El viaje empieza

The journey begins

Wow, it’s really happening! I’m on my flight to Santiago, Chile, for a semester-long adventure of getting to know a new city, country, and culture. I’m so excited and grateful for this opportunity to learn and experience so many new things!

In the week leading up to today, I was a bundle of nerves. Just looking at my suitcases set off the butterflies in my stomach! It’s been a week of mishaps (read: a sprained ankle and an issue that caused me to have to switch my flight to a day later), but now I’m securely on the airplane and enjoying listening to a John Williams playlist. I’ll have a layover in Bogotá, and then I’ll arrive in Chile just in time to see the sun rise on a landscape that is totally new to me.

So what will I do in Chile? In a move that’s uncharacteristic for me, I have a broad-level plan but not many details. I will attend school at la Universidad Diego Portales, where I will take classes on Spanish linguistics and grammar, Latin American politics, and international relations. All of these classes will go toward my International Studies major, Spanish Language minor, and Spanish Translation certificate. I’ll also apply for an internship at an organization in Santiago, so I’ll be able to dive into the professional culture of the city as well. I’ll stay with my host family (introductions to come!) in Las Condes, just outside of Santiago. I’ll visit Easter Island and the Atacama Desert, navigate a new public transportation system, and eat so many empanadas. Beyond all that, I’ll go with the flow and take every opportunity I can to learn and get involved.

Even getting ready for the trip has taught me several lessons already.

  1. Fifty pounds per bag is a lot when you have four bags and it takes a solid three hours to get from your apartment door to your departure gate, via the D.C. Metro. Dear WMATA, I love your (fairly consistent) efficiency, but it’s really difficult to drag suitcases over your train car doors and deep-set tiles.
  2. Don’t get complacent–international travel is a little more difficult than domestic travel! Since I go to school halfway across the country from home, I’ve become pretty comfortable with navigating airports. I was meant to fly out on Thursday, and followed the commonly-held rule of being at the airport 2 or 3 hours before my international flight. However, thanks to some serious traffic on the highway, I got to the ticket counter a little less than two hours before my flight was supposed to depart. Little did I know that this airline would close their ticket counter as soon as I walked up and tell me that I was too late, and that I would have to fly the next day. Yikes! I’m not sure what reasoning is behind the policy, but now I know that you should be at Dulles International Airport four hours early to catch your Avianca flight.
  3. I’m a very obvious American. It might have something to do with the Minnesota t-shirt I’m wearing, or the flash of panic that crosses my eyes each time I realize that things are completely in Spanish. Even though I’ve been studying the language for a very long time, I’ve only reached what I like to call “textbook fluency.” In real time and under a bit of pressure, I have a hard time getting the words out. My main goal in Chile, then, is to not only improve my Spanish but become much more comfortable with it.
  4. Even after flying about four times a year for the past couple of years, I still love airplanes as much now as I did when I was a little kid. I get giddy at takeoff, to the point where I can feel my heart in my throat and I can’t help but grin. And to see the landscape, learning about a place from a birds eye view, is really cool. The most amazing thing to me, though, is flying above a thunderstorm. To watch the clouds brew and tumble, and to see lightning begin and end below you–what a thrill!

For those who may be curious about what I was up to this summer: I stayed in DC! After a school year of long-term research (you can read about it in some of my previous posts on this website), I was excited to switch to working on more immediate things. I work at the after-school program of an elementary school near American University, so I finished out the school year there. Meanwhile, I began an internship at an organization called The Advocacy Project, which supports the efforts of grassroots human rights organizations around the world. As an intern, I helped with administrative things, but my biggest project was improving AP’s website. Somehow, this liberal arts major has become a burgeoning tech expert! I even picked up some HTML and CSS coding–something I never anticipated learning. I also really enjoyed communicating with many people in many different cultural contexts. In the afternoons, I babysat for a lovely family in the neighborhood next to mine. In the evenings, I took Hindi classes through the Global Language Network, reacquainted myself with the beauty of binge-watching television, and finally got a chance to read all the books I’ve had on my list. I got to room with Abby, my best friend since first grade. We always dreamed of living together in some exciting place, and this summer the dream came true! My favorite thing about this summer is that even though it’s a little shorter than usual, I was truly able to slow down a bit and rest before launching into this new adventure.

I’ll sign off with some of the vocabulary I’ve learned today:

  • El tobillo = ankle
  • El esguince = sprain
  • El durazno = peach

Thanks for reading! You can drop me a line via email, Facebook, or commenting on this blog. Have you ever been to Santiago or somewhere else in Chile? Do you have advice for becoming functionally fluent in a language beyond what the textbook tells you? I’d love to hear from you!

Hasta luego,