Week 5: A Rocky Start to Santiago

“He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music, who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself, dies slowly.”

Pablo Neruda (who lived in Santiago!)

Well, my friends, this first week in Chile was…difficult. Mentally, emotionally, physically. It has not been an easy transition. But, like all difficult things, it’s made me look up and smell the roses. And, as Mr. Neruda so deftly captured above, I’m feeling pretty alive at the moment.

Emotionally. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the new apartment left a bit to be desired. I really didn’t care much about the aesthetics, just about safety. As soon as we landed in Chile, we were told to be on the lookout for pickpockets and to keep a tight leash on our belongings. This added some extra stress to the situation. So, we asked for the landlord to fix the front lock on our door, which was loose and making us uneasy, and also to give us some working lights. We were assured we did not need to be home while the landlord was there, and so, begrudgingly, we left the apartment to go about our Monday. We came home late that night, around 11 PM, and found our apartment door had been left ajar with all the lights turned on. My roommate and I did not know if someone was in the apartment, if we were going to find all of our stuff gone, if we were going to be attacked, etc. I turned on my video recorder to make sure there was evidence. It was super traumatic. Thankfully, and almost miraculously, all of our stuff was still there, nothing had been touched, and no one was in the apartment. Turns out, the landlord thought he had locked the door when he left, but hadn’t locked it properly (ironically proving the need for a new lock), leaving our apartment open to the world for hours and hours.

Even though it turned out to be a mistake and the best of all the horrible scenarios, me and my roommate were pretty distraught. It’s a pretty jarring thing to find the door to your home wide open and not know what you’re going to find inside. I was mostly concerned about any potential intruder coming back. Maybe they had cased the place and were going to return at some later point. Enter: the awesome RY Polaris community. As soon as others found out, they lent their support in different ways. So many offered for us to sleep at their apartment/give up their beds if we did not feel safe, others offered words of wisdom and next steps. And, like the gentlemen they are, four of the guys we are traveling with came over and sat with us that night (a school night!) to make sure we were safe. It was so generous and so kind, and something I hope I will be able to pay forward in the months ahead. Those of you who know me know I am a pretty staunch feminist and in general I don’t enjoy asking for help/being vulnerable. But, this experience is about growth in all directions (hence, this blog). It is more than ok to ask for help, and for specifically male help, if that’s what the situation requires. That night, we really did need help! Although women are fully capable of many things, including protecting themselves, the reality is the presence of four grown men creates a different dynamic than two petite women solo. I am reminding myself that vulnerability is strength and not weakness, it’s a good thing! But frankly, even just having others to joke around with and distract us from the immediate situation was important. Long story short – I am super grateful to those dudes for going above and beyond. Muchas gracias.

Needless to say, my roomie and I were confused about what our next steps should be. Should we stay? Should we go? The next couple of days were spent wrestling with those questions (and also with finally getting a new lock on our front door). RY offered us to do a switcheroo in which we would be split up into different accommodations. After talking it out and feeling out how we felt with the new lock, we decided to stay and tough it out. I really enjoy living with Nandita and I think neither of us wanted to break this power couple up just yet. Plus, I don’t think we were ready to give up the battle of wits with Santiago!

Physically. It seemed like everyone in our group came down with some form of something when we got here. I personally have had what seems like a head cold/chest cough since we’ve been here. I am not sure what it is, but I know that I have just been so tired and so stuffy. Maybe it’s the time change mixed with being kind of under the weather? I’m not sure but it’s been really hard waking up in the mornings! Also, apparently Santiago gyms don’t enjoy foreigners joining too much, so it’s really hard to get a gym membership here. I have not been able to work out at all since being here, and my body is really, really feeling it. But, it’s now week two, we got this! Will hopefully be getting back to a routine and to feeling 100% soon.

Mentally. Maybe it’s been the all-of-the-above, but my mind has just been sluggish and non-functional. It’s been strangely so taxing. Our group has had two instances of theft since we got here. And, since I don’t want to discuss other people’s personal experiences on here without their consent, let’s just say they’ve been scary instances! So there’s just always a constant level of mental awareness that is required, and I think it’s sapping my other resources.

