RYE Final Report: Alex Bryant Chile 2013-2014
I think I should start out by saying that I had the absolute best exchange that I could have asked for. Before leaving, I heard so many people say that same phrase, and I always wondered what constituted “the best exchange”. During the hard times of my exchange, I thought that surely I couldn’t be having the best exchange while I was fighting with my family, or while I was sitting at home alone on a Friday night with nothing to do, or while I was not being invited to a single rotary meeting, or while I still didn’t understand everything my friends were saying after 6 months. As I look back on those moments, I realize that my expectations for the year were completely impossible. A year abroad is like a roller coaster with unavoidable sadness, happiness, success, and failure. I also realized that this complete experience, including all the rough patches, was much more amazing than the one I had in my head ever could have been. Through the fighting and reconciliation I had with my family, I became much closer to them (after all, real families don’t always get along), I was able to use the nights alone to spend extra time with my family, I was able to change rotary for the better, and I realized that that fact that I was able to complain about not understanding little details of the language actually meant I was improving a lot. I think that “having the best exchange” is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is stay positive, make the best of any situation, and know how to laugh at yourself. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to, but they are always new and exciting experiences. I’ll illustrate my point with the story of how I spent my birthday in Chile. It was during summer break (February), and my family had just returned from a 3 week road trip through the south of Chile, so I hadn’t seen any of my friends for a long time. I hadn’t had a cell phone since December (long story), so Facebook was my only means of communication. We arrived home and I was excited to talk to friends and plan something to do for my birthday, but I quickly found that my dad hadn’t paid the internet bill, so there was no wifi in the house. I had no cell phone, no internet, no texting, no way to communicate with neither my Chilean friends nor my friends and family from the US who wanted to wish me a happy birthday. All I did the whole day was go for a run and then organize my room with my little sister Monse. I tried to act like I wasn’t disappointed, but my one and only exchange birthday was not going as planned. I was in my room watching Disney channel with Monse when my brother Maxi came in and asked me to help him with something outside. I went to the living room and found it completely decorated with balloons and a big Mexican (my favorite food) meal on the table. My best friend Cata was waiting there with a gift and a giant hug. We had a great meal, my family shoved cake in my face, and although it wasn’t the amazing birthday filled with greetings that I had imagined, it was still amazing and perfect in its own way because it showed me how much these people care about me. Later in the week Cata and I had a joint birthday party for our school friends and went out dancing at a club, and a little afterward all the exchange students got together to throw me a surprise birthday party. I was so sure that my birthday was going to be one of the worst memories of the year, and it is actually one of the best.
Recommendations for Exchange Students:
· - Bring a California flag as well as a USA flag because in all the group pictures you are going to want to stand out
· - Bring California postcards to write letters on
· - Bring candy to share with everyone—they’ll all want to try the cool US candy that doesn’t exist there (ex: Sour Patch Kids, Goldfish, Jolly Ranchers, Juicy Fruit gum, Tootsie Rolls, Graham Crackers to make s’mores)
· - Printing out pictures of you with your host family and friends always makes a good gift (a great end of year gift could be a framed picture, so bring nice frames from the US)
· - Learn some good card games to teach people (ERS was a big hit)
· - ***Learn your US history and especially the history of US involvement in the country where you’ll be going. At least in South America, there is a lot of resentment toward the US for their foreign policy during the cold war, and you will undoubtedly get questions from friends, parents, and history teachers about what you think of the situation. You’ll want to be informed.
· - People will make fun of you for carrying pepper spray around, but I always felt safer with it although I never had any problems or the slightest reason to use it.
· - Make your pins California related, not USA related, because you’ll want to stand out from the million other USA pins that will be on everyone else’s blazers
· - Don’t worry about talking to other exchange students instead of people from the country you’re in because they understand better than anyone what you’re going through and can provide a nice break from constantly working to communicate and understand the language. At the same time, make sure you put your host country friends first and make a big effort to spend as much time with them as possible because after all, you didn’t travel so far just to be friends with more people from the US.
· - Don’t let your host family or friends speak to you in English, at least until you feel comfortable in their language
· - When communicating with your host family, be specific about the cultural practices and beliefs that you and your real family have about house rules and family interaction. It can’t hurt to over clarify because that’s the only way to explain differences and miscommunications that are sure to come up
· - Don’t be lazy before leaving on exchange. Learn as much of the language as you can, especially grammar rules. It’s easy to pick up vocabulary when you get there but grammar is a little harder, especially if you know nothing about it. When you step off the plane and realize that now this new language is the only you will make friends, understand street signs, or ask for help, you will wish you had worked a little harder beforehand. Read books, watch tv or movies (preferably movies you’ve already seen), listen to and familiarize yourself with their music (super impressive when you go out dancing and know the words to their favorite songs), chat with your host family over Skype or Facebook
· - ***MAKE AN EFFORT. Be social, be nice, be real. Ask people about themselves, remember people’s birthdays, hug people often. Always laugh at yourself and allow people to correct you if you make a language or cultural mistake. Break the stereotypes that people from the US are all cold and rude and driven only by their capitalistic interests and that exchange students are only looking to party, get drunk, and have a good time.
For more information than anyone could ever possibly want about my exchange, or just to look at some pretty pictures of Chile, check out my blog: