We are finally settled here in Valparaiso, Chile. This fluttering port city is full of a way of life in which I may as well be “un bebe”. We spent four smooth-sailing days in the capital Santiago, visiting some of the most historical places including one of the gorgeous houses of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was still feeling like a vacation, and I knew that until we were settled and enrolled in school, it would remain unreal.
In speaking with the other ISA students, I have come to realize that many are waiting for a moment when it really “hits them” that they are here in Chile. For me, that moment came in a package along with realizing the universality of some things. Our second night in Valparaiso, our host mama and brother took us to Vina Del Mar for ice cream. I was a bit down on myself for missing out on pieces of conversation and not being able to contribute the way that I hoped. Then my brother put on the song “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls from his MP3 player. Suddenly, the whole car was singing along. We were giggling and smiling and in that moment, I was secure. I was acutely aware of my situation and surprisingly comfortable with its foreignness.
One of my biggest insecurities thus far on the trip has been the language barrier. I can pick up the main points of conversation, but producing effective sentences has proven very difficult. Partially because of my own insecurities, but also because the dialect and slang here are very pertinent and many corners are cut along the way. Besides the language factor, things have been running pretty smoothly. To my surprise, knock on wood, so far so good. Given, we have been kindly guided by the ISA staff up until this point with planned excursions and tours, but I am very proud of the way things are going either way. I speak more Spanish than I did when I arrived, and I have to remember that it won’t happen overnight.
The same night that we sang along to one of the greatest U.S. hits of the 80s, another similar moment occurred. We arrived at the Ice Cream shop and sat outside, where some Cuban street performers we playing various instruments and singing. We clapped along, knowing very well that they would expect some compensation for our enjoyment. However, these men really seemed as though their desire was to entertain. They dedicated a portion of a song to a fluffy white dog sitting on the lap of a gentleman, and then headed our way. The singer approached us when he saw we were enjoying his music and began chanting to a beautiful rhythm the word “Guantanamera”. I asked my family, but the word has no literal translation in English. I didn’t question it and began to sing along with everyone else. I had no idea what I was saying but I was having fun and once again found myself connected to my pseudo-family for the next four months. I was no longer dwelling on my shortcomings, instead I was focusing on this beautiful moment of human connection.
I have been absorbing entirely to much to process, but I think i’m getting there. I have all the confidence in myself that I will make the best of things. I know there will be plenty of struggles and maybe some slumps, but sometimes you just have to “Guantanamera” and keep on going. After all, music can be the perfect piece to bridge a language gap and overall the most universal of languages.
Uno mas anecdote. This evening our first housemate in the pension moved in, a young Chileno named “Javier”. This is his first year in college and he will be attending a school very near our house in the city. It was really sweet when his parents dropped him off, and made me very nostalgic of my first year. Once again, music brought us together. While our family, Javier and his family sat around the kitchen table, a Chilean program for kids came on T.V., a concert of sorts. They taught us about “Ring Ring Roja”, the Chilean version of Ding Dong Ditch. Javier and his mother were a bit emotional about this childhood memory, and I felt sad and excited for them during this milestone. Coming full circle, the universality of something like homesickness or being sad to separate from your parents can make being away a bit easier. These feelings are natural and it’s good to be a little scared. The things outside your comfort zone are often the best experiences! Hasta pronto chicos!