When I got off the plane in Chile last Tuesday, this is what I heard: ¿holabuenosdíascomoestas? Debesponertuequipajeenelautobúsyentoncesvamosairalhotelparabajarlasmochilasyrelejarunpoquitoantesdeempezamoslaprogramaylaorientación.
This is what I thought:
¿Qué? (aka What?)
This is what I learned:
The Chileans in general are some of the fastest Spanish speakers in the Spanish-speaking world. And there are these things called chileísmos which are Chilean slang words which make up the majority of the Chilean Spanish Language. And they usually don’t pronounce the letter “s” at the ends of their words.
So when I FINALLY walked out of the Arican airport after 28 hours of travelling and was greeted by this and a kiss on the check from Choqui, the super wonderful Academic Director of my SIT program, I was a little overwhelmed. I was still wearing my wool socks under my hiking boots because when I left Minnesota Monday morning it was nine below zero, but stepping off the plane into the middle of the desert I was starting to regret this decision. Luckily the program directors (“el equipo SIT,” or the SIT team who will be teaching our classes and leading our orientation) brought us straight to our hotel and drop off our bags, and take a little nap so all was well.
Today is Thursday, so I’ve been here for three days now. I’m super excited because today is the day when I think my Spanish skills just clicked into place. My program has 23 students from all over the U.S., and today we all went to eat some pretty crazy food at this one restaurant. (This was back when I wasn’t catching all the Spanish and didn’t really have any idea what was going on, so I don’t remember the name.)
Anyways, after lunch, we had an hour to hang out before we went back to the hotel, and the beach just happened to be conveniently right across the street.
First of all, crossing the street is slightly terrifying because there aren’t many cross walks and I don’t really know how to do it yet. But once we got past that hurdle the 23 of us got to run through the waves and enjoy the sunny Arica weather. After a while, a lifeguard came up to us and started talking to a few of us about the turtles that live here, and how if you look closely at the tips of the waves you can see them jumping out as they try to eat the jellyfish. (Actually, now that I’m saying this in English, I’m realizing that it makes no sense, but it was something along those lines.) Being a lifeguard myself, I was super excited to talk to him about lifeguarding on the beach of the ocean, and three or four of us talked to him about lifeguarding and about Chile in general for a good half an hour. After a while, I suddenly realized that my head wasn’t hurting like it had been when people were talking to me in Spanish before, and I totally understood almost everything that this guy was saying. It was so great! So now that I’ve had my first conversation and have been talking only Spanish for two days, I finally am not translating everything into English in my head and it’s actually super fun to speak the other language. One of the chilenísmos I have learned is “cachaí,” which technically means to catch, but the Chileans use it to say – “got it?” It’s a word they use to see if you understand what they’re saying, from what I’ve gotten so far. I feel like it describes how I’m feeling right now about Spanish, which is super exciting.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, el equipo SIT brought us around Arica to show us around and to see the popular parts of the city, which was very interesting. Arica is very close to Perú and Bolivia and has many tourists, but most of them come from these countries and not the United States. Here are some pictures of my new city:
Tonight we get to meet our host “hermanos,” aka brothers and sisters and cousins if we don’t have brothers or sister, and then tomorrow we move in with our new families. I absolutely can’t wait! From what I can understand, we stay with our family for the first 8 weeks of the program while we take classes, and then for the last month all the students have to do a research project that goes along with the Public Health, Traditional Medicine and Community Empowerment theme. This kind of huge project would usually seem super terrible if I was doing it in the U.S., but since we get to talk to Chileans and learn all about a whole new culture, it’s a whole lot more exciting. For this, we can choose to live in Santiago, Valpareíso, Temuco, or to stay in Arica. If I do switch cities for this, I will have a new family, or I can live in an apartment. I definitely want to live in another city, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up yet.
Finally, when the Chileans are ending their e-mails and letters, they many times end with “un abrazo,” or “a hug.” In fact, many of the Chilean slang words have evolved to make many things cute and little. For example, many people’s nicknames end in “ita” or “ito” to show endearment, and lots of the words are super nice. It’s kind of like Minnesota nice, but all the way in Chile, and I love it.
Hasta luego y un abrazo,