Hola todo el mundo!
My name is Elise Higgins and I am a UT Civil Engineering student currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile! I have never been to South America before and I came here not knowing any Spanish.
Since I have gotten here, I have learned a little Spanish, but I am still far from fluent. Regardless of the language barrier, it has been very eye opening and an incredible new experience for me. I came here with the idea in my head that mostly everyone would know English. English is the global 2nd language, right? However, to my surprise, I quickly learned that English is not commonly spoken or known in Chile. This has really forced me to interact in Spanish and put myself in situations that I would have otherwise never ended up in.
I am staying with a host family and they mainly speak Spanish. There have been many instances in which I did not fully understand what they were trying to communicate with me and I ended up going somewhere or doing something with them that I was completely unaware of. In fact, last week I found myself at a birthday party for my host mother’s sister without realizing it until they brought out the cake and began to sing Cumpleaños Feliz!
Fortunately, I have also met a lot of fellow exchange students while studying at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Meeting these other exchange students, who can speak multiple languages, has motivated me to put in a lot of effort into learning Spanish. Two of my exchange friends are from Canada and can speak French, English, and Spanish. Just last weekend, I traveled to Valparaiso with them. Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal city about an hour and a half drive North West of Santiago. It is filled with street art and beautiful vistas.
Valparaiso has definitely been a highlight of my trip so far. When we first arrived, after a hour long bus ride from Santiago, we walked through busy streets filled with vendors to get to our hostel (keep in mind it was only 9am at this time). The street vendors on this walk were some of the most unique ones I had seen, yet. Usually you see people selling candy, empanadas, mojitos, hand woven bracelets/jewelry, and other goods such as these on the sidewalks. However, these streets were filled with vendors selling toilet paper, sponges, cleaning fluids, and dusters at discounted prices. These were the most bizarre streets that I had walked on since I arrived in Chile, and most likely not the last. I still do not have an explanation for this experience, other than it is just another aspect of the culture that is different to what I am used to.
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