Friday, March 20, 2009

Group Blog Topic: My Past & Future in Chile

Hooray for the group blog topic coming back. This week’s topic is two-fold: “What drew you to Chile originally?” and “Why did you leave, why will you leave, or won’t you?” I’m posting a bit later than the rest of you for reasons I explained yesterday, and the fact Christian got robbed last night was another reason I have yet to write about…BUT I haven’t read anyone else’s stories cuz, well, I’d hate to spoil all the fun :) Without further ado, here is my post and at the end you’ll find links to the rest of the participants in this group blog post!

I have frequently been asked, by both gringos and Chileans, how I ended up picking Chile out of all the Spanish-speaking countries to do my study abroad program. The high-level answer is fairly simple: it was a random choice. But, when you look at the details and event surrounding my years of studying Spanish, the decision to come to Chile I think was a matter of fate and played out in the following manner.

I officially began studying Spanish freshman year of high school, a bit before I turned 15. I remember doing a project that year on Spain and deciding that 1. since I have Spanish heritage from my mom’s side of the family, 2. since I had just learned a bunch about the country during my project, and 3. since we were taught that Spain Spanish was the “official” Spanish, that I would study abroad in Spain. I had never even heard of studying abroad before then, but it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to make. Eventually I would move to Spain to learn Spanish. I don’t even think it crossed my mind that other countries speak Spanish too and that it would be an option to study there as well. My goal to study abroad in Spain remained strong for many years. In fact, I have scholarship essays where I delve into the fact that it would have meant so much for me to study there and learn about my ancestry. So, what changed? Where did Chile come into the picture?

In college, I became even more serious about my Spanish studies than I was in high school (how that was even possible, I have no idea—but that is a story for another day). I began volunteering in the Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Boulder as a way to give back AND to practice my Spanish. I also got involved in La Mesa Española, which was a group of people in the community (students and non-students alike) who were studying Spanish and wanted the chance to practice in a social setting. We used to get together at Buchannan’s Coffee Pub weekly and spend around 2 hours conversing…all in Spanish. It didn’t matter what level you were at, but most participants had either studied abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, lived in one, or were natives of the language. I was none of those. I had 5 to 6 years of language classes under my belt and was using the group as a way to prepare myself for when I studied abroad.

During my first two years at CU, I made a lot of friends who were planning on studying abroad and who went to Spain. Upon their return, which was before I had decided where I wanted to go, I got to hear about their experiences and see how well their Spanish had improved (if at all). My friends told me about the crazy trips that they took every weekend to different parts of Europe with the gringo friends they had made. When we were in situations where Spanish was spoken, I could note the change in accent when my friends spoke, but I could also see that they clearly weren’t bilingual and it ends up that most of the time there, they spoke English rather than Spanish. Which all makes sense—you travel with gringo friends and it’s easier to communicate, you leave Spain and pretty much have to speak English unless you already know German, France or other languages, and when you are barely in Spain for classes, the amount of time you actually use your skills is really not enough to become fluent.* PLUS a million gringos go to Spain to study abroad and thus it is saturated.

Basically what I found out through “interviewing” all of my friends who studied abroad (be it in Spain or other parts of the world) was that everyone has their own reasons for studying abroad. Some people go because they want to travel and get to know as many countries as they can. Others go for more of a cultural experience and really try to assimilate into the new culture and learn the language. Perhaps others go for a mix of the two or for completely different reasons that I never thought of. My reasons were clear for studying abroad—to become bilingual in Spanish and get to know another culture punto final. Of course, the traveling aspect appealed to me, but I knew I would never be someone who would spend more time outside of the country than inside it. All of my friends also shared their biggest regret from study abroad: no matter what their original goals were for their time abroad, everyone wished they had stayed a whole year instead of the 4-7 month periods they actually were there.

I learned two things from my friends: 1. I would study abroad for at least a year (there was no question on this one, if everyone had regretted not doing, I sure wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake), and 2. I realized that Spain was more for those who wanted to travel all over Europe and I saw that my friends’ Spanish hadn’t improved as much as I had expected, so I decided I didn’t want to go to Spain for study abroad.

