Hola, me llama es Natalie. I am spending this semester “studying” abroad in Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, Chile. I’ve placed those little quotes around the word studying because spending a semester abroad is so much more than studying. Using the word “studying” is just an easy way to explain to strangers or your relatives what you’re doing.
Stranger or relative: What are you doing in Chile?
Natalie: I’m “studying” for a semester.
Stranger or relative, (impressed): Oh, wow!
The context of that word reveals itself to me a bit more each day in many surprising forms. A few ways you’ll know that you are “studying” abroad:
- You stare at street signs in frustration and wonder why you can’t read these easy public oriented messages.
- You ask your host mom for directions somewhere and understand about two words of the conversation, one of them being el metro.
- You feel kind of like a child who lost his mom in the grocery store.
- The waiter asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.‘
- The clerk at the store asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.‘
- Your host mom asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.‘
Alas, I’ve only been in the country of Chile for a week. There is still hope! There is a long list of anxieties I had before I came here and still am having, i.e., I don’t know enough Spanish, I’m too shy, I’m not the “type” to study abroad, I don’t belong here, I picked the wrong country, I’m not trying hard enough.
As time progresses I’m beginning to feel more of a connection to things here. Upon first arrival I could acknowledge that everything is pretty and great, but I felt as if I couldn’t be a part of it, or that I couldn’t belong to it. I think that’s a huge factor in culture shock. Now that I’ve made daily trips to visit the ocean, it’s starting to feel like the ocean is there for me too. Claiming stake to things requires confidence in yourself and comfort in your surroundings. Both of those things take time and effort.
Another thing that I’ve picked up on and discussed with friends is the breadth of emotions you can go through in a single day. At one point you may be in love with the craziness of the street vending and performance art and hours later after being overwhelmed by the language barrier, questioning why you wanted to be here in the first place. It’s exhausting to keep up with yourself, but it’s a natural process of adjustment.
I’ve been trying to think more in depth about what I want to accomplish here, but I think its necessary to first understand what Chile can offer. And those possibilities seem to be endless. I’m going to allow a little more time for adjustment before I set specific goals. There’s a lot to think about. And a lot of ice cream to eat while thinking.
One of the most exciting subcultures that I have encountered while in France is the dance subculture, particularly the large group of individuals who love to dance Kizomba. I learned about this type of dance through a Senegalese guy named Mahomed, who I met at the park while watching football. He related to me that there were dance lessons at Punta Cana – a neighboring club – for five euros per lesson, and that I would have fun learning it. I therefore took him up on the offer and upon my arrival I was given a warm welcome and introduced to everyone. Subsequently, Mahomed and I became very good friends and together we frequent local venues to practice Kizomba.
Kizomba is a very sensual dance that originated in Angola. One must be very comfortable with physical contact from the opposite sex in order to participate. In fact, one of the basic instructions given by the teacher is that, “one must remain very close to their partner.” And if someone is having trouble with a technique, the instructor usually blames it on the two people not sticking close together. Another difficult aspect of the dance is that it requires the male to be the lead, while the female merely shadows what he does and follows his direction. Therefore, if the male is a beginner, as I am, the dance can be tedious and frustrating for both participants. Still further, since my French is not so great, more problems arise when I need to tell my partner something or when she needs to tell me something. But as time has went on, I have learned to simply have fun.
Learning Kizomba is something I would have never ventured into while in the United States. However, being in a different country and trying to make new friends, I have been forced to adapt to the French culture and do what they do, in order to fit in. This has proved a great benefit for me; I have met a lot of people, my French is improving, I am exploring new facets of the world which in turn is presenting me with new opportunities and making me more curious. I am now eager to learn more dances like the Salsa, for example, and I owe it all to the diversity which I have encountered while studying abroad.
Below is a clip of my first experience with Kizomba: