Experiencing Chilean pride

By Ashley Stickel Contributing columnist

June 27, 2014

It has been said that “time flies when you’re having fun.” However, I would like to qualify that statement by saying that time flies even faster when having fun in a different country.

My time here in Chile is halfway over. I have five and one-half weeks remaining and will be participating in an internship for the rest of my time in Viña del Mar. Today, I would like to demonstrate a small amount of Chilean pride and cultural heritage that I have experienced in the six weeks I have been living in Chile. To really understand a culture, one must live and participate in that culture for longer than the two in one-half months that I will be in Chile, but I have learned some about the subject and am excited to share what I have learned.

As many are aware, the World Cup has been going on in Brazil for about two weeks now. This fact is inescapable in Chile for all of the fanfare and excitement that takes place on a Chilean game day. I have had the pleasure of watching the first two Chilean games of the World Cup. Both games Chile won and afterward the celebrating went on for hours upon hours. The cars in the streets honk their horns to a distinct beat while citizens are sounding blow horns. Men and women crowd the streets to chant “Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le Viva Chile!” The excitement is catching and while walking home from watching the games that Chile has won. I cannot help but smile at just how proud Chileans are of their World Cup selection.

I attend the Ohio State University in Columbus and claim the Buckeye identity. This identity is widely known and the pride of my school cannot be missed. However, I have never experienced such unified national pride in my life. I am grateful for the opportunity to adopt the national pride for a couple of months and cheer on the Chileans in the World Cup. I am still rooting for the U.S. as well. Thankfully, they have not been pitted against each other in order to make me choose.

The media focus on the World Cup is also very strong. Imagine the coverage that the Olympic games receive in the U.S. every four years and it is possible to understand the enthusiasm with which the media discusses and covers World Cup material. This comparison is even more incredible when one realizes that the World Cup lasts a whole month and the Olympics only two weeks. I enjoy watching the news every morning to see the comical interviews that the Chilean reporters have with the fans in Brazil. I have noticed that these types of interviews are more informal, but more bold than any interview I have seen in the United States. The reporters enjoy joking around with the fans, but always assert their confidence in the Chilean World Cup Selection. Chilean national pride is overwhelming, but also very refreshing. It is such an awesome experience being in Chile during the World Cup.

Another source of pride in Chile is the indigenous culture of Southern Chile and the pride that these people have for their land. The extreme Southern part of Chile is referred to as Patagonia. Patagonia is like no other place in the world with its flora and fauna as well as climate. This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to the Southern city of Pucón, a city located at the very top of Patagonia. Within this region of Chile lives an indigenous people group called the Mapuches. The Mapuche people have struggled since the Spanish invasion to find balance in the developing country of Chile. The government of Chile has granted the Mapuches specific rights and are allowed to live on their ancestral lands in Patagonia. While in Pucón, my friends and I went on a horseback trail ride through the Mapuche land. Our guide was Mapuche and he explained that his home is on land that is specifically designated by the government for individuals of Maphuche heritage. In fact, one must have a Mapuche last name in order to be granted land in this area.

After our rainy trail ride through the mountains wearing traditional Mapuche panchos, we were invited to enjoy some authentic Mapuche drinks and breads in a hut. This experience was unlike any I have had in my life and I enjoyed it immensely. I could not help being reminded of the Native Americans in the United States and how the government and citizens of America at large treat them. The Mapuche people of Chile suffer from a similar plight as Native Americans in the United States. They struggle with maintaining their claim on the land as well as their cultural heritage and traditions. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to experience just a minuscule part of the Mapuche world last weekend.

In any part of the world, culture and heritage are an integral part of society and the way individuals live. When traveling abroad, certain practices and norms of the foreign country may seem odd from an American’s perspective. What is important to consider is the fact that there is a reason behind every type of norm a society conforms to. One must take this into consideration and begin to realize that the heritage and culture of this country shape their thoughts and decisions about every day life.

Living in Chile has been a grand learning experience for me because I have found that there may be ways that other cultures do things that are better than the systems we have adopted in everyday life in the U.S. Being open and curious about different ideas and norms is critical when traveling and or studying abroad. Experiencing culture shock when first visiting a new area is very real and overwhelming, but the important thing to realize is that this new culture is a way of life as well and in order to survive, one must adapt. Living in a new culture is both thrilling and tiring.

My challenge for this week is to get out and experience a new culture. Thankfully, this is an easy task in the U.S — there are different cultures around every street corner!

Ashley Stickel, of Madison County, is senior student studying Spanish at The Ohio State University, expecting to graduate in December. She is currently studying abroad in Valparaîso, Chile, where she is attending a local university and interning for a community organization.