Two months ago I came to Chile with little knowledge of the country, four years of Italian studies (not Spanish), and a degree in ESL teaching but very limited actual classroom experience.
With the honeymoon phase and initial culture shock behind me, I’ve collected my jumbled successes, adventures, and setbacks into five lessons that I’ve learned so far.
1. Sometimes you just need to rip the bandaid off.
Take off the training wheels, push the bird out of the nest—whatever expression you prefer, the sentiment is the same.
Accepting a full-time teaching position in Chile to begin the day after graduation from University in Maine, for example, was exactly what I needed. In the last few weeks of May I turned in my final exams, packed and repacked, vomited a few buckets of tears, nursed a few hangovers, donned an ill-fitting cap and gown, hugged a lot of people and hopped on a plane. It was a lot of emotions all at once and I definitely may have shed some tears in embarrassingly public places, but it also felt right. I was able to immediately replace my sadness with excitement, and I was confident that taking this massive plunge was exactly what I had worked so hard for.
2. Find your one true love and don’t let it go.
And I’m not necessarily talking about a person. When I was packing for Chile I had to think a lot about which things were important to me and which ones I could let go. I had to sell my truck. I left behind a lot of costume accessories, my favourite knee-high cowboy boots and a lot of wonderful friends.
However, the one thing that I absolutely could not leave behind was my skis. And as crazy as it may seem that I used 90 per cent of my baggage weight to fly a pair of skis across two continents, I do not regret it for a second. In those moments when I begin to get homesick or frustrated, I at least know that I can pack up my backpack, put my hitchhiker’s thumb to use and get to my happy place on top of the nearest mountain.
3. Food is the way to the heart.
Nothing else, really. Since I’m living in a hostel I see a lot of people coming and going, and for the most part I just remember a blur of smiling, slightly dirty, unshaven, and eager faces.
However, I still exchange emails with William, who had a French mother and an Italian father and offered to cook a massive lasagne for 13 people. I also remember Chris and Andy, two Australian boys who discovered that I had never eaten lamb and insisted that I come out to dinner with them. And then there was Aisling, the Irish girl, who taught me how to cook “real porridge” after she saw me put a packet of instant oatmeal in the microwave.
4. Sharing is caring.
Those of you not living on pennies in a foreign country may actually define this as stealing, but I have now come to define sharing and borrowing in a completely different light. I know that despite the fact that my name is written in Sharpie on the top of my milk carton in the fridge, probably several people will pour a few drops into their morning coffee. That’s fine, because I probably took one of your 20 oranges sitting on the counter when I got hungry this afternoon. And/or I might now smell like the coconut lotion left in the bathroom this morning. It all comes out in the wash is how I’m looking at it.
5. Confidence is everything.
Whether trying to escape a blockaded Bolivian town so I can get back to work on Monday or simply trying to explain the difference between the past simple tense and the past participle, the best solution always involves acting like you know exactly what you are doing.
When a confused student—even when it's the CEO of an important company—is looking at me for the explanation of an English rule that I’m beginning to doubt myself, instead of panicking I’ve now learned to smile, shake my head “at that crazy English language,” and look it up for next time. When a frightening looking Chilean police officer asks why I’m coming from Bolivia without an exit stamp on my passport, I take a deep breath, remember that he’s about a foot shorter than me and inform him that I’m supposed to be in Chile, I have work papers and of course I didn’t get an exit stamp because there was a blockade!
When in doubt channel your inner tranquillo, keep in mind that they probably know as little as you do and say si with conviction.Add this article to your reading list