Jennifer: Notes from the southern hemisphere
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Chile, etc.
I’m a writer with a background in editing and contributing to magazines. I also have my MFA in English and Creative Writing. I moved here in 2011, one year after my husband (then fiancé) accepted a position with a global engineering firm in Santiago, Chile. We did long-distance for that year as I finished graduate school in California, where we are both from. Once I joined him, I taught English, but have since dedicated my time to freelancing and volunteering at a local orphanage.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
As a writer, I had entertained the idea of starting a blog, but I didn’t feel like I had a unique enough point-of-view to warrant one until I learned we were moving to Chile. I started the blog in a Women’s Travel Writing class in graduate school in order to chronicle a surfing adventure, which included an examination of surfing’s roots in South America. Once I moved to Chile, I kept the blog going to chronicle all kinds of adventures in the Southern Hemisphere: learning a new language, traveling, teaching English, starting married life abroad, etc.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My life, and therefore my writing, took a sudden turn when we lost our first child when I was six months pregnant. I’ve decided to write openly about that experience so others don’t feel as alone as I did: I feel like a real mom and the chain link heart project.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Chile differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Yes, I absolutely experienced culture shock! (Even though I had visited my husband here in Chile three times before I moved). I just found that everything (grocery shopping, going to the post office, filling out medical forms) took extra effort because my handle on the language was so weak. Life back home looked so “easy” compared to our new life in Chile. Two years in, I still struggle with Spanish, but I can get around and handle the basics, which have added to my sense of independence here. Making friends has also been key for me and made me comfortable with living here for an indefinite period of time. I still miss family and friends, living by the ocean, and all the good food in California though, and I know that that will always be “home.”
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Chile? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I’m not sure you can ever be fully prepared to move abroad, even if you know the country and the language. Some things are bound to surprise and challenge you, though those are often great opportunities to learn about yourself too—in a way you just can’t when you’re home and everything is familiar. If I’d had the time (which I didn’t as a full-time graduate student), I definitely would have taken Spanish lessons before I moved because I didn’t just “pick it up.”
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well, I’ve gotten lost, a lot! You have to be able to laugh at yourself when those things happen, like when I ended up crossing and re-crossing the same bridge a few times trying to find a certain address. Language mishaps also top the list. I had taken two years of Italian in college, when I first got here, some mix of Italian/Spanish/English would come out when I tried to communicate with Chileans. I’m sure I sounded more ridiculous than I even realized, but that’s part of the learning process. Best not to feel too embarrassed!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Chile?
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure everything out when you first get here. Give yourself some time to learn about the culture and surroundings go easy on yourself when mishaps occur.
- Embrace the unknown. If you don’t know how long you’re going to be abroad, try to live in the moment. Be open to new things.
- Take the opportunity to travel! As expats, we often feel pressure to spend our vacation time going home to see family and friends, but that can limit our chances to see this great new continent we live on. Find a balance that works for you and allows you to see and experience destinations within and beyond Chile’s borders while you can.
How is the expat community in Chile? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is huge here! There are many online/email groups to join (like InterNations) that let you know about activities going on in Santiago and ways to meet others. It helped that my husband’s company had its own expat group, but I’ve made friends in lots of other ways—emailing loose contacts living here, volunteering, teaching, etc.
How would you summarize your expat life in Chile in a single, catchy sentence?
You’ll learn so much—about yourself, your new country, and your home country—just by shifting the point-of-view.