There is no doubt that you are very excited to embark on this wonderful journey to South America. As a passionate traveler and someone who loves to experience different cultures, this truly is a fantastic opportunity. That being said, your time abroad will also present obstacles and challenges that will enable you to grow as an individual. I am thrilled that you have decided to stray from the comfort of your hometown of Charlottesville to spend four months in another continent and undergo a life changing experience.
For the past few years, I had been dreaming about making the trip to Brazil in 2014 for the world’s greatest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. Flash forward to June 2014, and I’m not in Brazil, but I’m nearby, in Chile. The passion and fervor for the tournament is very much alive in Chile, making it a pretty formidable substitute for Brazil.
Many study abroad students always talk about “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, in relation to being away from home for an entire semester. For example, no one wants to miss Foxfield, an exciting UVA basketball season, or seeing their favorite 4th years graduate. We suck up the FOMO and decide to study abroad, knowing it will be a once in a lifetime experience. But we still wish we hadn’t missed out.
Prior to this semester, one of the few things I knew about Chile’s history was what I learned in a History of Latin America class; Salvador Allende headed a socialist government for 3 years until a CIA-backed coup left Pinochet in power of a dictatorship from 1973 until 1990. Pinochet’s dictatorship is known for the countless human rights violations that took place as well as neoliberal economic policies that brought wealth to Chile’s elite.
The most meaningful experience I’ve had so far this semester is hands down my visit to Don Luis’ farm in Chiloé , Chile.
Chiloé is the second largest island in Chile, located off the Pacific Coast in the South. A Short trip aboard a barge separates the mainland from this beautiful Archipelago that’s home to penguins, 500 different types of potatoes, and “palafito” style homes among others. Chiloé’s economy depends on its fishing as much as its farming and tourism. For the last few decades, natives, also known as “Chilotes,” have butted heads with intruding corporations that wish to exploit the island’s rich resources. In response, many Chilotes have taken matters into their own hands by organizing themselves and taking advantage of their expertise to promote sustainable tourism that exposes tourists to Chiloé ‘s culture and gorgeous landscapes while respecting and preserving its precious natural resources.
It’s week 7 and I finally feel that Santiago is one of my homes. During each of the last 5 weekends, I have left Santiago to explore other regions of Chile and two weekends ago I actually flew to Colombia for a family reunion. Convinced that I was sick of the pricey daily commutes in jam-packed metro cars and buses, sick of the chilly mornings that turn into sizzling-hot afternoons, and just plain sick of the busy city life, each week I sought to escape from Santiago to explore more tranquil landscapes in other parts of Chile. Between hiking on a trail in the Andes Mountains, unwinding in the sun and ocean breeze at Viña del Mar, camping on a beach near Valparaiso with views of the coastline from a lighthouse, taking in breathtaking views in the Patagonia, and enjoying festive weekend with my extended family in my birth city, I found what I sought.
Classes start next week, so the past week has been filled with orientation activities that IES planned so that all of us study abroaders (17) could familiarize ourselves with the city and culture, including food, language, history, and student life.
To my surprise, Santiago is huge. Really huge. Yesterday, I went to Cerro San Cristobal with some of my fellow study abroaders. Cerro San Cristobal is a huge hill that’s part of a city park that contains hiking/biking trails, public swimming pools, a zoo, and several monuments. We hiked to the top where we enjoyed an amazing panoramic view of Santiago. That is when I realized that I have only explored a tiny part of Santiago thus far.
After an approximately 70-day long winter break, I’m finally going abroad. My Chilean peers have been on summer break these past two months. While my peers in Charlottesville are getting ready for spring break, I’ll be getting ready for my first day of the semester. Although it has been nice to spend some much needed time with my family at home, it has been really weird being at home this long for a winter break. Between missing out on “#CAValanche” and having to explain to my friends’ parents why I’m still home when I run into them at the grocery store, I’ve been yearning for this trip to Chile to begin. February 23rd always seemed like such a distant date, but now it’s finally here.