Ser la ola

Studying abroad takes lots of planning. First, you have to pick a program. Then you have to make sure you have a passport, apply for your visa, and start looking at plane tickets. You have to go to the travel clinic, get shots, talk to your bank, pack your bags, have a housing plan, research what people wear in your city, know the weather, etc. etc. etc. There’s a lot that goes into living in another country for four or five months.

Once you’re there, though, it’s a totally different story. At least if you go to Arica, Chile. I’ve noticed from my first two weeks here that if you want to plan anything at all, you should give yourself an extra two or three hours at least. There’s usually some type of unexpected delay somewhere along the way, and excessive planning leads to frustration.

My trip to the beach this morning is a prime example. First of all, let me tell you how much I love the beach. A lot. I go to the beach on the lake by my house all the time in the summer in the USA, but beaches on the ocean are totally different. It’s like comparing box pancakes to Belgian waffles topped with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. There’s really no comparison at all.

Eating fresh churros on the beach
Eating fresh churros on the beach
Stray dogs on the beach
Stray dogs on the beach
Waves
Waves

So obviously, the beach is where I spend most of my free time. This morning (Saturday) was like any other day. Two friends and I went to the beach, boogie boarded through the waves for a few hours, and then wrapped up the day by slacklining between the palm trees before calling it a day and going home for almuerzo with our host families. Since it was the weekend, we decided to take the micro (a small bus that just goes around the city) and see if we could make it home.

When the bus came, we were the only ones on it. We asked the driver if it went past our houses, and he said, yes of course! He was a super nice guy, and wanted to know all about the United States and how we liked Chile. After about five minutes of driving in the wrong direction, however, we asked him again where this micro was going, and informed us that it was actually going in the opposite direction. However, since we were the only ones on the bus (The rest of Arica was sleeping, because even though it was three in the afternoon, this was still early for the ariqueños. I guess that explained the empty micro.), he said he’d drive us back to the city center off his route. While we were turning around, someone got on the bus selling caramel corn in little bags, and before we knew what was happening, the driver bought each of us one. He then continued to talk to us in his super fast Spanish for the rest of the ride back to the center of town.

Once we got off the micro, we thanked the driver and started to walk to where all the collectivos (kind of like taxis) stop. Being all mixed up from the crazy micro ride, though, we apparently were walking in the wrong direction. After half a block, the driver of the bus pulled up to pick someone up and told us how to get to the collective, as cars and trucks honked at him to keep moving and the busy street started to become backed up with traffic. We thanked him again, flagged down a collectivo, and finally got home after an hour and a half of travel.

Even though this can seem frustrating compared to normal transportation and planning at home, it makes every little excursion seem like an adventure. Although the same distance would have probably taken about 15 minutes in the U.S., we never would have seen the coastline that we’d never been to before, probably never would have talked to the bus driver, and definitely would never have stumbled upon delicious fresh caramel corn.

My friend Julia and I have a saying for things like this that we got from our Chilean friends when we were boogie boarding the other day after class. “Ser la ola” or “be the wave” is how they described how to body serf, or boogie board without the actual board. But it also perfectly describes my time in Chile. If you plan everything out, minute by minute, and try to stick to a strict schedule, you won’t get very far. But if you “ser la ola,” go with the flow, and expect the unexpected, everyday can be an adventure.

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