Sometimes it is hard to imagine a world outside of our own. We go from day to day accomplishing tasks and living our lives, but we do not always think of how other people are living this same routine in other countries around the world. We are all guilty of ethnocentrism from time to time. For this reason, it is time to go on a journey; a journey to a land 5,000 miles away where one can experience a new world outside of the Madison County vista.
I am currently studying abroad in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, Chile. During my stay I would love to demonstrate that studying and traveling abroad is a truly eye-opening experience that I recommend to anyone, young or old. If traveling is out of the question please do not feel slighted, America is one of the best places to learn about other cultures from around the world thanks to the melting pot that is American culture. Take advantage of that, and learn to embrace the differences that make living in a diverse world so intriguing.
Without further ado, let me begin by explaining why I am in Chile and how it has affected my life so far. I am a senior at The Ohio State University where I am majoring in Spanish with a minor in Sociology. This major requires me to study abroad at some point and now is the time! I will be studying for four weeks at a local university called the Catholic Pontifical University of Valparaíso. After taking two classes in Spanish at the university; I will begin a six-week internship at an English language institute also in Valparaíso. Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are sister cities situated on the coast in the central region of Chile and are about two hours West of the capital, Santiago, by bus.
My first impression of this country was one of absolute surprise and delight. I have travelled to a few different countries before, two of them in Latin American, and I expected the same type of economic depression that I have seen before. Since my arrival in early May, I have been astounded by Chile’s beautifully kept paved roads, high-rise buildings, malls, stores and modern conveniences that cannot be found in less developed countries.
Every day, I am more and more impressed with the rich Chilean culture. Chile is not very ethnically diverse for reasons that are revealed in its intriguing history that I will leave for my readers to discover. I stick out like a sore thumb here because of this lack of ethnic diversity. I am above average height for a woman, have very pale skin and blue eyes. I cannot hide my roots in order to blend in here as some of the other students in my program are able to do. I do not say this because I am ashamed of my heritage, but rather because it is annoying to be stared at wherever I go because I look different. I recently realized I can never fit into this culture completely and will always stick out, so now I am left to decide what attitude I will adopt. I could be hostile and angry, or I could choose to embrace a culture that is very different from mine and let the locals teach me knew things about their way of life.
Whenever traveling to a foreign country, it is possible to experience culture shock. I have experienced some culture shock here and even though it is very small, it has been a hard adjustment. Through time and effort, I have learned to adjust to eating meals with Chileans and also the prominence of public displays of affection between couples. I have learned that it is improper to eat with one’s hands. This means even that big juicy hamburger from Five Guys. Burgers and fries needs to be cut up with a knife and eaten with a fork. This seems strange at first, but in every culture there are reasons for the actions the people take. The adventure is finding the reason behind these actions. In Chile, eating at the table with one hand resting on one’s leg is also improper. Instead, Chileans eat with their unused hand resting beside their plate on the table. Eating this way has been hard for me because I am used to eating with one hand resting on my leg while eating. At every meal it is a conscious effort for me to use proper Chilean manners at the table.
The second major adjustment for me has been, as I mentioned, the amount of public displays of affection between couples. Our culture in the United States is very conservative when it comes to showing the general public one’s adoration for their significant other. In general, public displays of affection, such as a young couple kissing in public view is very uncomfortable to watch. At times, it is even frowned upon. Here in Chile, wherever you go, there is the potential to feel uncomfortable because of these public displays. However, no harm is done to anyone and there is no reason to get angry because of them. I am learning to simply ignore these displays and accept them as part of the Chilean culture. Chileans are a generally warm-hearted people and tend to greet everyone with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. The general love and affection of the Chilean people is so refreshing.
As the days and weeks pass by, there are bound to be more things that intrigue me or even make me feel uncomfortable. This is part of adapting to and learning a new culture. However, my success ultimately depends on the attitude I take towards new ideas and ways of living. Join me throughout my adventure to Chile and learn about one of the many rich cultures in our vast and beautiful world. The journey does not end here, so please stay tuned for more updates. It is my hope that by the end of my journey, we will have together learned something new about Chilean culture and living outside of the United States.
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.