So I began exploring options in Latin America…looking at all the programs offered by CU’s Study Abroad Programs Office and focusing in those that were for students with an intermediate-advanced Spanish. I knew that any program in Latin America would be smaller than the ones in Spain because they were way less popular at CU. Although there were various options in Mexico, Costa Rica, and all of South America, the only programs for intermediate-advanced Spanish were in Perú, Argentina and Chile. The program in Perú required you to take classes of quechua. At the time I thought learning one language would be confusing enough and did not want to have to learn an indigenous language on top of Spanish. (Although looking back, I admit this would have been really cool in the end, being able to speak both.) So basically I was left with Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Chile (Santiago or Valpo/Viña). I researched each country a bit to see which one would be better—what did each offer, how was the language, where was the program located, etc. I decided the big-city thing wasn’t necessary as I had plans to move to NYC after graduation anyway so that definitely wasn’t a requirement. I though living by the ocean for a year would be really cool. And I really really didn’t want to speak like an Argentine. No offense to Argentina or its people…back then, in my slight state of ignorance, I didn’t want to have an “accent” in Spanish. So that was it: I wanted the beach and no accent and thus I picked Valparaíso/Viña del Mar, Chile. (Little did I know that Chileans DO have an “accent”, just as every Spanish-speaking country does. In fact, certain regions within a country have different “accents”…they are called dialects. The same thing in English happens: an East Coaster, West Coaster, Southerner, Australian, and Irish person all speak in different dialects. Doh. That thought never had crossed my mind.)

So why do I think it was fate then that I somewhat randomly picked Chile without really knowing much about it or having any sort of ties here? Because I was meant to meet Christian, it’s as simple as that. Had I not come, I would have never met him. He is the reason I came back to Chile right after graduation (apart from the fact that I *generally* enjoy living here), because I don’t think I would have had the guts to do it if I were single and didn’t have a job already lined up to come to. Plus I had wanted to move to NYC as soon as possible and climb the corporate ranks.

Now, will we ever leave Chile or will we stay? I wish the answer were a simple stay or go. Before we got married, the plan never included living in Chile. In fact, I was heavily researching ways to get Christian to the States so I could start the job I had lined up at Shell Oil Co. But then I delved into the world of our country’s immigration policies and procedures and wanted to just die any time I thought about the process. So I decided, on my own free will, to give up my job offer and move to Chile. It was much easier for me to get a job (being bilingual), immigration processes are simpler, and I missed Chile so it would be nice to come back.

I’ve been here almost 10 months and our plan, since I decided to move to Chile, was to stay here 2-3 years and then head to the US. It would give Christian more time to learn English, allow me more time to solidify my Spanish, give us time to “concrete” our marriage as to show the US government that we are legit, permit us to save for the outrageous fees that come along with US Permanent Residency, etc. This has been the plan for more than a year now.

But just recently, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to live here forever. Not just because of this group blog topic, it actually started a few weeks ago, around the time we had to start looking for a new place to live. Although I was stressed out about the move (which turned out a-okay in the end), things have been going really well here—Christian and I are able to save quite a bit of money each month thanks to the fact that we have solid jobs, which would probably not be the case if we were in the US thanks to the state of the economy. We both enjoy our jobs and have great friends that we would miss dearly if we moved away. We enjoy going to the beach at least once a month. I began to feel like it would be almost easier to stay here forever, especially since I’m already accustomed to culture and we wouldn’t have to go through the US immigration process nor through the (reverse) culture shock that will come with an eventual move to the US. I feel like it is easier to start a business here in Chile (which I would love to eventually do) and that I could do better here than in the States, as perhaps there is less competition in the areas where I’d like to have a business. And truth be told, I think we could live a higher-standard of life in Chile than in the States. I love speaking Spanish all day long and know that it will be something that I will miss when I’m in the US. Although I’m not a fan of the fact you have to spend a fortune to educate your children well here, I do like the idea that they would learn Spanish and English from the get-go and I think it would be best done in Chile. It is just way to easy to only speak English in the States. So all of these thoughts have been going around in my head for weeks and I was beginning to see us staying here for the long-term. I talked to Christian about it on Wednesday evening and we kind of discussed it as an actual option, something that needed more meditation and analysis. But for the first time ever, I have been seriously considering staying in Chile. That is...until last night.

Las night Christian was robbed at gunpoint along with his friends in a restaurant in Providencia. Thankfully no one was hurt. I don’t want to go into the story right now, but needless to say, it reminded me of the paranoia that is always present in Chile. You always have to walk around worrying that someone will rob you, down to ripping off a necklace in the street and running away with it. Obviously I know there are dangerous places in the US, but in Chile, it is a country-wide problem from the biggest city down to the smallest pueblito (town). I really wish it wasn’t such a problem here because it is one of the most unattractive aspects of this country. There are other things about the country that I don’t like and would never want to bring my kids up around such as: the lack of punctuality, with a horrible work ethic (only having to do the minimum required, if that), and how many people smoke here. I’m sure I could think of other pros and cons about Chile, but for the consideration of time and length of this post, we’ll just leave it at that.

