I’ve now reached the milestone of having lived abroad for over a year, making this the longest I have been away from the UK and my family, like. Ever.
I feel I maybe should have inaugurated the occasion of my arrival in Chile (July 30th, 2016) with a cake or something. In reality, I was on the point of starting a new job, and so I cooked some lunches. I am nothing if not practical.
I’ve been thinking though, as I tend to do, rather a lot, and reflecting, both on my year (and a bit) here this time round, and the similarities and differences from my first year in Chile back in 2005/6.
- Chileans are (generally) lovely
This isn’t a new or surprising observation. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with two different Chilean families during my time in the country, one in Santiago (my Santiago family, as I call them) and the other in Talca (my Talca family). These families welcomed me in –in the first case as a young, Spanishless girl of 18 years old — and included me in activities and daily family life; something I am still welcome in to this day. I’m still in regular contact with my Santiago family; I teach two of the kids English, and I am invited to some family events. I’m still welcome to stay and visit my Talca family whenever I want. When travelling in the south last November, I met other families who were hosting volunteers, who also welcomed me into their homes and said return visits were welcome. Further in the south, I met countless lovely friendly people when travelling who helped me and chatted to this somewhat intrepid solo traveller. I’ve always been struck by that here in Chile. Maybe it’s just that people, in general, are good, but Chileans are definitely Good Eggs.
(I need more recent photos with my Santiago family, it seems…)
- You are still you
The same things you found difficult the first time you lived here, are still the things you find difficult. The same things you found difficult back in the UK, are still the things you find difficult. Anxiety is still anxiety. Moving halfway across the world doesn’t change who you are, but you can keep striving to improve.
- The world is made of sushi
And that sushi is full of cream cheese and deep fried. Or covered in avocado. It’s all good. Well, some of it is better than others. I swear that back in 2005 sushi didn’t exist here in such quantities, where as now you find it on every street, practically. I have an affection for Chilean sushi; it was here, after all, that I tried sushi for the first time, my good friend Maca taking Leo and I to a sushi restaurant in the centre where I tentatively tried the raw fish and rice. The first time, I wasn’t convinced. The second time she took us, I thought it was okay. After the third time, I wanted more. Now, I have access to all the sushi I could possibly want.
- Tramites. TRAMITES
Tramites. My life is tramites. Back in January I had to go through the joyous process of extending my temporary visa, which meant immigration queues and translations and apostilled documents and notarised photocopies and more queues…and then an awful lot of waiting. In June, I paid for and received my visa — cue more queues, and waiting, and in July I finally got my new carné – my ID card, which is essentially for much of bureaucratic life here. It’s valid until the end of January. Yep. I’m gonna have to go through this all again come January, except the paperwork will be more complicated and the waiting will be even longer, because I’ll be trying to get a visa definitiva – a permanent residency visa. (My worries about that are for another post…)
- Banks. Omg Banks.
Why don’t the banks open past 2pm? Why don’t the banks open for customers on Saturday mornings at least? Why do they make it next to impossible to do your banking? There’s also the small detail that if your bank card is blocked or lost, or something happens to your account, you need your ID card to deal with it (or the patience and the Spanish to argue an awful lot with the bank teller). If you don’t have an ID card, because your visa is en tramite…good luck with that! I had 5 months of being very careful with my bank card because I had no easy way of getting a new one…and then 2 weeks before I was due to get my new ID, the bank blocked my card.
Oh, and why is there not an option to remember a lost internet banking password? Mess that up? Yeah, you have to go to the bank and get a new one.
Oh, and you’ll need your ID.
- There are fewer street dogs
Back in 2005, there were dogs seemingly everywhere. I even was required to get the rabies jab before coming out here. Now, there’s no rabies and definitely fewer street dogs. That’s not to say the problem is solved; there are still far too many around, but even if areas where I’d expect to see more dogs there are fewer. There’s been new law to do with pet ownership and care that passed recently as well, so we’ll see if that makes even more of a difference.
Street dogs are smart though! Not only do some of them know how to cross the road safely and use buses, but this one is currently enjoying his moment of fame:
I also enjoy the little pack of 2 or 3 dogs outside Baquedano station who exclusively bark at and chase taxis and motorbikes. No other cars. Just taxis.
- Cafe culture exists now
Chile, can, at times, seem to be a country that’s slow to come round to coffee. In 2005, pretty much all that was available was Nescafe, powered, to boot (not even granulated!) and cafe culture wasn’t really a thing. Well, there was (and is) a certain type of cafe that wasn’t really the sort of place I was going to be going. There were 2 (that I knew of) Starbucks in Santiago, both up in the distant lands of Las Condes. Now, there’s a Starbucks practically everywhere, and a number of decent little cafes all over the place too, some of which also have pretty decent coffee (Roasters & Co, I’m looking at you)
- Homesickness does exist!
