January 18, 2014
Hola! I realize that this is very long overdue, but let me tell you, it’s hard to sit down and write when you've got so many other things you can go and do instead. How about I backtrack to the beginning of my exchange.
My flight to Chile took about 14 hours, leaving from 6:30 PM from Tampa and arriving in Atlanta, then leaving from Atlanta at 10:30 and arriving in Santiago at 8:10 the next morning. It was definitely one of the longest, scariest, and best days of my life. As soon as I got off the plane and was within range of my family, I was pulled in for cheek kisses and pictures. The greeting in Chile is a ‘kiss’ on the right cheek, which is performed most of the time by touching cheeks and making a kissing noise. Guys will shake hands with each other, but for girls it’s always a kiss. I had expected it to be something like this, since I’d read about it, but it was still different and strange at first. After many photos and talking (in English) to the son of my YEO Diego, who is also named Diego, I walked out of the airport arm-in-arm with my host sister Josefina. While in the car, Jo and I communicated through the use of our limited knowledge of the other&r squo;s language and her smartphone. As we got closer to home I got to talk to my oldest sister Kelsey via Skype for the first time since I’d left the day before. Once we arrived Jo helped me to unpack my suitcase into my new room, and then we went to the room she shares with her sister Fran and watched TV. Since I hadn't been able to sleep on the plane trip, I fell asleep after a few minutes. I woke up at about three in the afternoon and went downstairs with Jo to find a whole bunch of family had arrived while I had been asleep for an ‘asado,’ the amazing Chilean version of a barbecue. I ate my first empanada, met my next two host families, and got to hang out with some of my classmates for the first time.
My first host family consists of the two parents, four kids, and one grandchild. My host parents, Maribel and Fernando, own a restaurant that is one of the best seafood restaurant in the Valparaiso region. Maria José is the oldest at 32 and works in Prodemu, a government agency, and lives in an apartment nearby with her son Iñaki, who’s now seven. Felipe is 26 and the only boy, and he’s in the military up in Arica in the north of Chile. Fran is 20 and in a university in Santiago studying publicity, but she comes home during the weekends. Josefina, the youngest, is 17 and left to be a foreign exchange in Germany a week after I arrived.
I was nervous about starting school, but it’s going really well. Here, the grades are split up into courses, groups of people that you have all your classes with. It’s different, but I really like it. My school is so small that my course is the entire grade of about twenty people. We have a uniform that consists of a gray skirt and gray tights for girls, gray dress pants for guys, the school polo shirt, a pullover, gray socks, and black shoes. It took a little getting used to, but now I don’t mind it. There are three girls that I’m really good friends with, Maria Ignacia (Everyone calls her Nachi), Cata, and Javi. I’m friends with everyone else in my course as well, but these are three of my closest friends. As for the schoolwork, I participate in everything that I can, but much of the grades here are based on tests and it’s hard to get good grades on those if I don’t understand everything that is being taught. Currently we&rsquo ;re on summer break, but hopefully once school starts up again in March I’ll be able to do better!
When I first arrived it was winter and coming from the heat of a Florida summer, it was a shock. Florida winters are fairly similar to the winters where I live in Chile, but the difference is that here they don’t use heating as liberally as we do in the States. My family has a couple space heaters in the house, but no central heating, so I had to get used to adjusting to the weather more than I do in Florida.
There are about eighty other exchange students in my district in Chile (there are four districts), but only two of them live on the coast with me. The others are in cities further inland, such as Santiago, Rancagua, and Maipu. There are students from Germany, the US, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. In Santo Domingo where I live, there are two other exchange students from Germany, Fritz and Johannes. From my school there are three students who are out in the US and Germany on exchange, and the three of us inbounds are rotating in their houses as our host families. We’re all three in the same course at school, which is really cool. I went on the trip to the Patagonia of Chile with about forty of the other exchange students during the first week of December, and since my birthday is the fourth it passed during the trip. I got sang Happy Birthday in six different languages! English, Spanish, German, French, Dutch, and one of the German kid s spoke Farsi.