One of the scariest things about the year abroad is the idea of being out of your comfort zone and having to push yourself to talk to native people and make friends with people who potentially wouldn’t be your cup of tea. At PUC there is a programme which links a foreign exchange student up with a Chilean student with the purpose of you both practising talking to a native speaker. So obviously in my case it was Spanish and English. I regret not taking part in this programme in my first semester there because it is such an easy way to talk with somebody without the intense pressure to speak perfectly. It is comforting knowing that you are both in the same situation and regardless of if you do make a mistake, it allows you to practise and making mistakes is perfectly fine as long as you learn from them. It was also an amazing way to ask questions that you can’t really ask any Tom, Dick, and Harry in case they were a bit personal or culturally delicate. For example, we talked about abortion, religion, homosexuality, politics, protesting etc. which in a very conservative country like Chile does not get frequently talked about; on the contrary, it is something that very much gets swept under the carpet.
My ‘buddy’, Erwin, was really interesting and unlike many other Chileans I had met who were quite well off, cared for material possessions like their Apple mac book and who holidayed in their second homes in the south. Erwin on the other hand was very left-wing and went to socialist-style schools which led me to ask him, well, why are you here? A very conservative and religious, private university? His simple answer was that his parents wanted him to actually complete his degree because previously he was at Universidad de Chile which is a notoriously more liberal, state institution which means that students there are quite frequently in paro. Even more interestingly, both his parents are communist party members and remained members during the Pinochet regime. We regularly met up at lunch and even went to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago which made me realise how little I knew about Chile’s history, all of which he could reel off without needing to fact check based purely on the fact that he went to schools which made it a priority to teach their national history to students which is unlike many other schools in Chile. I was able to ask him to explain things more in-depth and he could answer with no problem.
To sum it up, I would definitely recommend taking part in something like this in your year abroad. It is a slightly less intimidating way to meet and talk to people whilst practising Spanish and helping somebody else practise their English! Suerte!!!
It is also very handy when you need help and information that maybe only a Santiaguino would know…. for instance when you need to find a clinic to get a yellow fever vaccine!!!