Kyle suggested that we all do a group blog about the things that draw us to Chile and those that push as away. I will be keeping on ongoing list of other participants here but you can also find them on Kyle’s blog.
I originally traveled to Chile in 1996 as a high school exchange student. I did not choose Chile. With Rotary we were given a list of 33 countries to put in order of importance. I knew nothing about the majority of them. I did know that I wanted to learn Spanish and I didn’t want to go to Spain. I also knew that others had strong opinions, aka “I want to go to Costa Rica because my sister went there” or “I was to go to Argentina because my maternal great grandfather who I never met was adopted from there”. I simple stated that I wanted somewhere in South or Central America to learn Spanish.
Naturally, I was assigned to Brazil.
Or, at least I was until they found out that I was to young for the program. In my memory, which may be wrong, it was about 4 days too young.
They switched me to Chile.
I ended up spending a fabulous year in Rancagua. Turns out, I met my best friend, the man I will marry, that year. I had no idea at the time. I danced that year, became close to my host family, learned to speak, and laughed. I met great people, traveled, and grew.
I have had a theory for years that the exchange students, particularly in high school, who do well abroad are those who are unhappy at home. Basically, it is an inverse reaction. For me, perhaps it wasn’t love of Chile, but rather it was love of being someplace where I was accepted for who I was and where I made real friends. Read: friends who cared for me and were not backstabbing, snobby kids I grew up with.
Exchange in college was also great—although most people told me not to go back. They told me it would destroy the ideal memory I have of the place. College exchange was really different for me than for many of the gringas on this list. I did not fall in love with a Chilean. I didn’t struggle to make friends or fit in. I hung out with people from high school. I continued to see my family.
I didn’t leave Chile because I had grown bitter or because my love affair was over. I left because there is a lot of world out there and a home in the US, my country. When I became a Peace Corps volunteer, I specifically chose not to go to Latin America—I ended up in Moldova. When I completed my practicum abroad in graduate school, I specifically chose not to go to Latin America or Eastern Europe—I ended up in Cambodia. I returned to Chile in 2007 with a Fulbright grant and stayed an additional 2 months working for Washington University in St. Louis.
I have left Chile again because I want a career and I am unlikely to find anything in international development or counter-trafficking in Chile. Hopefully, I will find that career yet—either here in the States or somewhere around the world. Chile has helped me to appreciate things about my own culture and to love being an American. It has also helped me learn about who I am and what I want to be.
Amanda: Her story started when a Yugoslavian and a Chilean fell in love.
Abby: Forced to come at first, fell in love later.
Lydia: Came looking to be out of her element, and will leave because of the struggles of various proportions (economics, community, education, etc.)
Emma: “What is the deal? Are we all from the same womb? Is our generation instrinsically prone to latin-love-affairs-turned-serious-life-altering-decisions?”
Aimee: She was hoping not to like Chile in order to have a reason to “just be friends” with her Seabass.
Shannon: She came for love but she’ll leave so that she can afford the 5 kids of her dreams.
Tamsin: The man of her dreams brought her here and who knows where the future will take her.
Sara: Nostalgia and La Tercera convinced her she was making the right decision.
Emily: Santiago promised distance and dictatorship.
Miyaunna: She was here in Temuco on a scholarship and wants to come back to see if she can hack it one more time.
Leigh: In the battle between good versus, aka Chile versus Ecuador, guess which country won out?
Tyffanie: A careful study of study abroad programs led her here. Robbery at gunpoint makes her question whether to stay or leave.
Emily: For her, it all started in high school with a Chilean exchange student who lived with her family!
Irini_ta: Running from a broken relationship, she wanted far FAR away vacations. Mexico was too close, Peru and Bolivia sold out…she ended up in Chile where she met the true love of her life.
Jessica: Chile wasn’t interesting to her at all yet she was desperately needed by an organization here.