I got off the plane, said goodbye to the very talkative man I met during the flight, and waited in the incredibly long customs line.
I met another Rotary exchange student in the line, but she is going to Concepcion, a city that is very far from Rancagua. Then, I walked out to baggage claim, looked up at some windows on the second floor overlooking the baggage claim, and saw my host family. They had all skipped school/work to come meet me and they were carrying a sign and a Chilean flag. I was nervous to meet them, but when I saw all of them smiling, I realized that I had nothing to worry about because they are so kind and welcoming. As we walked out to the car, I had my first taste of Chilean winter. It’s cold. Like seriously. Looking around, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Everything was interesting. I know I should have been expecting this, but the flag flying from the pole and the different license plates were fascinating! I got my biggest surprise when we got into the car and they said I didn’t have to put on my seatbelt. I was so shocked, and I put it on anyway. We drove immediately into Santiago, where I took my paperwork to some government office or other (they all tend to blend together after a while), and then I received a quick tour of Santiago. I saw La Moneda, where the president of Chile works, and we walked through the streets of the city.
People were selling things on the street that I’d never heard of, and there were a lot of police everywhere (because we were close to the president’s office). I was surprised by the number of stray dogs that are in the streets, and the crazy traffic (let’s just say it’s a good thing they don’t let exchange students drive because I do not understand these traffic patterns at all). We went to a large mall in Santiago, where we looked in the stores and ate lunch (for my first Chilean meal I had Subway… yep.) On the way back to Rancagua, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy Huesillo, which is a typical Chilean fruit drink with a whole dried peach and wheat floating in it. It was actually very good!
On the way back to Rancagua (45 minutes) we passed farmland, a huge casino, and other things that my family thought were completely normal but that I was fascinated by. When we reached Rancagua, we went to my school so I could see the building, and then we went to the house. Rancagua is more of a city than Laguna Niguel: the streets are very small and tight, there is lots of traffic, and we can walk to the mall/supermarket (“the Jumbo”) in 5 minutes. I got a tour of the house, and then they left me to unpack my suitcases in my room (formerly Cristobal’s). We ate dinner together, and they tried very hard to put me at ease by talking to me very slowly and asking me questions, but it was still a little awkward for me because I had to keep asking “que?” and saying “lo siento pero no entendi”. It is so funny because whenever they are talking to me, they talk very slowly and I can understand, but when they are talking among themselves, they talk at a normal pace (which for Chileans in super fast) and I can’t understand a single word. They could be talking about me right in front of me and I would never know. When it came time to shower and get ready to go to sleep, I felt very weird showering and coming out of the bathroom in my pajamas without any makeup on in front of people I don’t know. It is even weirder to be around new people when you don’t speak the language and therefore can’t explain yourself or make jokes to ease the tension. Cristobal invited me to the birthday party of one of his friends, but I was much too tired to go because I hardly slept on the airplane. I decided to go to sleep, and that was when I discovered another fantastic Chilean pleasure—the electric bedwarmer. It gets so cold at night, but the bedwarmer is a priceless miracle!