Leslie: Leslie Forman, Global Citizen
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Chile, etc.
I’m originally from San Francisco, California. I first came to Chile in 2005, as part of a university exchange program. I majored in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the program gave me the opportunity to study in Chile for a full year. When I graduated from Berkeley in 2006, I decided to China to teach English at a university near Shanghai. I’d never been to Asia, never studied Chinese, and never been particularly interested in mooncakes or Mao Zedong, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to reinvent myself in a new place. For the next several years, I lived in China (in the “small town” of Jiaxing, then Shanghai, then Beijing) and worked in advertising, consulting, corporate social responsibility, and education, all while learning Chinese.
In 2011, an American entrepreneur approached me with a fabulous opportunity. She was applying to Start-Up Chile and invited me to join her team. Start-Up Chile is a program backed by Chile’s Ministry of Economy that selects entrepreneurs from all over the world to bootstrap their businesses in Chile. Our team was accepted for the first full round of the program. I’ve now been working in Chile for almost two years. These days I teach business students at two universities, collaborate with local entrepreneurs on writing and translation projects, and create resources for global citizens considering a similar career path.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I launched my blog in 2009 as a portfolio of articles I had written for other websites. Through my blog, I have been able to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. I’ve also met people from all over the world that share similar interests.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The most popular post on my site is Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever. I’m still getting comments on it, almost two years later, especially from other people with connections to China.
I recently gave a presentation at my university called Get Your International Career in Gear. I posted the slides and links on my blog, with some comments about the event.
Here’s a photo-filled post from a trip to Easter Island with my parents in 2011.
This post is a favorite from my trip to Mongolia in 2010.
So yes, I’ve covered a wide range of topics over the years!
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?
I’ve been living abroad for so long that home is a tricky concept for me. When I moved back to Chile in 2011 (after having studied here in 2005) it felt really comfortable. I remembered how to get around the city. I haven’t experienced too much culture shock in Chile, but I definitely feel reverse culture shock whenever I go back to the US. My cultural bearings (and implicit expectations) have been shaped by a mix of American, Chinese, and Chilean culture.
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 think I was as prepared as I could be, but I don’t think anyone can be 100% prepared for an international move.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The first time in came to Chile, as a student in 2005, I went to a government office to register my visa. I was asked where I lived and said my host family’s address on a street called Francisco de Villagra. I said it “Vee-ya-gra.” The immigration officer started giggling and asking about the “viejos felices” in my neighborhood. Eventually I figured out that she’d written Francisco de Viagra… haha. So from that point on, I pronounced it “Vee-zha-gra” to prevent that same confusion.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Chile?
- Learn Chilean slang. The way people speak Spanish here is completely different than in other countries. There’s lots of slang. Chilenos tend to shorten words. This country is a lot more fun if you can fully participate in the conversation.
- Learn to cook. At La Vega (the central produce market in Santiago) or fruit and vegetable stands in every neighborhood, you can buy all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables. They’re cheap — and so fresh and delicious. The restaurant scene in Santiago is definitely improving, but the food can be expensive or less-than-flavorful. So it’s a fabulous place to practice your cooking skills!
- Get professional help when dealing with bureaucratic matters. I’m incredibly grateful to the relocation agent who helped me with my visa and the accountant who is helping with my tax return. The processes can be complicated, especially if you have multiple part-time jobs like I do.
How is the expat community in Chile? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I know quite a few expats here, mostly through the entrepreneurial community. But people come and go and I’m always looking to make new friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Chile in a single, catchy sentence?
After China, Chile feels a bit like California, full of entrepreneurial energy and avocados.