It is truly bizarre to think I set out on my year abroad nearly a year and a half ago. Nevertheless, looking back on it now, it’s hard to contain my nostalgia and the incredible connections and experiences I embraced on a truly remarkable year out, filled with both its ups and downs. Having never visited South America before, let alone one of the furthest possible countries away from our beloved UK, embarking on a year abroad in Chile was always goingto be an adventure, and it certainly lived up to that billing. First obstacle, getting there. Now long haul flights have never been a particular enjoyable past-time of mine, so the 13 hour monster of a plane ride from Madrid didn’t entirely settle the nerves. However, arriving in the quite outstanding Andean landscapes surrounding the capital was truly remarkable. A rapid flight down to the city of Concepción and the year abroad had properly begun. This would be my home for the next 5 months, and to be honest I wasn’t really sure what lay ahead of me.
Torrential rain, freezing temperatures and a lot of social confusion dominated the first couple of weeks. I must also point out the struggles with Chilean bureaucracy and administration in trying to obtain Chilean temporary citizenship cards, confirming visas and securing accommodation, we were well and truly thrown in the deep end with our already apprehensive Chilean Spanish language skills. However, after the traditional August student protests and introductory meetings, classes eventually started and our university experience had commenced. La Universidad de Concepción (UdeC) campus showed its true beauty as spring fell upon us, the lightly coloured buildings surrounded by the backdrop of the luscious yet relentless forestry. The centre of campus was dominated by a German-esque clock tower with water features and multiple flagpoles that would proudly hang the Chilean flag on days of national celebration. An area of campus I passed on a daily basis, this was where students would constantly crowd around for skateboarding, street dancing, outside classes and theatrical performances. I thoroughly enjoyed all the modules I decided to take; an introduction to interpretation, translation (Spanish into English) and a Chilean Spanish centred class for all the foreign exchange students. The interpretation class was without a doubt the most challenging and insightful, testing both my Spanish ability and complex topics surrounding issues and strategies for interpretation. For our translation class, we were treated to an incredibly entertaining lecturer from the UK itself, Dr. Stringer was a passionate individual who gave us texts on a weekly to work through and then discuss in class, being the only native English speakers, me and Paddy (my fellow Southampton buddy) became a focal point, but I truly found this fascinating and helpful for many aspects of my personal linguistic skills. Finally, the module for exchange students provided a great insight into Chilean Spanish, its uniqueness, as well as geographical, cultural and political focuses.
In terms of the city of Conce, its grid like structure allowed for easy navigation. An array of different restaurants, from Peruvian to German, there is plenty to choose from and at very reasonable prices. The hub of the city has to be Plaza Peru, situated right next to the University, locals and countless students gather here for social activities pretty much every evening. Numerous bars and ample restaurants make it quite the buzzy area; this became a regular destination for late night enjoyment. The highlights had to be watching the Chilean national football team in the local bars during their qualification campaign, Chileans take so much pride in their identity and their feisty and passionate players made for numerous games of high entertainment. Piscola and pitchers of Cristal became a staple in our alcoholic drinking habits as well as the delicious tabla (array’s of meats, chips, cheese all mashed together in one greasy, salty but tasty mess), and of course the empanadas, a traditional food of Chile similar to the Cornish pasty which can be stuffed with pretty much any meat with whatever you like; chicken, sweet corn and cheese was my personal favourite. My Thai, situated right next to the active square, was our go-to restaurant, rapid and friendly service combined with delightful Thai dishes that ranged from mild peanut-based noodle dishes to hot curries with rice and all for under a fiver. Meeting people in Concepción came very naturally with plenty of international links across the world, events with extranjeroswas a regular occurrence, but I thoroughly enjoyed making friends with Chileans. Always up for a laugh and a drink (literally on a daily basis) made for great entertainment, but their openness and positive outlook on life made for a breath of fresh air. Towards the end of my time in Concepción, I discovered a park with public gyms on the perimeter of the forest which became a destination for daily runs, the weather in November and December brought about searing heat and comfortable temperatures.
After nearly five months in Conce, my time came to an end as I returned to England for a few weeks over the Christmas holidays. It was certainly mixed feelings as I knew I wouldn’t be returning there for the foreseeable future, however five months away from my family and girlfriend took its toll and was very much looking forward to seeing them over the festive period. In terms of the following year, I based myself in Santiago, to focus on my Year Abroad Research Project, living with various Chilean families and couples, which was truly unforgettable and embarked on many travel excursions across the continent including Southern Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. The Year Abroad was a momentous year for many reasons, and I would highly recommend making the jump to spend it in South America, in particular the charming, diverse and quite remarkable Chile.