I cannot believe that it has been over two weeks since I left my home to embark on this crazy adventure. I have been living with my host family in Viña del Mar, about two hours outside of the capital of Santiago, for just over a week now! My family is really awesome. I have a super energetic host mom, Vivi, an abuela, and a 25 year-old brother, Paulo. Also living in the house are another ISA student and two students from Punta Arenas, Chile, located very far south and close to Patagonia. Having grown up with many siblings, I feel very at home in this dynamic household, and Vivi definitely sets the tone for us with her constant excitement.
Giving the aforementioned complexities of Chilean Spanish, I was completely overwhelmed my first night at home. The family welcomed me with a big dinner Saturday night, and I was completely thrown into their lifestyle (and rapid manner of speaking). Although I have had solid experience engaging with native Spanish speakers, I have never encountered such unique ways of speaking, especially with respect to the students from Punta Arenas, whose people are typically considered difficult to understand by other Chileans. However, since that night, I feel that even in just one week I have already improved my comprehension and conversation skills tenfold. I have tried to observe their chilenismos: “¿Catchai?” = “Do you understand?”; “sipo” = “yes”; “pololo/a” = “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” I have been keeping a list of newfound vocabulary that has definitely strengthened my understanding of the Chileans. Thus far, I have loved my interactions with my host family and can’t wait to keep connecting with them.
Last week, we began our studies at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), located in the neighboring city of Valparaíso. I have about a 25 minute commute every morning on the metro, something that has actually exposed me to a great deal of Chilean culture. Practically every time I hop on the train I see performers, and there are always people selling Chilean candy and other snacks. In some odd way, the metro, as well as the micros, or the buses here, reflects the vibrancy of the Chilean culture. At PUCV, I am taking two classes, Cine y Literatura Latinoamericana y Conversación y Cultura Chilena, both of which I very much enjoy. In the former, we watch movies and read short stories reflective of Latin American culture and history, while in the latter, we discuss cultural differences between the US and Chile in order to solidify our understanding of and appreciation of Chilean culture.
Living in Viña while attending school in Valpo has been very eye-opening so far. While Viña is a more recently established resort town with taller, newer buildings, Valpo has a rich history conveyed by its colorful buildings and art that fill the hills overlooking the ocean and its trademark port. I have spent a lot of time exploring the rolling hills of Valpo and am constantly in search of the best spot to watch the sunset. Graffiti is a norm in the city, lining the walls of homes, restaurants, and other buildings.
On the contrary, Viña features beautiful beaches contrasted with higher rise buildings, emulating a resort town in the Caribbean with giant rocks characteristic of the adjacent Pacific Coast. The city definitely has a more modern influence that complements the unique charm of Valparaíso and tends to attract many beachgoers over the summer, which unfortunately I have missed.
I can’t wait to keep exploring Valpo and Viña, as well as the rest of Chile!