Ok, enough negative. Now, I’ve decided to list some things I’m grateful for about Santiago:

  • La Vega – our local team introduced us to this massive market and it is amazing. The produce is awesome and the food is so good and so cheap. I went HAM and bought so much and prepared food (!!!) for the first time since being abroad. I ate my first (and then second, and then third) salad in five weeks, and it felt so so so so good.
  • Cell phone culture – this may be because of the aforementioned theft problem (although apparently it’s way worse for foreigners since thieves assume we’ll be gone by the time the court case comes about and therefore they are more likely to get away with it), but people here really don’t walk around on their cell phones. In DC, I was so used to everyone with their headphones in and their heads angled down to their phones at all times, here it’s actually pretty jarring to see people just walking down the street, strolling, not listening to a podcast, not texting, not calling, just walking. I’m into it!
  • Mountains – it’s really cool when you look up and see the Andes, just like, right there. A reminder of how far south in the world we are and how cool that is!! Seriously, look at how low Santiago is on the map. It’s cray. (Related: seeing different constellations in the sky is SO weird. I keep looking for the Big Dipper, but it’s not there…).
  • Kissing hello – everyone here kisses everyone hello, regardless of gender. I LOVE that. I’ve never been into the formal American handshake culture. I’ve always thought it was super weird. I feel like kissing someone hello automatically gives the interaction a warmer, more human feeling, and puts everyone more at ease. Plus, Americans are too prude in general IMO, and this just highlights that. Anyway, to more kisses!
  • The wine. ‘Nuff said.
  • Club Chocolate – it was my roommate’s birthday this weekend and we went to this club to celebrate. More on that below.

Saturday we did a walking tour of Yungai, which is a cool artsy district in Santiago that not a lot of tourists go to. (We even had to ride the metro to get there! Yay for getting out of tourist bubbles.) It was led by our Spanish teacher, funnily enough, and he showed us some really interesting street art, taught us about the history of the district and the country, led us through cool eateries, and showed us where he lived. There are a ton of cool museums there and places to eat, so I will definitely try to go back.

After a quick detour to watch Shazam in IMAX (because if you’re not a superhero nerd abroad, were you ever really one at all?), I went back to get ready for my roommate’s birthday. Our group really came together to throw her an epic birthday, and I am once again filled with all the feels for this special group of people. First, one of the rockstar women in our group, Alex, prepared a taco night for the whole group (20+ of us) with handmade tortillas and everything. It was SO impressive. Honestly, the women in this group just never cease to amaze me. They are such badasses and I’ve already learned so much from each of them about boldness and fierceness and confidence and so many other things. I cannot believe it’s only been five weeks. But anyway, I digress. We then went over to the rooftop where a group of the guys live (read: before-mentioned gentlemen apartment warriors), and they hosted us out there for some drinks and music. Then, we went to Club Chocolate (pronounced choke-oh-latte). This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. First of all, there was a Chocolate Martini drink that was heaven on earth and I will probably dream about it for years to come. Second, the music was amazing- they played a mix of reggaeton, oldies, and club music. Third, the people, the people. Everyone in our group is just THE BEST. We were all dancing, having a ball, and it was so fun. I am still recovering from it.

Saturday helped me feel like I’m finally turning a corner here in Santiago. Even though I’m still tired, not quite sure if I have a cold or not, and am slightly more on guard than normal, I’m adapting and getting used to it. We spent a nice relaxing Sunday in the cute neighborhood of Lastarria and I did feel a bit lighter afterwards. Hopefully after this week I will have more actual photos and fun experiences to share with you all as I actually begin to explore this city in earnest.

<3, ATZ


    1. Everyone thought I was so weird our first week at Emory when I gave them ‘besos’ hello. I now realize how “weird” that was in America/non-Miami culture lol. Embrace it chica!!!!


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