Today I had to wake up super early to go to my first Rotary orientation. I was really really excited to meet all of the other exchange students. I feel like I have a special connection with all of them because they understand exactly what I’m thinking and feeling. All of the exchange students from Rancagua met at the bus stop at 7:30. There are 7 of us—Sally (the girl from California that I met earlier), Katie, Pierre, Nigel, another girl whose name I forget, and Jose, who is from Chile and went on exchange two years in a row to Canada and Germany. Jose and I had talked online a lot, so it was really fun to finally get to hang out with him in person. We all got on a big tour bus, and it took me a minute to realize that everyone on the bus was an exchange student. We drove for about an hour to Santiago, and I talked a little with the people around me. We all talked in English, even the people from France and Germany, because nobody felt comfortable in Spanish. There were about 60 exchange students there! When we arrived in Santiago, we all got out and they served us breakfast while we all talked and traded pins and got to know each other. We had to go into a room and listen to a few presentations about the rules of Rotary, what not to do while on exchange, and some information about the trips we will be going on throughout the year. We had some breaks where all the exchange students got to go outside and talk. When the presentations were finished, everyone had to go outside and get their money (each exchange student gets $100 per month). Everyone got their money except for the people from Rancagua because our counselor hadn’t paid yet. I was kind of annoyed because I’ve been here over a month and I still haven’t received my money or been invited to meet the Rotary club.
Next, we all got back on the bus and drove through Santiago to this rural mountain area. The bus dropped us off at the base of a big hill and we all had to walk up the hill to this big building. In the building were stalls serving food, and in the center were people dancing Cueca. We all were served empanadas, and then we stood around and talked for a little while. Then, Jose came over and invited me to dance Cueca with him. I told him I had absolutely no idea how to, but why not? So we went out on the dance floor with some other people and “danced” (which basically means he danced while I awkwardly tried to copy him while laughing at myself). Later on, there was a show of professional dancers, and after they finished, the men went into the crowd and invited people to come dance with them. I agreed, and once again made a fool of myself trying to dance. It wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely fun, and I was really proud of myself because I was the only exchange student brave enough to dance. It was something completely out of my comfort zone that I would never do in the US, but that’s why I’m here right? To take advantage of every opportunity I get. After the show, we were allowed to wander through the food stands and buy what we wanted to eat. I took the opportunity to drift between groups of exchange students and try to meet everyone. I really liked them all, and I can’t wait to spend more time with them at other Rotary events. We took a bunch of pictures; exchanged phone numbers and pins, and got on the bus to go home. I sat with Katie and Jose, and we laughed basically the whole way home.
Sally had invited me to sleep over at her house that night, so her dad came and picked us up at the bus stop and we went to her house. We went up to her room and put all the pins we had collected that day on our jackets. Then we went down and ate dinner with her parents (she doesn’t have any host siblings). I was so shocked by how much her Spanish has improved in a month. When we met for the first time she spoke like literally no Spanish, and now she can have complete conversations with people. We talked to them for like an hour, and then we went up to Sally’s room. I love Sally so much because we are a lot alike, and even more so because we are both in Chile and experiencing the same weird exchange student moments. We talked about how awesome Chilean people (and Chilean boys) are, we tried to memorize the Chilean national anthem, and we practiced dancing Cueca together.