparaíso program was from Arizona, so he explained some of the finer details about safety and other things to make sure we got the message.
The day we left for Valparaíso was the complete opposite of our first day in that it was sunny not too cloudy, but it was still pretty cold. We road on another tour bus, a little less comfy than the first one, for about 1 and a half hours, passing through tunnels and small towns along the way. It was overcast by the time we arrived at Valparaiso, and there were huge ships docked in its harbor. Both towns, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, are situated in little coves surrounded by hills. The place looks beautiful on a sunny day.
My home stay family turned out to be a very nice family. It’s a 61 year old mom, Virginia, and her 28 year daughter, Vinka. The mom was a Phys. Ed. Teacher for a while, but now she works as a designer, so the apartment has a lot of furniture and knickknacks everywhere. Vinka told me that normal homes in Chile also don’t have the walls painted in colors like there are in my home stay. They’re both extremely laid back and want me to be comfortable. The mom keeps quizzing me about what foods I like and don’t like. They don’t care when I wake up, how long I stay out, when I eat, nothing.
When we’re not at our home stays, CIEE has us at orientation classes. Some of them are about what to expect from the University in terms of teacher sympathy, classroom dynamics, homework, and others are about the culture and history of Chile and Valparaíso/Viña del Mar. After our last meeting on Friday, Virginia picked me up and we walked to a shop where I could exchange some of money for bus fare/calling card/general spending. She then took me to her job to switch out some of the bills for coins and I got to walk home from there.
The city reminded me of an older Bloomington with wider streets. There a few other gringos [just a term to refer to white people instead of just calling them white people] in Viña because it’s a tourist attraction and there a good amount of exchange programs at the local universities. My home stay family doesn’t like how many tourists they get here, which they say will be a lot when it starts to get warmer around September; however, the crowds don’t bother me. You just have to walk fast and be aware of who’s around you to make sure you’re not about to have something snatched out of your backpack or pockets.
Now, some of us are deciding about a trip to the Teatro Municipal to see a piano concert and another one in the planning stages about skiing in the Andes. The bookstores here sell Harry Potter in English, so I plan to go to one with some of the other students and start reading it along with the rest of the world this weekend.
Until next time,