When I told friends and family that I was planning to move to Santiago to teach English, I encountered every reaction from encouragement, amusement…. to downright bewilderment.
‘But you don’t speak any Spanish apart from ‘mas vino por favor.’
‘You’re not a teacher.’
‘You have absolutely no sense of direction.’
‘Do you even know anyone there?’
No was the answer to all these statements and questions. No is still the answer to at least one of these (guess which). And yet despite the odds, 6 weeks after arriving I have made a very confused, muddled, relaxed and pretty enjoyable life here in Santiago.
The first few days were certainly tricky. As most people who have moved abroad alone will confirm, a new alien city, no matter how big can very quickly seem very lonely. With a terrible sense of direction, I rarely know where I am even in England. But in a completely different continent with a different language and no internet data, navigating my way around for the first few days was one of the biggest challenges I have faced. On numerous occasions during the first week I found myself thinking: ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here?’
But, as people who have moved abroad also know, after the first few difficult and exhausting days that throw you so far out of your comfort zone in every way imaginable, things get a whole lot easier. Small everyday tasks that caused me much grief when I first arrived (such as buying a metro pass or ordering a coffee) can now be accomplished without the aid of Google Translate. In extremely broken Spanish yes, but the first time somebody understood my ‘puedo tener un café por favor?’ without asking me to repeat myself at least four times felt like a huge achievement nonetheless.
For much of this, I must give credit to the Chilean people. Before I moved, several people told me that Chileans are not too dissimilar from the English; stereotypically cold and distant. This could not be further from my experience. Maybe it’s because I still walk around with a permanently confused and dazed look on my face, but people in shops, cafés and even passersby in the street have frequently gone out of their way to help me in any way they can.
One particularly *interesting* day when my laptop broke exemplifies this. During this extremely stressful and frustrating day, I trawled around what felt like half the city in search of someone who could fix my extremely valuable Google Chromebook, only to be told that it was a cheap piece of junk and it was a blessing in disguise that it had finally broken. Not a great day in anyone’s book, but the thought of having to communicate my technology woe’s in Spanish was enough to cause me physical pain.
In total I went to five computer shops and stalls before finally admitting defeat and buying an equally inadequate laptop. But although it was an exasperating day in many ways, the people that I met in the various stalls and shops, both staff and fellow customers who helped translate and patiently explain that my laptop was indeed as dead as a dodo, made what should have been a nightmare actually a pretty tolerable – and even marginally entertaining – experience. In any case, in the not too distant future I can now look back on that day with relatively fond memories, a reminder that it is indeed the people who make an experience what it is.
A few things I have learnt after 6 weeks in Santiago:
- Hand gestures, miming and facial expressions go a long way. My charades game has improved hugely.
- Chileans have a lot more patience than English people when faced with someone who speaks very little of the native language. Even when I do attempt a conversation in Spanish and am merely greeted with peals of laughter, it is good-natured. (I hope.)
- There is a lack of emphasis on timekeeping in the city. Although I can hardly call myself a zealously punctual person, even my timekeeping skills are excellent here.
- Talking to foreigners is a great way to spend a day. Fellow travelers, housemates, students, locals, even the random person in the lift.
After six weeks here, I am not going to offend any Chileans who may read this by pretending that I am an expert in matters of their country. But through this blog I am going to (attempt) to offer a foreigner’s perspective and observations of life here in Santiago, that I hope will be amusing, interesting and maybe even slightly informative.
If I can move abroad and make a which strange kind of life for myself in a foreign country, anyone can. And if people saw me the first couple of weeks walking in circles around the city, they would believe me in an instant. Literally, anyone can.