Made it to Chile safe and sound after a hectic few days! Flying into Santiago was quite magnificent as it sits in a valley surrounded by massive mountains. When I flew in, the entire valley was submersed in clouds, so unfortunately there was not much to see upon landing.
It’s definitely a bit colder here than I was expecting! I really sold myself well as a gringo when I walked out of the airport with shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops when all the Chileans had on pants and scarves jaja. Upon arrival in Valparaíso after ~1.5 hr bus ride from Santiago, Danko (part of the SIT staff) took me to Hotel Ibis, where we stayed until moving in with our host families this weekend, and introduced me to the 17 other American students in my program. A diverse group of kids needless to say, but most are very fun and great to hang with. The SIT staff is incredible. Danko and Choqui (assistant academic director) are so nice and funny.
Thursday and Friday was only orientation material. We ate all meals in a hotel and listened to presentations from the SIT staff about culture shock, our home-stays, staying healthy, general acclimation, etc. alongside a few activities to get comfortable in the city of Valparaíso (locals say Valpo). The first place that the activities took me was to Ascensor Artilleria- an awesome first view of the city. Since Valpo is a costal city that immediately rises into los cerros (foothills), a system of elevators have been adapted into the city for quite a while. There are 15-16 total in the entire city, but only 6 are in service at this day in age. Most others are in stages of renovation.
After lots of orientation activities on Thursday and Friday, we finally got a chance to meet a young member (host brother/sister/cousin) of our host family at a bar/restaurant on Friday night to have some dinner and drinks. I met my brother, Felipe, who’s 27 (the youngest of 6 children) and works in Santiago during the week for a business that organizes sporting events- mainly for marathons but also a few mountain bike races and rock climbing competitions. We connected very well with each other and throughout the weekend, he was extremely nice to talk to me about whatever I was curious about, to take me out to a few bars/clubs on Friday and Saturday night, as well as help me fix up his old/rusty mountain bike sitting in the garage for me to use during my time here. (A bike will prove useful to ride to the beach, to a friends’ house, or to the metro stop). Felipe works in Santiago during the weeks, but I think he will return to Viña on most weekends.
On Saturday, I met the rest of my family, who I absolutely love, and moved into their house. I have my own room with a beautiful view of the neighborhood, and a little peek at the ocean. The house is in a neighborhood called “Recreo” that is within Viña de Mar. I get the sense that Recreo is middle or upper-middle class neighborhood that is relatively safe in comparison to some other neighborhoods in Viña and Valpo. Viña de Mar (locals say Viña) is a neighboring city of Valpo only separated by 10-15 min depending on where you are trying to get from/to. Here is a link of where my home is.
I will be living with my host mama y papa, who’s names are Wee Wee and Sergio. Wee Wee is a nickname she has after a grandchild could not pronounce ‘Victoria’ and has since stuck. To say that Wee Wee is a queen is an understatement. I have felt nothing but love and first-class treatment since I moved in on Saturday. Wee Wee has lived in Recreo her entire life and her childhood home is only a block away. And Wee Wee’s mother, Nonna (who also lives with us in the house- a very sweet and quiet 87 year old woman) also grew up in Recreo, only a few blocks away. Increíble! Wee Wee, during my first few days in their home, has not stopped asking me what I need, what I would like to eat, if I’m warm enough, what’d I like to do, etc. Needless to say, Wee Wee does not reserve this kindness solely to me; Wee Wee is beloved by her 6 children and few grandchildren as well as by all who know her. She has spent most of her life caring for her children or others’ children. So, although I always ask what I can do to help around the house, Wee Wee continues to spoil me J. Sergio is a very nice man too. Sergio is a dentist who works in Viña and is quite the handyman around the house- if it’s broken, he’ll fix it.
I have loved getting to know the family more and more, day by day. It’s extremely interesting to hear a few broken stories from them about their experiences growing up during Chile’s golpe de estado (coup) in 1973 and Pinchot’s military control that followed until 1990. This awful time in Chilean history is still very fresh in the minds of many Chileans and because this year is the 40th anniversary of the golpe, talk about that time period is very relevant nowadays. The golpe officially took place on Sept. 11th, but the entire country celebrates its independence day on Sept. 18-19. So, in just a few weeks, Chile will be booming with celebration…I have been told to prepare myself for endless asados (BBQs), sopapias, empanadas, cerveza, música, y danza during those few days. There is also lots of political talk going around the country lately because tonight (Sep. 2, 2013), documents are about to be released to the public that were never disclosed during Pinochet’s regime that apparently have evidence of some of the cruel occurrences that took place 20-40 years ago. In addition, Chile is in presidential campaign season! The national election is in November, so I’ll be sure to get caught up on all the happenings before then.
For now, seeing that I have only been in Chile for less than a week (crazy to realize after all that has been jam packed into these last few days!), I hope to continue exploring both Valparaíso and Viña del Mar more during these next few days and get into a bit of a structured schedule and start meeting more Chileans. Most of those who I’ve met have been so welcoming and open to interacting with me and I can’t wait to meet and hang with them more.
Everything has been very exciting upon my arrival and I am extremely content, if not incredibly jazzed, to be here. My 100mph life these past few weeks is finally catching up to me in form of a cold, but now that I have a comfortable bedroom to settle into for a while, I can recover a bit. Nonetheless, I can’t wait for more of whatever is to come.