Last updated: July 10. 2014 11:21AM - 117 Views
Ashley Stickel Contributing columnist

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Living in a different country presents new obstacles and learning opportunities every day. The process of learning how to maneuver around these obstacles as well as overcome issues leads to enormous personal growth.

I now only have 25 days left to enjoy this beautiful and culturally rich country. Life here has transitioned from working on homework to working at a job. I am now working at El Instituto Chileno Norteamericano (The Chilean North American Institute) as an intern. This has changed the pace of my days and offered many previously unseen opportunities.

However, along with the wonderful changes and opportunities, I have experienced challenges living in Chile as well. While trying to adapt and survive in another country, it is important to keep an open mind.

I have immensely enjoyed my time here in Chile. I have been able to travel and enjoy a part of the wide range of climates and terrain that exist in Chile. In addition to traveling to Pucón a few weeks ago, I also had the opportunity to travel to a town called La Serena about six hours north from where I am living in Viña del Mar. This town is in a semi-arid zone near the bottom of the Atacama Desert (the driest desert in the world).

My primary reason in wanting to visit this town was that I have friends from the United States who live there and I wanted to take time to visit them while in Chile. My traveling companions and I were able to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon with them. Our first day in La Serena, we toured an island nearby called Isla Damas where we were able to see the local flora and fauna. The semi-arid region of La Serena and the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous. I loved seeing the contrast between La Serena and Pucón. It is important to get out and see the countryside in order to understand the identity of a nation and culture. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to do some travelling outside of Viña del Mar.

While on this trip to La Serena, I encountered my first major challenge that inevitably occurs when living in a foreign country for any length of time: I got sick. For the past two weeks, I have had a very bad cold. It has been a constant struggle to enjoy living in Chile while sick. It is very difficult to find appropriate medication when it is all in Spanish and they do not use the same products I am used to taking for a cold at home. It is also difficult being sick in a foreign country because it has been very easy to become depressed while realizing the lack of control over the situation that I have. It is a tendency of the Chilean culture to self-diagnose or self-treat illnesses. Chileans have many remedies that they like to employ and I have had many suggestions of what to take during the last two weeks. Suffice it to say, none of the recommendations that I took have actually helped cure my sickness, which I lovingly refer to as the “Chilean Plague” (remember this is not a real disease and I only have a bad cold). The challenge of being sick in a foreign country is very real. I have learned quite a bit about Chilean culture while having this sickness.

Over the last three weeks I have been working at The Chilean North American Institute as an intern. This is an English language institute that serves the people of the Viña del Mar area by offering classes in English. In my time at the institute I have enjoyed observing classes, helping teachers, speaking English with students to help them learn as well as teaching classes. The first few weeks of my internship were another challenge to overcome. At the beginning, I struggled with a lack of communication with my supervisor as well as a general lack of direction. Eventually, with persistence, the lack of communication was fixed and I have a full schedule with direction. It is safe to say that respectful persistence is the way to achieve success in my new workplace. I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the Institute despite its challenges and my being sick during the first few weeks.

During my stay in Chile, I have met many foreigners including many Americans who have been in Chile much longer than I. I have found that these individuals are able to offer a wealth of knowledge about adapting to the culture and living in Chile. I have soaked up their advice like a sponge. When traveling, it is exciting to meet someone from home because they make one feel at home in a very foreign land. I have also met individuals from different countries around the world, including Norway, Germany, France, England, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. These individuals bring a different perspective on the cultural life of Chile because they are viewing the Chilean culture from completely different perspectives. These individuals can be encouraging as well because their stories of travel and survival demonstrate the tenacity and courage of humans all over the world. Their stories make me think, “If they can do it, then so can I!”

This was not meant to be a “woe is me” type of update. Instead, I want to encourage others who may travel and experience hard times or run into obstacles that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a wonderful feeling to overcome an obstacle and realize you have grown as a person through the process. The things I have learned about the Chilean culture and myself over the last few weeks have been priceless, even if I did have to go through some difficult parts.

Remember, if I can do it, so can you! Chao for now!

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.

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