Chile is a phenomenal country where I had the honor of being an exchange student through a program called American Field Service (AFS). Chile is truly amazing because of the diverse climate along such a tiny strip of land and because of the people who make it such an inviting country. They treat everyone they meet like family.
When I arrived in Santiago, I was a fifteen-year-old who spoke no Spanish. With AFS, I spent the first night in a convent to get information on the country. The next day, I met my “family,” who speaks only Spanish, so I had to learn quickly. We traveled by bus from Santiago to Rengo, which is the town where they live and is an hour and a half south of Santiago. The scenery reminded me of the central valley of California, which is my home, with lots of agriculture and small towns along the way. Chile is a gorgeous country, but the true beauty is to get the privilege to stay with a local family. Family is the most important part of their lives, and they did everything to make me feel comfortable.
About halfway through my time in Chile, I traveled to Santiago for the second time with my two “sisters” and my “uncle.” We stayed with my “uncle” who lives in Santiago, and he showed us the locals’ perspective. Santiago is like any other big city, with the usual crowds, vendors, and homeless people as other large cities around the world, but it does have some unique qualities. It was winter in July, so the weather was mostly overcast and cold. Occasionally, the sun did pop out, and it did drizzle but no major storms hit. My “uncle” kept reminding me to keep my camera close because Santiago is notorious for pickpockets. We went to a hill called “Santa Lucia,” just outside the skyscraper part of town. There were beautiful, ancient buildings built into the sides of the hill, and the view was spectacular. At night, we went to a park by taking a subway and an intercity bus. The public transportation system is great, so no private vehicle is necessary. My favorite memory of the park was the fountain with lights in the water, which lit up the night sky, and the park air smelled so fresh. It was an amazing sight!
In Rengo, there were four other exchange students from around the world. The last week of my stay, we five exchange students decided to visit Fantasilandia, the national theme park, in Santiago. No chaperones wanted to go with us, so we went alone. Luckily, most of us spoke decent Spanish at the time, and Spanish was our common language. We took the bus to the subway and walked the rest of the way, without getting lost. I felt safe traveling without chaperones in the large city because I had been there twice before and could manage the language. The theme park has rides for everyone. It was so much fun hanging out with my friends and going on rides. The main attraction is the “Raptor,” which is the large rollercoaster. Any rollercoaster fan (which I am not) will love the ride. Fantasilandia is definitely a must when visiting Santiago.
Chile was such an eye-opening experience. My “family” helped tremendously by welcoming me into their home unconditionally and sharing their beautiful country. I returned to the United States a changed person, more independent. This trip opened my eyes to the world, and I will never forget this amazing country. Viva Chile!
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