Why Chile?: Endnotes on My Semester in Santiago de Chile

By Julia Kirschenbaum, CASA Chile Fall 2017 (Brown University ’19)

IMG_2143.JPGAs I look out the window of my parents’ living room in New Jersey at a harsh winter whiteout, I am brought back to the view of the snow-capped cordillera that greeted me through my bedroom in Las Condes on my first day in Chile.  It is hard to believe that I am already back home after five months abroad.  While I am working to re-find my stateside routine, my autopilot remains to be reset.  The other day, I said perdón when I bumped into someone at the ice cream parlor.  I had to stop myself from saying crédito at the supermarket checkout.  Getting on the New York City subway, I almost tapped my card before remembering that Metrocards are swiped and not beeped.  By accident, I showed up early to a get together with my friends because I forgot that getting to my favorite café takes only five—and not twenty-five—minutes.

With each day that I am in the US, I find myself holding on more and more to my Chile-based instincts.  I find them to be a lingering connection to the strong sense of self, independence, and adventure that I developed in my months in Santiago.  While I may no longer sit in the front seats of my Ubers or be able to smell the empanadas and sopaipillas on the streets, the experience of finding my own way—directionally, as well as emotionally and personally—will stay with me forever.

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Sopaipillas with Annie

One of the questions I got asked most frequently was “Why Chile?  Why come here?”  After five months, I really wish I had a better answer.  When asked, I usually went with something related to wanting to practice my Spanish, in a country with good universities, and in a large, dynamic city.  While that’s partly true, in retrospect, I think I also chose Chile because of all that I didn’t know about it.  I didn’t know about Chile’s social movements, particularly those led by students over the last 15 years.  I didn’t know about the persecution of the Mapuche and other indigenous peoples throughout Chilean history and in the present.  I didn’t know that a taco could refer to a traffic jam rather than to a yummy food commonly botched by Chipotles around the country.  I certainly didn’t know that I would see flowing lava at the bottom of an active volcano in Pucón, or visit the Geyser El Tatio in the Atacama Desert before sunrise.  Before coming to Chile, I did not know what a loquat tasted like, or even what one looked like.  I didn’t know how to write a research paper in Spanish, and I definitely didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about classical music in Spanish.  My point is that coming to a place I didn’t know a lot allowed me to find myself in a boundless space of growth, exploration, and learning.

In my five months in Chile, I found that the only thing as full as my days was my stomach (I blame the empanadas and the alfajores).  I found myself feeling so beyond privileged to have the opportunity to live and travel in Chile that the fullness of spirit that I felt often manifested itself as overwhelming guilt for having such privilege in the first place.  Studying abroad was exhausting, but it was exhausting because it was thrilling and stimulating and challenging in the best ways possible.  As happy as I have been to be home with my family and friends over the last couple of weeks, I miss Chile already.  I miss that very fullness—and the sense of fulfillment that came with it on a daily basis.  As I look out the window at the New Jersey blizzard outside, I can’t help but smile and scroll through the thousands of photos that I have from Chile, reliving each moment as best I can.

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