I feel like when people imagine living life abroad, they think that life is going to be drastically different, that everything they've known is going to be unapparent. For me, at least, life in Chile is not necessarily as distinct as some may imagine. I mean, there's the obvious differences such as food, mannerisms, greetings, the language, etc. But people are still people. There's the city, parks, restaurants, schools, malls, etc.
It wasn't until after a few weeks of living in Chile that my impressions of this place began to sink in because initially I didn't feel like anything was shockingly different.
My first week here I realized how things like transportation is definately... something. Everything is relatively close, so everyone walks to most places, which is great for me since I can't drive here. Also the main forms of transportation are "las micros" which are buses that drive within and to the neighboring cities. That my friends, is an experience I will never forget. These buses aren't the normal pleasant stop and pickup. As soon as you step foot on or off the bus, it zooms off like there is no tomorrow. They rule the roads, so if you are thinking about j-walking you've been warned. The metro is by far my favorite way to travel between Valparaíso and Viña as it is clean, calm, and fast. Plus there is an amazing view of the ocean. I've noticed that most people have a car (also cars here are so much smaller here), but are sparingly used in due to the availability of public transportation. However, if you do end up taking a car or let alone las micros, you will soon realize how insane driving is here. It literally is a talent because there are hills, crazy intersections, virtually all one way streets, and people don't necessarily stay in their lanes...
Probably my greatest impression of Chile is how genuinely nice and welcoming the people here are. First of all, I love how they greet one another. It's always a kiss on the right cheek between men and women and between women. Then there is a handshake or hug between men. It's such a warm and intimate feeling because you feel acknowledged and connected to the people around you.
Their hospitality and genuine characters were the most evident on my first day of school. On my first day of school I was kind of expecting my day to go something like: go to class, have the teacher mention something about a new student and my name, and then spend the rest of the day trying to figure everything out by myself. From my experience in the U.S., this is what most new students experience. However, this was not the case here. My profe jefe (who is the person in charge of each grade, kind of like a counselor/supervisor) escorted me to my class where they had a desk for me and everything. She introduced me to everyone and explained that I was an exchange student from the U.S., and how part of the reason I am here is to share my culture and experiences with them, as well as to learn Spanish. Because of this, she explained that they need be respectful and helpful as everything is very new and distinct to me, especially since Spanish is not my first language.
Obviously my first day of school I was feeling nervous, not only because I was a new student, but because I didn't know if I was actually going to be able to understand anything that was happening. However, minutes after arriving to class all my anxiety and nervousness was curbed after this girl named Carol came up with the biggest smile on her face and said hi to me and gave me a hug. After that, I began to try talking with the people around me, answering the question they all were probably wondering---does she know any Spanish? But once they heard me trying to talk with them, they all eagerly began talking with me---all at the same time. I couldn't for the life of me catch what they were saying until I asked them to "please talk slower". Despite this, everyone was extremely nice and patient. The whole day they made sure I had someone to talk to, someone to sit with at lunch, and made sure I knew all the in's and out's of the school. I never would have experienced this type of hospitality in a school in the U.S.
Since that day, I began to realize more and more each day the growing sutble differences between my life back home and my new life as a Chilean.