Guest Post: My study abroad experience in Chile

| 25/05/2010 | 5 Comments

Guest Post: My Study Abroad Experience in Chile

My name is Toffy and I am from Thailand. My experience as an exchange student started in the year 2004. I was 16 years old. Chile was my exchange country and I would be spending 10 months there. I was so excited and a little bit nervous in the same time. There were various things I encountered with and mostly they were wonderful.

First of all I would like to share some general information of Chile before I would tell more about my exchange student experience. Chile is located in Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, between Argentina and Peru. It is the longest country in the world. As may be expected in a country that extends so far from north to south, Chile has many different climatic zones. Since Chile lies deep in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons fall at opposite times of year from the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, the summer months are December, January and February, while June, July and August are the winter months. When it is spring in North America or Europe, it is autumn in Chile.

I was in a city called Chillán. It is located about 400 km south of the capital, Santiago, near the geographical center of the country. Within the city are a railway station, an inter-city bus terminal, an agricultural extension of the University of Concepción, and a regimental military base. The city includes a modern-style enclosed shopping mall in addition to the multi-block open-air street market where fruits, vegetables, crafts and clothing are sold. The nearby mountains are a popular skiing destination.

Then I am going to talk about people. In general the Chilean people are very friendly and open minded regarding to foreigners. Especially for those Asian people, they would be called Chinita (for girls), Chinito (for boys). “hola” is one of the word they would give to others all day. I used to get a lot of warm welcome from everywhere I went during my exchange time. I got good taking care of and also Chilean paid good attention on me. They were so excited to know more about the place where I come from, what language I speak. Etc.

There were 5 in my host family included a dad, a mom, 2 sisters and a brother. They were all older than me, so I was like the little one in the house. I first founded them when they came pick me up at the terminal. They seem so friendly. They brought me to the house in a little village not so far from the terminal. It was amazed me that every houses in Chile were so colorful. I was lucky to have a quite similar host family as my real family. My host mom was a doctor and my host dad was working on something related to agricultural. My sisters were in university and my brother was in high school. We got along with each other so easy and that made mo so happy.

I think culture shock would probably one of the thing student would meet during the exchange time. As one might expect, customs in one country differ in many small but surprising ways from customs in another. For me there were many. The first was, in Chile, when meeting someone for the first time, or greeting someone already known, it is customary for two women or a woman and a man to kiss on the right cheek, sometimes shaking hands simultaneously. Those older than you should be addressed by their last name, preceded by Señor or Señora; a highly respected older person whom you already know may be called by his first name, preceded by Don or Señora. It may take you some time to become accustomed to using formal and informal forms of address, but most Chileans appreciate the difficulty of learning another language, and will be understanding. I did not understand them at first but later it was ok. Another thing was the way they eat. Chileans eat with fork and knife. It took sometimes for me to be able to use them probably, because I was using fork and spoon all the time in my hometown. Another thing was about cars that had opposite of drivers with ones in Thailand. I was 2 or 3 times get on the wrong side at first.

As I went to a school near my house called Colegio Aleman (German School), Spanish and Germany were the only 2 languages offered at my high school, and I have not learnt about any of them before. I went to school every day, in uniform and I gradually discerned that the local school system had never developed rules or expectations for exchange students.  I sometimes went to the library while my classmates were doing and exam or brought some dictionaries into the exam room. I also have some Chilean friends and learned a lot Spanish from them. Most of people in Chile do not speak English so they try to teach me Spanish by using Spanish. For example they tried to explain me something by using easy Spanish or event by body language to make me understand more. My Spanish was improving step by step. I thing living in a foreign culture and being in the place where the language is spoke is the best way to learn a language.  School took up a great deal of my day, but it was only a good language acquisition opportunity for me after I rearranged my schedule to give my brain a chance to acquire the language with familiar topics.

Although I had almost the same kind of food once a week, Chilean food was tested well to me. Chile has the vast range and high quality of the fruits and vegetables. I sometimes learned to cook pizza and some deserts. One thing I like the most was Leche asala, a desert made from rice and it was in some sweet milk. I most of the time paid attention to desert more than food because it tasted so nice. Most of the food I found was cheesy food and no much of rice like in Thailand. Just one thing I do not like much was people usually eat meat which I normally do not eat.

Traveling was the most wonderful thing I loved about being in Chile. I had many chances traveling around with many people, for example my family, friends or event myself. My host family had friends who had a big house on the mountain. We went to visit them almost every Sunday and had special meals together. I am also lucky to have my host relatives in other city in the south of Chile. My host family and I went to visit them when we had long weekends. For me I had no problem traveling long hours in the car. I usually slept or saw the view which is so beautiful outside the window and the weather was so nice. I got along with everybody and they also gave me warm welcome every time we met. Once I went to a camp with my classmates and we had a great time. They made me a surprised birthday party in the camp that was one of the wonderful memories I have had in Chile. I also had a chance to do skiing first time in my life and it was really exciting. We went to a mountain covered with snow. For me skiing was hard and hurting so bad at first, but once I could play it was really fun. Probably the most fun sport in my life.

To spend life in different country I feel a lot stronger. I think exchange student feel like me in the beginning, maybe they have more problems because they live with host family. So what to do is to be strong and be patient all the time. The bad thing to think about is IF I’m in Thailand I will not have a problem like this bla bla bla…just open mind…thing will not too hard.

Looking back, I am amazed at my ability to acquire so much, so quickly.  Within the first three months of my arrival, I was conversing on a wide variety of topics.  I could have taken advantage of so many more opportunities if I’d been wiser.   Spanish is not an easy language, but it can be easier if it become fascinating conversations with native speakers. From this great experience I also learned how to accept as well as to succeed in another culture. I now know the world is my community and have a much deeper understanding of both myself and others.

Following this year I will go to UK to continue my studies with a Master degree. Maybe my next post will be about North East England.

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