When you choose where to study abroad, you usually look for a country that makes you want to learn and explore and grow. You look at the classes you would take, and you look at the cities you will visit. Maybe you think of all the new food you get to try, or wonder how much of the local language you will learn.
But maybe you forget something. Maybe you forget that the country you chose to visit is a hot-spot for natural disasters.
Chile sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which essentially means that volcanoes and earthquakes are just a fact of life. Earthquakes specifically, felt through the entirety of Chile, are considered a part of everyday life. (In Chile, there is a distinction between what is considered a tremor versus an earthquake: anything less than a 5-6 on the Richter scale is considered a temblor and anything greater than a 7 is considered a terremoto.)
Despite being typical in Chile, earthquakes are not to be taken lightly. After the initial shock, there are réplicas (aftershocks) and tsunamis that can continue to pose a threat. However, buildings are constructed with earthquakes in mind. Coastal cities have clearly posted signs that mark the path to safety from tsunamis. People check on one another, ensuring that everybody is safe.
As a student studying in Chile, I got to experience this for myself.
On the evening of 16 September 2015, I was riding a bus northward between Valdivia and my home in Valparaiso, an overnight haul, when a massive 8.3 earthquake shook Illapel, more or less 250km north of Valparaíso. According to the news I heard afterwards, it was a long quake with plenty of aftershocks. And I was being gently rocked to sleep on a bus as it happened.
I missed the terremoto.
When I awoke and saw all the messages from worried family and friends, I proceeded to do everything I was taught to do by the ISA staff and I began to inform my loved ones that I was entirely… unaffected by this quake.
After I got back to Valparaiso, life was normal. There was a tsunami warning, but everybody had returned home. There were aftershocks, but I slept through them. Then, days after the Illapel quake, I finally experienced my first shake. I sat through a 6.6 and I could see and hear the effects, and if I focused I could sense the world around me moving. And I realized something in those thirty seconds. I am lucky.
I’m in a country that is beautiful, historical, and active in a multitude of ways, only one of which is seismically. Mother Nature likes to demonstrate her power regularly in Chile, in the breathtaking beauty of the Andes and the Atacama and Patagonia. But her power is also visible in the eruptions of volcanoes and shaking of the earth. However, I feel safe because when Mother Nature strikes regularly, Chile stays as strong as ever.
Want to read more about life in Chile? Check out “5 Surprises About Studying Abroad in Valparaiso, Chile”