Since arriving in Chile on June 1, I have been having the experience of a lifetime! I wasn’t sure what to expect because I had never been to South America before, but my host family has made me feel right at home in Viña del Mar.
The Flower Clock – One of Viña del Mar’s most recognizable features
My Spanish and Chilean Culture classes are very fun and engaging – and we don’t just learn in the classroom! Our teacher takes us on an excursion at least once a week to tell us about the history and show us the culture firsthand. This month, the FIFA World Cup started in Brazil, and it’s amazing how crazy Chileans get over soccer (or fútbol, as it’s called in Spanish)! So far, Chile has played and won 2 games, and the whole city was shut down during the games. My Spanish is much better now than when I arrived, and I am proud to say that I can order food in a restaurant sin problema!
I have also been volunteering at an orphanage in Viña del Mar. Many of the children come from fractured families, but are in good spirits and always excited to see us. We spend our time there playing with the children, and it is very rewarding to see the smiles on their faces. During my last visit, as I was about to leave, one of the young children grabbed my hand and refused to let me leave until he gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek!
A ship at sunset during a walk around the city with my Chilean Culture Class
In my spare time, I have visited several local landmarks (including the beach and the flower clock), as well as Isla Negra (the home/museum of Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet who won a Nobel Prize) and the city of Valparaíso. On my second weekend in Chile, I visited the tourist town of Púcon with my new friends. We took a 12-hour overnight bus to go sightseeing, soak in hot springs, and ride horses. It was an amazing trip that exposed a part of Chile I didn’t know existed!
This overall experience has been far more enriching than I could have expected. Not only have I greatly expanded my Spanish vocabulary, but I have tried numerous (tasty!) new foods, witnessed the passion for soccer in South America, overcome the challenges of working with children of a different culture and language, and navigated my way through a new country and new cities. I truly feel that I am living within the culture while living with my host family, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience a country and its culture.