So what’s the answer to the question? We will leave or will we stay? I honestly don’t know. I think that as long as the US economy can get back on track within the next couple of years, we will leave and Chile will be our vacation spot. If not, we might decide to settle down here or maybe we’ll think of going elsewhere. I wish I knew what we are going to do, but I feel like if we go to the US we might regret not staying in Chile for longer. Or if we stay here, we’ll be far from (my) family and important events and I’ll feel like I’m missing out. Especially when it comes time to have a baby. I want to be close to my mom, someone who I can ask about the funky things that will happen to my body.

One thing I’ve learned from first coming to Chile is that life is full of little surprises. Never in my life had I thought I’d end up living and working in Chile and married at the age of 24. My plans before coming to Chile were to move to NYC, work my ass off in accounting (what was I thinking?) and living the Sex in the City lifestyle, but obviously not be single at the age of 40 (or however old Carrie Bradshaw is). I never thought I’d give up an amazing job offer with Shell Oil to move across the world to a job market in which I had no idea I would be able to find a job that actually adequately uses my skills. So today I could say that we are leaving Chile, and we might stay forever. Or perhaps I say that we will stay for several years, and we leave within months. And with that, I’ll stop. Sorry for not answering the second question in a black-or-white manner, but that is just how it is when you live an international life. I know that whether I am here in Chile or in the US, I will always miss the other country. Both are part of me now and for forever.

*These are what the experiences were of my friends who went to Spain; I am by no means saying that is how it is for everyone.

Don't forget to check out the other bloggers’ posts:

Amanda
Abby
Lydia
Emma
Aimee
Shannon
Tamsin
Sara
Emily
Miyaunna
Clare
Leigh
Kyle

Emily

7 comments:

claresays said...

Hey.

I am SO sorry about Rodrigo getting robbed. That is really scary, especially when you are just thinking about staying. Also, its nice to hear there are other gringas who have thought of staying. :)

Chile is dangerous-- but less so than the states. I think robbery is high, but statistically, you are much less likely to get physically hurt in the altercation in Chile than compared to US similar sized cities. I know it is of little help knowing that when you are the victim, and it is not any less upsetting... but still. I am glad he is okay.

Mamacita Chilena said...

Oh my gosh, I can't believe that Christian got robbed, that's terrible. What a rough month you guys have had :( I'm so sorry to hear that.

And Clare, not to be a Sally Downer, but while I'm sure the average person is less likely to get robbed in the U.S., I'm pretty sure the average gringa-looking gringa is much more likely to get robbed here.

Sara said...

That's scary about your husband getting robbed at gunpoint in Providencia. Usually Providencia gives me a false sense of security, but I've started carrying mace just in case.

Emita said...

I am so glad Christian is ok, scary scary scary. I send my love to both of you, and I've been thinking of you with your move, wedding plans, etc. so keep your heads up!

nyGRINGAinCHILE said...

greatpost. i think many of us have had this same conversation in our heads. and about leaving amazing opportunities in NYC, well, don't get me started. that said, i am sure i will find something wonderful here AND, as you pointed out, the ecomony in the US is less than savory at this moment. i am so sorry to hear about what happened with christian. that must have been so traumatic for both of you. glad he's ok.

Emily said...

So scary! You two have seriously had quite the rough time of it the past couple weeks...I think this just means that from now on everything in your lives will be perfect, and the wedding will go off without a hitch.

I thought it was interesting that you think you could make more money and start a business more easily here. I definitely associate the US with more money - yes, there's a recession on, but it won't last forever - and less bureaucracy (ie. easier to start something new), although I see your point about there being less competition here. Then again, Chileans seem to hate change, so less competition might actually be a bad thing since people wouldn't know what to do with you! I fully agree with your point that you never saw yourself living in Chile and therefore can't plan the future - I feel the same way, to a large extent, and although we may have "plans" I'm aware that life is full of unexpected twists, and those plans could end up to be very far from the truth. It will be interesting to see where we all end up!

André said...

sorry to hear about the robbery. i hope you are both feeling o.k. now?

also happy to see that you can imagine staying here in chile. at the moment i feel the same although i am still in the "honeymoon stage" with the country ;)

Disclaimer—La Chilengüita is a blog created upon my personal experiences and which expresses my personal opinion that in no way represents the views my employer, family or friends.