Living in Chile – Caitlin

For this blog I wanted to speak a little about my experience living in a foreign country where I have had to learn a second language in order to operate and function on a daily level. I have touched on this topic briefly in several past blogs, however it has undoubtedly been such a central part of my exchange that I felt it deserved further extension!

When living or visiting Chile, foreigners quickly discover that everything here functions in Spanish on fundamental level. While English still of course exists here (I think you would struggle to find a country without some English component being as it is such a universal language), Chile is perhaps one of the countries in Latin America which has the least amount of daily spoken English. This means that although you will still see English writing on clothes labels, hear English songs and watch English movies, talking to people in daily life in all forms requires speaking Spanish. As you can imagine, having only ever grown up speaking English my whole life this was fairly overwhelming at times. Luckily I had studied enough Spanish previously in New Zealand that even if I couldn’t always understand what was being said to me, I could usually express myself enough to survive without too much stress.

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An example of the existence of English on a daily level – a mural in Valparaiso

Another point which has been collectively decided by Latin America is that the Chileans speak the most difficult form of Spanish possible. In fact, when talking to Latinos from other countries like Peru or Colombia they tell me “I can’t even understand the Chileans when they speak, so good luck to you”. Perhaps not the wisest decision to choose the hardest possible country in the world to learn Spanish but I feel it has been worth the challenge because, as they say, if you can understand Chilean Spanish you can understand Spanish from the all over the world.

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One of my favourite little Spanish quotes from Valparaiso which translates to “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Now nearing the end of my exchange, I can definitely say that learning and living in another language has been a worthwhile experience. While it has been incredibly tough at times, especially having to take classes and exams in Spanish with the Chilean students, the final outcome has been worth the trials. Coming into this exchange I expected some challenging moments, but what I hadn’t anticipated as much was the satisfying moments which came with finally progressing with the language. By all means I know I still have room for improvement, but it has also been a fun processing learning to develop a new skill like language.

Living as an exchange student has also given me a new perspective on language itself. I have met so many awesome people from around the world who speak such an array of languages, including Dutch, Finnish, German, French, Swedish and even Arabic. The fantastic thing about these people is the majority of them speak at least 3 languages if not more. While this makes me feel rather unaccomplished, having spent years just trying to learn one additional language to English, it has seriously opened my scope of the world and taught me so much about countries I never really knew beforehand. I have found it super inspiring and now have an even stronger desire for international travel!

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An 80s party with my German, Dutch and US/Arabic friends

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