I have grand thoughts of traveling. It seems like a fairy tale told through the photographs of untouched beaches and soaring mountains. I long to live in that magical world. My opportunity to do so presented itself when I was invited to attend a seminar in teaching English to adults in a professional environment in Santiago, Chile. I was so excited and relieved to finally find a job overseas.
As the day came closer and closer I became more and more stressed with all of the preparation needed. Sometimes I was excited for all of the new experiences I would have; other times I was crippled with panic at the thought of going to a new country, a new continent all alone. But no matter how scared I got, I knew it was nothing compared to the regret I would feel if I didn’t at least try.
Finally the day arrived, Saint Patrick’s Day to be exact. I had said my farewells, and hugged my parents goodbye multiple times. It took three flights. I had a slight hiccup in the Panama City airport. It took forever to reach the free wi-fi, and I was just about to connect when the entire airport lost power. I didn’t know that was possible, but I stayed calm and they came back on a few moments later. By that time, the router was not back up in time, so I had to wait until I arrived in Chile at 5:30 am to let my parents know I was okay.
After some confusion I finally found my couchsurfers house. Unfortunately I woke him up, but we snoozed for the next couple hours. My first day was full of crippling homesickness. I would start crying for the most random of reasons. It was so bad that my host Claudio gave me two packs of Kleenexes to carry around with me. I was almost sobbing in the middle of the supermarket. I had no idea I would feel like that; it’s an emotion that’s hard to express with words. No one can imagine the ultimate feeling of loneliness, loss and regret. I reached out to some people who had been in a similar situation who encouraged me to keep going, and that this feeling would pass.
My parents remained very positive and encouraging, which helps. Though all I wanted was to hop back on a plane and go home to my bed. Everything is so unfamiliar here. I want to stay in my host’s apartment all day. But today is only Day 1. Tomorrow I will explore my new city.
Waking up to a bright blue sky on a Sunday morning will do wonders for you. I was feeling much more positive. Claudio said that we were going to the mall because he needed pantalones (pants) and zapatos (shoes). That meant that I would get to ride the Metro for the first time! I was very excited to be introduced to my new mode of transportation. For those of you who have ridden the trains in Chicago, it is very similar in that I needed to get a card that I will refill when necessary. However, the Metro is underground like in New York. To be honest, it was much cleaner than I expected. Perhaps I have low expectations.
The mall was massive, with 5 stocked floors, not including the supermarket in the basement. It is located next to a skyscraper that is called, according to Claudio, the Tower of Mordor. I can’t pronounce the real name. After lunch and trying out a few expensive stores, I finally convinced Claudio to go to H&M for his clothing needs. He was instantly amazed at how cheap the jeans were and proceeded to buy 3 pairs. But we still needed shoes, so after inquiring about Payless, DSW, and Goodwill, I took him to Forever 21, where he was again shocked at the prices. After finding 2 sweaters on sale ( I told him they would match his new jeans), he told me he has felt cheated all his life. Hopefully this makes up for me sleeping on his couch and borrowing his lotion since I forgot mine.
I tried my best to memorize my way home from the metrolink, but hopefully tonight I can trade out my sim card and actually use my GPS to find my way around. The card is 9,990 Chilean pesos a month and comes with unlimited Whatsapp, which is my biggest concern. Claudio assured me it was a good deal. I am so thankful to him for showing me everything, and having the patience to explain it all.
So tonight we are watching Claudio’s favorite soccer team and eating potato chips. Tomorrow is my first day with Bridge English, the company that hired me. I still have to figure out what “smart casual” means in Santiago.
Today I would be meeting the man who had brought me to Santiago, Chile. But first, I had to get to Bridge. That involved taking the metro by myself which means I had to look like I knew what I was doing at all times; not an easy feat. I knew where I had to get off but since there is no Wi-fi on the street, I was relying on a photo I had taken of the route. What I didn’t get was which metro exit was the right one. It ended up that I took the wrong one of course. Finally I decided to ask for help in Spanish, which is a stupid idea if you don’t speak the language fluently (I don’t(yet)), because believe it or not, they will answer you in fast Chilean Spanish. After what must have been quite the blank stare, I admitted I only spoke a little Spanish. Luckily there was a woman nearby who knew enough English to point me towards the street I was looking for.
I finally found the right building and the man I was talking about earlier. His name is David Kelly and he runs the Bridge TEFL branch here. He’s a very nice Australian man with a thick accent and fast conversation. After we were all introduced, he pulled me aside and told me that he wasn’t sure about the safety of the area I was couchsurfing in and that I was more than welcome to stay in his guest bedroom for a few days until I could find an apartment. It was so overwhelmingly kind, and of course I accepted, giving him a huge hug.
He was not there long. We were taught by Sid, a kind but firm man from India. I felt very under qualified compared to some of the other people there. One man from Grenada even ran a school in Venezuela. Tonight we were sent home with homework because tomorrow each of us must give a demo class to a Chilean native, or a Chileno in Spanish. My subject to teach is “How much vs. How many”. I’m terrified.
I said goodbye to Claudio this morning before he left for work, and thanked him for everything. Then I went back to sleep for an hour. When I woke up from the direct sunlight burning holes in my eyelids, I did the dishes, swept the apartment, and then prepared for the day. I had a too loose game plan of what I was going to do for my teaching demo, but was more worried about how I was going to get my 98lb suitcase down the 4 flights of stairs by myself and through the locked gate in order to access my Uber. After several failed attempts I was able to make it all work, leaving Claudio’s keys hidden in some sort of viney plant by his door. The ride to Bridge took me through some lovely parts of Santiago, and I was finally able to start appreciating it. There is a giant library with wonderful architecture and a racehorse track. I can’t wait to visit them both!
