After leaving Torres del Paine National Park, I flew to Santiago. I was meeting my abroad group the next morning on February 17th. While I wasn’t nervous, I was definitely apprehensive. Although traveling is a non-stop adventure of changing circumstances, I had gotten used to that relentless change. Starting a semester abroad meant many things: a return to routine, the stresses of making new friends/fitting in with a host family, and just an overall return of responsibilities.
The return to responsibilities was the hardest thing to wrap my head around. While traveling, my only responsibilities were figuring out fun things to do, finding a place to sleep, eating food, and not doing something stupid. After a few weeks of that bliss, it became the new normal. Other than studying some Spanish while relaxing at my hostels (which I enjoyed doing), I hadn’t done ‘work’ of any kind in six weeks. I knew the transition might be rough.
I was also worried about my Spanish ability. I had completed only the minimum semesters of college level Spanish to come on my abroad program, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to stack up compared to all the Spanish majors in the group. Luckily that worry was unfounded: the six weeks I spent living nearly entirely in Spanish before arriving in Santiago gave me a huge advantage, and I found that throughout the entire semester I was one of the strongest speakers in the group (grammar was another story- but to me speaking ability is much more important than grammar or writing ability).
All in all, the transition was easier than I expected, and I accredit a lot of that to Will. Will was the only other person on my program who had done substantial travel in South America before arriving in Santiago (he was teaching English in Peru). Compared to all the people just getting off the plane from the states, it was so nice to have someone to swap stories with, commiserate over traveling difficulties, and just have an instant connection. We became immediate friends, and opened up to each other very quickly. He would remain one of my good friends throughout the semester. That being said, there were definitely some rough spots, especially when I was forced to sit in a classroom for hours at a time getting orientation information. The classroom environment and being told what to do all day just felt stifling to me.
Our orientation didn’t actually take place in Valparaíso, the coastal city where I was studying, but instead in Olmué, a tiny town about an hour to the east. We were staying at a hotel, and didn’t have a ton of freedom of movement. The idea was to spend as much time together as possible so as to build connections before getting to Valpo. While frustrating at times, I think this process worked, as we all grew close by the end of it. It felt like being a freshman in college all over again, which was quite amusing. There were the awkward icebreakers, the late night conversations in someones’ room about the most random things, etc.
Luckily, the hotel had a pool, and we got out of the town for a hike one afternoon as well:
All too soon, it was the day to head to Valpo and meet our host families. There was a kind of annoying ceremony where we each entered a room one by one to meet them, but then we split off into individual families to move in. I sadly didn’t take any pictures of the house itself or the interior (somehow… huge error on my part), however here’s my room:
And, just as importantly for me, here was the view from my balcony the first evening:
I was going to spend a lotttt of time on that balcony over the coming months.
I’m going to do a separate post on my host family, so I wont get into that now, but long story short, they were amazing.