A couple of weeks ago in my Phonetics and Phonology class – one of my classes taught in Spanish with local Chilean classmates – my professor explained to us that there are eight regional dialects of the Spanish language, and that Chile, one of only three countries to receive its own “zone,” was Zone 8. If I’m honest, even after four months living in this fascinating new world, I do a double take typing that sentence because I can hardly believe it is fact: I’m taking classes in another language, and not only surviving but also learning and understanding almost everything that’s said. Since then, I’ve become intrigued by this concept of Zone 8; Chile as a distinctive country, with a very unique accent only people here fully understand, but also, more importantly, a special brand of person that has really made an impression on what I’m going to take away from this experience. During my time in Valparaíso, I have had the fortune to meet and spend time with a whole host of people, Chileans and non-Chileans alike, and to me, that is the true wealth of my experience.
Something the ISA Chile staff has talked a lot about to us students is escaping the “gringo bubble” (gringo being a word for someone from the United States). While it is certainly tempting to cling to the ISA Americans here as they’re the only ones that speak my language, Chile offers such a rich culture that is difficult to fully access if your mindset is one of an outsider, and for me entering into the Chilean society has been a deeply gratifying effort. I have been intent on interacting with all the people of this culture that I can, and the Chilean people have rewarded me with kindness and, at times, fascination. As cliché as it may be, my Chilean experience has taught me that the best learning moments come when I leave myself vulnerable to making a cultural mistake, and I usually end up with a new friend in the process.
When coming abroad, I wanted an in-depth cultural experience, and Chile has certainly offered me that, especially when it comes to my family. I have talked to other study abroad students who feel like just a guest in their host family’s home, but for me, nothing could be further from the truth. My host family has given me the opportunity to not just live as a long-term tourist in this culture but to become part of it and share in their lives, from family outings to birthday celebrations to plenty of karaoke nights. Of course, all of this requires being proactive: for me, getting the most out of my experience has been all about saying yes and trying everything.
And so, with only a few short weeks remaining on this journey, Chile calls me to reflect. I reflect on how the lady at the metro station by my house learned my name and smiles at me every day and realize I could stand to pepper smiles into people’s lives a little more myself. My brothers here reminding me that if I ever find myself in Chile again I have a home with them makes me ponder how I could be more generous with the physical things I’m blessed to own and share them with those who matter most. And even though I resist it sometimes, the lesson to slow down and enjoy life as it comes to you is something essential to Chilean culture, and countless new friends have taught me that.
My life in Zone 8 has strongly affected the way that I will look at the world going forward. It’s been a very gradual shift, changing a little bit with the impact of each person I’ve met, but it’s undeniable – I have evolved. Studying abroad in Valparaíso has not forced me to temporarily trade one home for another, as I feared at the beginning. Rather, it has presented me with the chance to embrace two homes, and celebrate the fact that I am loved in both places, for which I will be forever grateful.
The world awaits…discover it.