My teaching demonstration was a little choppy. It was supposed to be 15 minutes and mine was only 10. The student seemed to catch on quickly, so I walked away mildly placated, mostly happy it was over. The other soon-to-be teachers and I had class for a couple more hours before we were free to go. They were at least, I was going home with David. Though I believe he is around 65 to 70 years old, he drove just as crazy as everyone else here. I suppose you have to in order to survive.
His home is older and cozy with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. I actually get a whole room and bathroom all to myself in a stranger’s house. Honestly, the generosity made me tear up.
He made us dinner with chicken, salad, and mashed potatoes. We sat at the table together and talked; it was perfect. Moments like those are why I want to travel and explore cultures. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I learned that the student I demonstrated on today was actually an English teacher and was acting the entire time….. I am still mortified. Apparently they do that all the time though, so he told me not to feel silly. David also told me of his late wife, who was Chilena. Apparently there are about 100 classes in Chile; she was towards the top, and a very proud Chilean woman. He said she could speak English perfectly, but would refuse because she didn’t like her accent. David is selling this house, and moving to a smaller place in Santiago. Two of his 3 children live here. He has an old fluffy black cat named Sheba who has one canine tooth left. He leaves the back door open for her to go in and out, but this means she must eat quickly otherwise other neighborhood cats will come in the door and finish it for her. David doesn’t seem to mind sharing his home with anyone. While writing this, a little calico cat with a collar appeared and then disappeared at the glass doors in my room. I wonder what sorts of creatures I’ll find in my bed come morning.
I only did okay on my demo. Turns out I was so nervous I didn’t even introduce myself. I still have a job there so that’s all that matters right? We went over some more teaching methods today, and I am getting more and more scared of teaching. I’ve never done it before (obviously) and I just want to do it well. All the other teachers make it sound so easy. At least the books and syllabuses are provided; it’s a small comfort.
One of the seasoned veterans there, Vanessa, said she can help me find a place to live. I found a listing on Facebook, and will take the metro tomorrow to go and see the place. Right now a French woman lives there, and wants to see if we will get along, which is fair enough. I’m excited that I might have found a home! I can’t wait to unpack my suitcase.
I rode the bus for the first time. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing which was very difficult since I kept looking out the windows and using my GPS to see where I was. Thankfully I don’t stick out at all in these crowds. I don’t look quite Chilean I don’t think, but definitely Latin enough to not notice that I’m utterly foreign. It’s nice to feel like I already belong… as long as I don’t talk that is.
After signing 3 copies of the contract and filling out my visa form, I am now officially a teacher at Bridge. It’s a strange feeling. Soon I will be traveling, teaching bank executives and office workers. One of my fellow teachers took us on a mini tour and showed us where to buy cheap school supplies. After that we rushed home so I could change and be on my way again. I shoveled down a sandwich and a banana, changed into warmer clothes, and hit the road. Or the bus route rather.
At 8 I was meeting a potential roommate. We had talked online the night before, and she wanted to meet before she made her decision on Friday night. I had to leave at 7 since that is rush hour. Also, there was a Chile vs. Argentina futbol game that everyone was rushing home to watch. Apparently it’s quite the grudge match. Several buses passed us by since they were so crammed with people. Eventually, I made it on one, and got off at the nearest metro station, Manquehue. I took the main line and to Santa Lucia, which felt like the total opposite side of the city, but is really Santiago Centro. Finally I found the building that could potentially be my new home. I accidentally went up the wrong side of the building, which I didn’t know was even a thing, but I was able to cross over the rooftop pool (yes you read correctly, ROOF. TOP. POOL.) Talk about an amazing view.
After that I didn’t need much convincing to live there. She is on the 26th floor, and her view across the city is spectacular. Her current roommate Ed, who is from London, is leaving in about a week or so to teach English in southern Chile. They both seem pretty awesome. To be honest, I really hope she chooses me!
I left the place at 10:30 at night, which in St. Louis, is something I would not do, especially if I had to walk 4 blocks to the metro station in the heart of the city. But they assured me it was quite safe and it really was. There were people out and about like it was the middle of the day! I actually felt quite safe. As a whole, Santiago is very safe. From what I’ve learned, most of the crimes committed are smoking weed (which no one really cares about), and pick pocketing. Nothing aggressive really goes on. A good example of that is the lack of road rage. People drive like maniacs, just doing what they want all over the road, yet no one cares. No one is threatening people with guns because they cut them off, no yells at each other. I’ve seen tail lights bashed in for a lot less. But they just let it all go. I’m trying to think more Chilean.
Since I had Friday off, I decided to do a little exploring, which sounds more fun that it actually was. What I really did was go shopping in all of these little hidden shopping centers that you would have never know existed if you didn’t get nosy. I was looking for a more professional looking bag and some comfortable shoes I could wear to offices. I’m not sure how the sizes work exactly, but I have found out that most women are a size 35 and I am a size 42. You see the dilemma. It’s quite embarrassing asking for that size and being told the shoe doesn’t even come that big.
On the plus side, I had my first full conversation in Spanish without having to admit that I didn’t speak much Spanish. So that was nice, it made me feel a little more independent. I also have now memorized the directions on the Red line of the metro, which is the main line, and the one I will be using the majority of the time I’m here.
A full week has passed and so many things have happened. The culture shock is beginning to fade and my Spanish is strengthening. Claudio says in 2 months I’ll be able to speak it fluently; I really hope he’s right. I was hoping to have a place to live by now, but no such luck. David is still being kind enough to allow me to stay in his home. I hope one day I can repay him for what he has done for me. I’ll miss listening to him talk to himself and his cat with his amusing Australian accent, and our conversations after dinner. So maybe it’s okay I haven’t found a place yet after all. Everything happens for a reason, and I know that things will fall in place for me as they are meant to here in Santiago, Chile.