How did you all get here?

Living as an expat sometimes feels like you are a little alone in the world. Some English-speaking Expat Women in Chile have got together and created the Chile Spouses list serve. Everyone on the list is a woman in Chile (present, future or past) who speaks English and for the most part is partnered with a Chilean. They are a great resource for all things from new jobs to where to buy organic blueberries to play groups for children. I get all kinds of emails from these women. And, I have to admit, I send some of the random ones.

I have been thinking a lot about the expat community in Chile. While I have been back and forth to Chile since 1996, I will admit I am a bit of an expat snob. I have amazing Chilean friends who don’t just up and leave the country. For the longest time I believed I didn’t need or want to be part of the expat community.

When I was in college, I barely hung out with the other exchange students.  I lived with friends from high school and I went home to Rancagua on the weekends.  When I came back as a Fulbright researcher, I rarely hung out with the other Fulbrighters.  This was in part because I didn’t live in Santiago with most of them.  However, even when I went into the city, I often wanted to be with my Chilean family and friends.

I also will admit that I originally did not feel connected to the Chilean blogsphere.  In Cambodia, I felt immediately connected with some of my blogging friends.  We were political and passionate.  Plus, they found me.  It wasn’t until I knew Kyle for several months that I found people in the Chilean blogosphere who I really enjoyed and admired.

Once I did start meeting people, and opened up to the idea of wanting to build my own gringa community in Chile, I was really pleased.  I also, however, was surprised by where people came from.  It seemed that I met almost no one from my own CIEE exchange program– a large program that often has 80 kids a semester (between Santiago and Valparaiso).  Rather, I met numerous people from St. Louis, Colby college or other programs I had never heard of.

I decided to send an email out to the Chile Spouses list serve (300+ people) and ask:

  • If you came as an exchange student, what program?
  • Was it high school or college?
  • What city?
  • If you are willing to tell, what year(s)?
  • Did you return to Chile for your spouse/ significant other or something else (job, love of country, yearning for pastel de choclo, etc)?

I ended up getting 11 replies (I will add my info in to make it 12).

There were 5 from CIEE, 4 from CA EAP (I think it is a conglomerate of CA schools sending people to Santaigo) or other CA state school programs to Chile, 1 through Drew University’s program, and 3 who came in high school.  Yes, the numbers don’t add up, but I came in high school and through CIEE.

2 high school, 9 college, 1 both.

For college people we had 3 people in Valparaiso and 6 in Santiago.  Again, I split college time between Valpo and Santiago.  For high school, 1 in Constitucion, 1 in Rancagua (me), and 1 unknown.

The years ranged from 1993 to 2007.

10 came back for their spouse.  Two of us, ironically both in the high school program, came back for jobs and then fell in love (me with someone from high school).  1 person is no longer with the person she came back for. One person met her now husband the first month in the country. Another in class.

I guess this isn’t a truly representative study.  I know some people, even some bloggers, are not represented.  Several other bloggers I am friends with came in high school and returned in college and returned again– Heather and Kyle, I am looking at your two.  These people make me feel less crazy. A lot of the people from the Wash U programs I know were not represented.  Ironically, it is the Wash U and Colby kids (small program) who I feel are everywhere.  Sadly, they didn’t want to respond to my email.

In the end, hundreds of students come to Chile to study each year.  Some stay. Some come back. I suppose, generally, the staying and the returning is for love.  Mine was love of family and friends before it was romantic love… but it was love nonetheless.

PS If you liked this post, you should read my first post on what has happened to people in my high school exchange group and Kyle’s post on people from MN moving to Chile.



  1. I didn’t respond to your e-mail because I didn’t get it!! I’m not in Chile Spouses. I bet if you e-mail Evelyn she’ll give you a bunch of datos about gringas who have come back from the WashU program. Isabel is one of us, but she’s the only one I actually know.

  2. I can’t remember if I responded but you already know my info anyways.

    Yeah, I am guilty of studying here in high school and then coming back. But it’s funny how much my experience changed from then to now. I LOVED my time here in high school, which I’m sure has to do with the fact that A. it was high school so it was super care free. B. I was in a different type of social environment and I definitely feel that I was more accepted within that community. and C. I was here for a much shorter time period. Three months doesn’t really give you a chance to leave the honeymoon stage.

    Even though I was pretty let down when I came back and didn’t end up being crazy in love with this country again, I’m glad that my high school experiences drew me back to Chile or I would have never met S.!

  3. I’m so sorry I didn’t respond to that email after we were messaging back and forth about it…it totally slipped my mind!!

    For what it’s worth, I’m an ex-Colby kid who transferred to the University of Virginia and did the Wash-U program from there. I studied abroad my senior year of college and came back after graduating to be with my boyfriend.

  4. To clarify, EAP is the exchange program run by the University of California campuses, and only UC students can be a part of it. It’s not for just any school in California. And they send people to both Santiago (U de Chile and la Catolica) and Concepcion, although the Concepcion program is for people learning Spanish, and as I understand it they don’t have classes with Chilean students.

  5. This should be a group post topic!

    I studied abroad in Chile my junior year in college. I chose Chile because my university had ties to a program (IES) with a community service component here…and because I knew virtually no one who’d been here. I felt choosing a place with fewer English speakers (in comparison to somewhere like Spain) would provide me with a better opportunity to learn the language and culture of my host country.

    By the time my study abroad experience was over, I was completely obsessed with Chile and was already dying to come back. I did two years later, after finishing school and living in Ecuador for a year. When people asked me if I’d come back for a significant other, I’d say I was in love with Santiago.

  6. I understand the love of country and coming back for that… my love of my chilean came 12 years + later… although I knew him since that first year back in high school.

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