Year Abroad Destinations:
Semester 1 – Studied at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile
Semester 2 – Studying at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany
Chile is not the most popular destination for people wanting to improve their Spanish because, frankly, the accent is the most challenging to understand in South America. Chileans use modismos (slang) in almost every single sentence – even the university professors use slang in their lectures! They don’t pronounce every letter in a word like they do in Spain – the taxi driver on my first day laughed at how posh my Spanish was!
Po is a word that means nothing but they say it after everything (you’ll not hear sí, rather sipo) and weón (meaning friend or idiot) will become your new favourite word. There’s a phrase – ‘if you can understand Chilean, you can understand anything’. It’s true, but you’ll pick it up! In Uruguay, the receptionist at our accommodation looked confused when my friends and I arrived. He said ‘vienen de Chile… pero no son… de Chile’ (you come from Chile, but you’re not from Chile) – the hard work pays off!
Chile is a great base to explore the rest of South America and there is so much to explore within Chile itself. Few people realise how big Chile actually is – its coastline is almost 4000 miles long! You can find the Atacama desert in the north, Patagonia in the south and everything else in between. Santiago is great because you have the airport situated nearby and you’ve got the bus stations that pretty much cover the whole country. Book in advance and you’ll get yourself bargains – plan every weekend and you’ll have a great time!
You can also easily* rent a car in Chile if you’ve got a full driving licence and I did that with my friends twice – it’s generally quite cheap for the day!
*when renting a car, make sure the guy isn’t on his lunch break and you don’t rent the car in the middle of the desert otherwise you’ll end up stranded in the middle of the desert with no car and having to hitchhike…
Santiago has plenty of places to go at night time. The main student night is Wednesday (miercoles po’) and the venue changes every week (exchange students get in for free!). Santiago’s main party neighbourhood is Bellavista and you’re guaranteed a good night. Chileans don’t hold back with their alcohol measurements – if you ask for a pisco (Chile’s own brandy), some barmen will fill your glass with 75% pisco and 25% mixer. You’ll find it hard to spend a lot of money in Chile on a night out and it’s one of the best for sure!
Although Santiago has a notorious smog problem, the views of the Andes mountains are incredible. After it rains, go to Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago (the second highest peak in the city) and you’ll be amazed. The mountains envelope the city – and if you go in winter, the mountains will be completely covered in snow.
You can also leave Santiago and be in Cajón del Maipo (a canyon located on the outskirts of the Andes mountain) within an hour – we actually rented a cabin in the mountains for the weekend and it was relatively cheap… although I wouldn’t do this in winter (or at least make sure your bedroom has some sort of heating!).
Chilean people are extremely fun, they’re down for anything and they’re really helpful most of the time! My landlady helped me out with Chilean bureaucracy and spent three hours speaking to me at the start of the semester recommending things to do, places to eat and what to do and what not to do in Santiago. Even if your Spanish isn’t the best, they’ll help you nonetheless – just make sure to drop in the occasional ‘po’ and ‘weon’ so they know you understand them (or not)!!.
Chile has an extremely vibrant culture and if there’s a public holiday, Chile goes all out for it. September 18th is Chile’s national holiday (called el dieciocho) and Santiago is one of the best places to be in the country. It’s a huge festival and you’ll find that everyone goes to a fonda – it’s sort of an open air festival with live music, food and lots of pisco. The biggest one is at Parque O’Higgins in Santiago. There, you can have anything from terremotos (wine with pineapple ice cream) to completos, one of Chile’s delicacies, which is a hotdog with everything included (even avocado)!
"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind!" - Seneca
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