I’ve never really been one to get homesick. I don’t remember feeling it during my first year away. I’ve missed home and my parents and friends and things, obviously, but I’ve never been homesick. Until May this year, when the overwhelming desire to just be at home, to be back in the UK was so strong I almost packed it all in and booked a flight. I looked at the costs of flights a couple of times. But, it passed, with the feelings that were surrounding it too, and I haven’t had that strong overwhelming need to be back on UK soil since.
- I miss food
Food obviously exists here. There’s good food here, too, in places, and I can cook, so I can make many things that I like. But gosh. I miss things like
— bacon (the only easily available bacon here is streaky bacon, which, while good, is not true bacon. There is a source of back bacon, but I am currently poor, and so back bacon is off my menu)
— curry (again, the number of Indian restaurants has risen sharply since the last time I was here, but reasons of cost mean I have not yet tried any of them out)
–chinese food (see above, regarding cost. Also I am dubious as to the nature of Chilean Chinese food. I mean, British Chinese food is…interesting enough, I’m not sure how they’ll have interpretted it for the Chilean palette!)
–sheer variety of fresh (prepared) foods to buy in the supermarket (fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available, subject to much greater seasonality than in the UK, but I do sometimes miss fresh things that are ready to cook — just for ease! I know ready spiralized courgette and chicken ready with a sauce to cook in the oven a luxuries that I don’t need, but man, it’s nice to have them and to be able to cook healthily quickly.)
- I miss good cheese
This deserves a segment of its own, because, wow, do I miss good cheese. Cheese with flavour. Cheese with a deep sharpness to it. Cheese which smells. Cheese that’s mature. Cheese with mould on it. CHEESE. I resent having to pay extortionate amounts of money for a tiny amount of somewhat decent cheese, and so am reduced to “cheese that will do to melt on top of pasta.”
- And milk.
I’m not really a milk drinker, so this one surprised me. Fresh milk isn’t really a thing here, unless you live in the campo and have access to a cow. All the milk in the supermarket is UHT. I hate UHT milk. I have always hated UHT milk. It tastes weird. I can just about deal with it if it is ice cold. I dislike it in coffee because it makes my coffee taste weird, which means that I primarily drink black coffee now, unless I’m having some highly flavoured abomination from Starbucks or get lucky with some vegetable/nut milk somewhere. I’m looking forward to the day when I will have enough money to be able to afford nut milks.
- Some dairy products though…
Who knew that cream cheese covered in soy sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with crackers was so damn delicious?
- I think my Spanish has improved
It’s hard to tell — I could speak Spanish when I arrived this time, after all. It’s not like before where I was thrust into a world where I understood not a word of what was going on around me, where I had to try to construct sentences carefully in my head before talking, and where the conversations always seemed to rush off to another topic before I’d had a chance to say said carefully constructed sentence. Now I work in an almost fully Spanish language environment, my social life is pretty bilingual and I think — I hope — my Spanish has improved from when I arrived back here last year. I haven’t done much hard graft on my Spanish, and I fear I may need to to really seriously improve it, but for now, I think I’m doing pretty good.
I haven’t been fired yet, so I must be understanding everything in the workplace okay at least!
- It still throws me off hearing English in the streets or the supermarket
I never used to hear English anywhere except in the English classroom, out with Maca or with a handful of other people I knew who spoke English. Now, I hear it everywhere — and it’s not just that there’s more foreign tourists and residents in Chile, but the Chileans are talking more English too.
- Working here involves working long hours
I knew this, but add my commute as well, and I work a lot. I work 9am-6:30pm in an office job. So yeah, I’m not working hard some of the time, but that’s long working hours. I’m lucky enough to live close by; on a good day it takes me less than an hour to get home, but for people who live further out, contending with the Santiago rush hour traffic? No thank you. 44 hours is a long working week.
- I prefer downtown to uptown
I recently moved to Las Condes to be closer to work and to cut down on my commute. It’s nice enough, I like the area. But I much prefer the life and vitality of downtown — even Providencia. I lived previously in Plaza Italia – where I lived in 2005/6 too – which is an area I love. It’s close to everything, it’s well connected. I’ve found myself missing just being able to walk into el centro recently, wandering down through Lastarria towards the Plaza de Armas. I miss downtown.
- Joining an expat community is not a bad thing
I hadn’t resisted joining the expat community here at all, it just hadn’t really happened. I’ve got my English speaking knitting group, after all. But recently, I’ve been to a few events and things involving the expat community, and yeah, it’s been nice. It’s nice to be around people who “get you.” Even if they don’t really get you because British English is apparently not compatible with North American English.
- But I’m glad I know Chileans too
That said, I’m glad my circle of friends includes Chileans too. I don’t want to live in an expat bubble. Now to work on expanding both circles!
There’s probably many more things I could have said or added or thought about at anniversary of my arrival back in Chile. It’s been a tough year, but in all a good year. I never thought it would be easy – but I am perservering and getting stronger. Here’s to many years more.