Spending a semester in Valparaíso, Chile has proven to be one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. I know that’s about the most cliché thing a student abroad can say, but it is so true that I can’t NOT say it! While Chile offers a vast set of unique opportunities that no other country can provide, the reasons for the “life-changing” status of this study abroad trip may not be what you expected. . .
It’s impossible to confuse Chile for anyplace else, and you know you’re studying abroad in Chile when. . .
1. You can see graffiti and art in the same museum.
In Valparaíso, there is an open air museum that winds its way through the streets where you can see murals from renowned artists alongside amateur graffiti. (all for free, of course!) But even outside this official outdoor museum, many cities and buildings have interesting, and colorful murals painted all around for you to see, too, so it’s truly a never-ending street art tour!
2. You know what to say if somebody asks you if you have a pololo/a.
Pololo/a = boy/girlfriend in Chile, and this is just the beginning of a long list of local slang.
Palta = Avocado.
Guata = Belly.
Taco = Traffic Jam.
Guagua = Baby.
Cachipún = Rock, Paper, Scissors.
You’re going to learn to recognize the local lingo, and you ought to use it, too! Speaking like the locals will make it easier for them to understand you and they will appreciate your attention to detail as you improve your Spanish.
3. You have to decide whether to summit a volcano, ski in the Andes, visit the Atacama desert, or more on any given long weekend.
Traveling while you’re traveling seems to be a universal aspect of study abroad, but Chile offers the widest array of options I could imagine in a single country. In addition to the options I already mentioned, you could also explore Easter Island, go backpacking in Patagonia, see penguins and flamingos in Chiloé, or delve into history and art at any of Santiago’s amazing museums and historical sites.
4. You can feel a tremor while you’re doing homework and not flinch.
Chile is well-known for its excess of seismic activity, and after awhile, you’ll probably become somewhat accustomed to feeling a small earthquake and simply continuing your reading for that cool course you’re taking. Of course, you will also know to respect mother nature and take the precautions necessary when she deals out a good shake or two. (See more on my earthquake experiences in Chile here.)
5. You can meet a stranger and kiss them without flinching.
A quick peck on the cheek, or rather, touching cheeks and kissing the air, is the customary greeting, and after meeting about a thousand people, it will become part of the process for you, too! And when you leave, whether you’ve known each other for ten minutes or several months, you will kiss your company goodbye, too. It might be alarming at first, but it definitely becomes an endearing custom.
Studying abroad in Chile is a unique, life-changing experience, full of people you’ll never forget, and overflowing with opportunity to customize your adventure with the pursuits that suit you best. You’ll never be able to confuse Chile with anyplace else in the world after you’ve been here!