I am sure this post provides a bit of unconventional wisdom, and dare I say it, a disobedience to our childhood constitution. But the truth is, that my experience in would not be complete if I didn’t speak to complete strangers. (*Before we jump any further, I will also make a disclaimer that traveling with a buddy and straying away from those creepy looking folks IS still a good idea…)
1) Talking to strangers is like a blind date: you first feel uncomfortable but then realize you can learn and exchange knowledge.
When I first arrived in Chile my Spanish was very limited. I could communicate with my host family using brief statements and grunts. If I had any extensive questions I needed answered while walking around Valparaiso, I made sure I had my pocket dictionary on hand. However, after living in Chile for three months, I can say I am more comfortable communicating in Spanish. I think I have overcome this obstacle by practicing my Spanish with strangers. The nice thing about speaking with a stranger is that I will most likely never see them again. Therefore they will not judge me for using horrific grammar or vocabulary. Further, the more questions you ask the more likely you’re capable of breaking cultural and language barriers. For example, when I traveled with a few friends to southern Chile we were welcomed into a couple’s home after they saw us waiting outside waiting for a bus. They waved us over and asked us about our experience studying abroad while we asked them about life in southern Chile. I was inspired by how welcoming they were to us and additionally, genuinely interested in exchanging cultural stories.
2) Strangers can offer great recommendations
While traveling to San Pedro, Atacama with my wonderful ISA friends we befriended one of our tour guides. He was very knowledgeable of things to do not only in the Atacama Desert, but also other parts of Chile such as Patagonia. We were all interested in trekking to Patagonia during our stay in Chile so he offered to tell us a bit more information about Patagonia. We had no idea his idea of a short “get together” would be a well prepared and informed presentation. For a couple hours, he dashed from one map to another, offering specific details and suggestions from how we should hike one trail, to the best type of hiking boots to fit our feet. We felt like experts on the subject and even decided to do some hiking the next day after his motivational-like discussion.
3) Strangers have a story to tell and you will want to share it
I believe the more we learn about another culture, we learn about ourselves. Stories have such a powerful connotation and some of the most empowering stories come from the most unsuspected individuals or environments. For example, I had an assignment for my Communicacion y Cultura class to interview one of the families that worked at the fishing ports of Valparaiso. I was inspired to learn that every member of the family (for multiple generations) had an important role in the success of their business. Their entire livelihood depended on being able to sell fish to larger industries in the area. However, with the increase of technology and global warming they are having more and more difficulty obtaining fish. When we asked what their future holds, the family grimly said: “no hay,” meaning they don’t believe there is a future. Without my ability to speak Spanish or have the courage to speak with these strangers, their story would go unheard. I wouldn’t know how important the fishing industry is for families’ livelihood in the area. I believe stories are told to be passed along and not only learn be heard, but also to create a positive change.
In conclusion, for any of you that are reading this blog and we have not met (which considering it’s the internet, I am sure there is someone), I want to you take away one lesson from one stranger to another: I hope you have learned something new by reading this, and I hope you pass this knowledge along to another stranger in your life.