The first thing a lot of people find out about me is that I’m from a small town in northern Minnesota of about 16,000 people. My graduating class was 160, and I was on a first-name basis with all of my classmates. My choice of college followed with the general theme of staying in a close-knit community. Though I’m attending college in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, which has a metropolitan population of over 4 million, I go to a small liberal arts college where the average class size is only 15 students. All of the communities I’d lived in up to study abroad had been small, intimate, and very manageable.
Before I went to Santiago, I admit I was terrified. What if I couldn’t understand anyone? How would I know where I am? How was I going to figure out the metro? What if I got robbed? What if I wandered into a bad part of town without realizing it? These thoughts and many others constantly rushed through my head in the weeks leading up to my departure from home.
“The Relationship Between Myself and Santiago Had a Rough Start”
When I first arrived in Santiago I was, as would be expected, a little overwhelmed. The city was too big, I couldn’t figure out public transportation, everything was loud and, honestly, some parts of the city smelled a little weird. To top it all off, I had to learn to navigate a world in a language other than my own that previously I had only spoken in a classroom.
The relationship between myself and Santiago had a rough start. I often underestimated the amount of time it would take to get places and ended up arriving late. Occasionally I would get lost and struggled to communicate my situation in not-so-perfect Spanish to the Santiaguinos, who just wanted to rush on with their day instead of helping the silly little gringa. The metro confused me for the longest time, and even after spending an entire semester there, I’m still not sure I entirely understand their buses.
A Big City Becomes Home
Despite the initial struggle, I grew to love the city and everything about it: its size, its fast-paced lifestyle, and its diversity. I even developed a love-hate relationship with rush hour traffic. Offline Google Maps proved to be a lifesaver. After a while, Santiago didn’t seem so big after all; I ended up finding it to be a very easy, walkable city with plenty of things to keep me busy and happy.
Looking back a few months later, I’m so glad I chose to study abroad in a city like Santiago de Chile. The experiences I had there have shown me that the world is so much bigger than my sleepy hometown, and that this isn’t a bad thing. The world is full of diverse people, ideas, and sounds. It really is your oyster, so while you have the chance, go take advantage of it!
Rachel Naasz studied abroad with the IFSA Butler Chilean Universities Program, Santiago .