New Apartment, New President, New Life

Semester is officially over! December has brought about a lot of changes for me here in Chile, for Chileans too. All my friends here have returned to the United States and I am the lone “gringa” here in Santiago. I am all moved in to my new apartment with my boyfriend and we love it! It’s in the heart of the city, the “comuna” called Santiago Centro, and in a really touristy place called Bellas Artes. This is perfect for me because with Max we speak Spanish about 95% of the time, so if I ever feel the need to speak English I can easily find people, restaurants, cafes, etc. where I can speak English. Our apartment is on the seventh floor of the building and I thought that would subdue some of the noise from outside – it doesn’t. Santiago is a really loud city with all of the people, cars, and especially the buses. I can hear everything even with the windows and doors shut! It dies down a little at night, but it is definitely not what I am used to in Madison, a city of 250,000 versus the 6 million people here in Santiago. Another thing I am not used to in my new home is the lack of air conditioning. Heating and cooling homes is really expensive here so no one does it, they find tricks instead to control the temperature inside. For example, I open the front door to my apartment but leave the chain lock on it so it is open about 1.5 inches and a nice breeze comes in because it faces the back of the building where there is shade, therefore cooler air. This is actually really efficient at keeping my apartment cool, especially if I remember to shut all the shades at night because our apartment faces sunrise and therefore can get really hot in the morning. Overall, I am glad we chose this apartment and the price tag is a lot cheaper than I would be paying in Madison living in an apartment close to campus.

This month was also the second round of presidential elections, the elections that actually chose who would be the next president of Chile. The campaigns are really similar to how they are in the U.S.: a lot of TV ads, signs and posters, and a few televised debates. However, this election was really fascinating to watch because it came down to the two female candidates in the second “vuelta,” as they call it. One candidate was ex-President Michelle Bachelet from the left and the other was more conservative Evelyn Matthei. I’m still a little confused about this, but apparently their fathers knew each other and something happened with them during the dictatorship in the 70’s, but I will let you look that up because I have tried a lot to understand it but still am not sure. Anyways, Michelle won and will be President again. The big issues that I found to be most talked about here in Chile during the elections were education and a new Constitution. We will see in the next year if either of these gets changed. People protest a lot here about education and that seems to be the biggest issue, so if nothing changes with it, I am sure there will be a lot more protests and demonstrations (which usually lead to classes at the University of Chile being cancelled, the university I will take a majority of my classes at next semester).

I celebrated Christmas away from home this year, something I also did last year when I came to visit my friend Inge for the first time here in Chile. Christmas away from home still wasn’t easy, but Max’s family has adopted me into their family so it almost felt like home. His mom, Tati, even made a special vegetarian dish for me! Here in Chile they celebrate Christmas the night before, called “La Buena Noche” and have a big dinner and then open presents after Santa, “El Viejito Pascuero,” comes at midnight. At around 11:50 pm all the kids go outside and look in the sky for Santa, meanwhile, the parents put all the presents under the tree so the kids think Santa came while they were outside. It was really fun to be at Max’s parent’s apartment because it is on the 13th floor of a building and you could look down and see hundreds of kids outside at this time looking up for Santa. Max thought he was really funny and kept yelling out “Ho, ho, ho!” from his balcony. I don’t think the kids fell for it. Either way, I really like the tradition and may incorporate it into my future Christmases when I have a family of my own.

I still haven’t found a job for this summer, but in January I will begin teaching English classes to one student and in February I will start two more. For now, I am just enjoying my apartment and the new addition to it, Lucy! Lucy is my Christmas present from Max, a little hamster to keep me company while Max is at school and work all day.

I couldn’t ask for more right now with my experience in Chile, well, maybe a few more friends because all of mine have returned to the U.S. I do have a few though, such as Andrés, a Chilean friend I made when I first got to Chile who works at a hostel nearby, and Max’s friends. My Spanish is improving and I definitely feel now like I am more engulfed in the Chilean culture; watching shows in Spanish, grocery shopping alongside Chileans, celebrating all the holidays in Chilean-fashion, and listening to the
Chilean news. Santiago is a beautiful city with so much to see, so these next few weeks I want to go to places I still haven’t been to, such as museums, La Vega (a huge market to buy fresh produce and apparently anything else you need for your home) and a few barrios that are really popular with tourists.

More adventures to come because I am only halfway into my study abroad experience!

Special shout out to Rachel Rieden and Ali Vitek, two Badgers who made my first semester study abroad experience the best it could be. Besitos! Nos vemos en agosto.

6.2 Max and I with Our Christmas Tree!
Max and I with Our Christmas Tree!
6.3 Living Room of Our Apartment
Living Room of Our Apartment
6.50 Lucy
6.5 Rachel, Me, and Ali
Rachel, Me, and Ali
6.1 Out with Friends Before they Leave
Out with Friends Before they Leave