The past two weeks have been a blur. I arrived in Santiago last Monday. I found myself exceptionally overwhelmed by the amount of Spanish I was hearing. I could understand a fair amount but I couldn’t reply to anything. Thankfully, when I got to Arica that all got better. The program director speaks much slower and clearer than most Chileans do.
After we arrived in Arica we went to the hotel that we would be staying at during our four days of orientation. It was gorgeous. It was right on the beach and had a pool that over looked the ocean. During orientation we all spent as much free time as we could out by the pool or on the beach. However, we didn’t have much free time. We spent orientation visiting famous historical places in Arica to learn about their history and importance. We took a tour of the city. We got to see several of the markets that Arica has. We also had many seminars about the program and the rest of the semester.
Last Friday, we had dinner with our host siblings. This was the first time we got to meet anyone from our family. My host sister, Paloma, was sick so she wasn’t their but my host brother, Joaquin, was there with his girlfriend (in Chile they say pololo/polola for boyfriend/girlfriend and this is my new favorite word). My brother was awesome. I am the 12th student they have had from SIT over the years so he was really patient with me and very good at explaining what was going on and many Chilenismos. Chilenismos are slang phrases or words that Chileans use that aren’t found anywhere else and there are so many of them. It’s really hard to keep track of the ones that I have learned so far.
Saturday we moved out of the hotel and moved in with our host families. My host father is on vacation so I haven’t met him yet but my host mother is very sweet. They have four dogs and a cat. The house is a 5 minute walk to the university where most of out classes are and the house is very cute. My room is connected to the back patio by a sliding glass door.
Today we had our first class. After taking written and oral exams we got placed into different levels of Spanish classes. This is the only class that we are separated for. In my level there are five of us. Our professor taught us about all the different festivals and carnivals that occur throughout the year in northern Chile and about the dances that are performed at each. Tomorrow she promised us that she was going to try to teach us a bit of Cueca which is the national dance of Chile.
So far everything has been super exciting but there are many differences and I’m still trying to figure out many of them. Everywhere I go I keep hearing American music. All the radio stations play it with the occasional Spanish song. It’s also a very weird mix of 80’s music, 2000’s love ballads and more recent pop music. Another thing that I’m trying to figure out is the water situation. The tap water in Arica is safe to drink but it has a lot of minerals in it so the flavor isn’t that great. Most houses buy water to drink but I’m struggling with not have access to water all the time. I’m used to filling up my water bottle wherever I can but there are no water fountains around and very few public bathrooms. I find myself having to haul around a ton of water or buy water at shops while I’m out. I need to learn to plan out how much water I need to bring with me when I leave the house. The last thing that is very different is the nightlife in Chile. Here parties or discos or even just hanging out with friends at night starts around 1 am and can go until 6 or 7 in the morning. I still haven’t figured out when people sleep in order to maintain staying out so late. I don’t know if this changes once schools start back up or not but it seems so odd to me. I don’t think I could ever stay up that late.