Being a college exchange student in Chile is tough. Yes, there are positives. Yes, you can learn Spanish. Yes, there are tons of travel opportunities. But, it can be hard to make friends and move out of the gringo circles.
Growing up, my mom always told me to carefully choose my college friends because they were the friends I would have with me for the rest of my life. When I went to college, I left my high school friends behind. They are from a different life; I am a completely different person. Looking back on it, my mom was right. I really only have two friends left from high school (one of whom I didn’t even like while we were in high school), and I have more college friends and tons of grad school friends who I believe will follow me through life.
In Chile, the expectations are different. In college, many people continue to hang out with people from their neighborhood or from their high school—I found this to be especially true in Santiago. It is not a 100% set in stone rule, but it is, in my experience, the norm. When I was in college in Santiago, I lived with people from high school, I hung out with people from high school, I traveled back to Rancagua on weekends with people from high school. I did it, because they were doing it. Because this was how the system worked. And I had real Chilean friends—something that was much more difficult for other people in my college program to achieve as they didn’t have the built in high school connection.
When I came to Valparaiso, once again I lived with people from high school. I hung out with them and their friends. My group expanded a bit more as the twins played basketball and I met others on their team. I even managed to make a friend in class. A friend not just in the sense of someone I would say hi to or could sit and have lunch with (I had numerous of those), rather a friend in the sense that we hung out. She would call me and we would go place together. I knew her family.
Arlette was that friend. Arlette still is that friend. Each time I have come back to visit Chile, I have gone to see her. Usually we go for ice cream. This past weekend, I attended her wedding. It was the second Chilean wedding I have attended and was truly beautiful. I can only wish her, and her new husband, the very best of everything. And, I can only be thankful that I was lucky enough to make such a beautiful friendship, despite not having gone to high school with her.