My time is almost up in Chile, but before I leave I wanted to share this list I compiled:
Top Ten Things to Do/See While Studying in Central Chile:
10. Sign up for fun classes as well as the classes you need for credit back home. This semester I’m taking Danzas Tradicionales de Chile and Deportes de Montanas, along with my 3 “real” classes. In Danzas we’ve learned the Cueca (the national dance of Chile), the Huayno, Sau-Sau, and many other dances from all over Chile. In Deportes we’ve taken trips to rappel, rock climb, hike, camp (twice in the snow), and do other outdoorsy things that really let you appreciate all that the Chilean environment has to offer. If these don’t sound like fun to you, I have friends in the “Puppet Making” class and the Mapuche Sports class, which I’ve heard are right up there on the fun scale. Take a class you couldn’t take at your home university, and enjoy it!
9. Volunteer your time. I work in a consultorio (medical clinic) in Valparaiso through the ELAP program 9-12 hours per week, and it’s been the most helpful way I’ve picked up more Spanish, because absolutely no one speaks English there. Besides that, I’ve made some great professional connections and friends, and have learned how to do many things most pre-med students don’t learn until they’re in medical school.
8. Visit all three of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s houses: La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, La Chascona in Santiago, and Casa de Isla Negra in Isla Negra. They’re gorgeous and filled with interesting things.
7. Go to the beach in Viña del Mar. If you go in September through November you’ll avoid most of the tourists but still get to enjoy the warm sun and beautiful ocean.
6. Eat a completo (something I haven’t actually done since I’m vegetarian, but if you eat meat, you must try this common Chilean fast food). It’s basically a huge hotdog bun filled with a sausage, avocado, mayonnaise, tomatoes, sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, ahi, green sauce and cheese. Don’t let this stage combination fool you; all my meat-eating friends love completos.
5. Visit Pucon and climb the Villarica Volcano. It’s a long, tough, snowy hike to the top but when else are you going to see the inside of a volcano? Plus, the best part is that you get to sled down at the end!
4. Go to a discoteca in Valparaiso. There are over 20 to choose from, and they all boast different things. Some have dance classes; others have karaoke or drink specials. Some have a cover charge but many will let you in for free if you’re on the list (your Chilean friends will know how to get on the list) or if it’s before 12 or 1am. You should get there around midnight and stay until the club closes, usually around 6am on the weekends. It’s the Chilean way.
3. Drink a Pisco Sour, Chile’s national drink that originated in Pisco Elqui, Chile. It’s made from pisco (a clear brandy), lemon or lime juice, whipped egg whites, and sugar. They also drink pisco with Coke (piscola), orange juice (pisconaranja), and most other beverages you can think of. Just don’t talk to Peruvians about pisco—they claim it originated in Pisco, Peru!
2. Explore Valparaiso and Viña del Mar with both Chileans and other exchange students. Valparaiso has some incredible graffiti and wall murals, as well as artisan shops and ferias where you can find just about anything (they’re like giant garage sales except they’re on the streets), and Viña has more than one gigantic mall, a gorgeous casino, and lots of other places you can spend your money (or just look, if that’s more your style).
1. Get out there! Chile has so many amazing things to see and do, from the dry desert north to the glaciers of the south and everywhere in between, you should never be bored while living there. Take a daytrip to Quintay, a beautiful beach town 45 minutes from Valparaiso, plan a weekend getaway to La Serena, the home of the famous Pisco tour, or stay in town and go to a free concert or check out a street fair. Chile has something for everyone and every budget.
I hope this encourages those of you who haven’t decided where you want to study to go to Chile. As the Chilean legend says,
“In the beginning of time, God created the wonders of the world. When he was finished, however, he saw that he had many leftover pieces. He had parts of rivers and valleys, of oceans and lakes, of glaciers and deserts, of mountains and forests, and of meadows and hills. Rather than let such beauty go to waste, God put them all together and cast them to the most remote corner of the earth. This is how Chile was born.”
It really is an amazing place.
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, Chile