Reflections – Caitlin

Tomorrow will officially mark 6 months since the day I left NZ to start my adventure here in Chile – and what an adventure it has been. Looking back on my time here, I can happily say that the exchange was everything I hoped it would be – I met amazing friends, learnt a new language, and most importantly experienced a markedly different culture.

There have been so many elements of this exchange that have been super awesome, but if I had to point to one in particular which stands out, it would have to be the people I have met. I have been so fortunate to be part of a really cool community of international students who come from almost all corners of the world. I have learnt a huge amount about other cultures and religion that I didn’t even know was lacking from my knowledge base! But on top of that they’ve just been a really great bunch of people to hang with, travel with and party with. When you’re all alone without family and friends in a new country, making good friends is super important and so I’ve been hugely lucky that I met such awesome people!

My wonderful flatmates, who have been my Chilean family away from home

The city of Santiago, while it does not immediately give off the same vibe as its bright colourful neighbour city Valparaíso, has definitely grown on me throughout the passing months. Being placed at the foot of the snow-covered Andes definitely gives it a certain charm, especially during sunset when the mountains literally glow pink (I’m guilty of stopping on multiple occasions during this time of day to take pictures – I suppose I’m still a tourist). I for sure will miss my view of the snow-capped mountains from my bedroom window, although I won’t miss the cold which has also come with the winter season. My house was built in a beautiful old villa style, but unfortunately this also means it lacks any form of insulation. Therefore, my hot-water bottle has become a permanent extension of my body for the past 2 months.

Santiago city with an Andes backdrop

While living abroad definitely has its perks, it also makes you appreciate the familiarity your own country. You realise how much you took for granted, and surprisingly its just the small things like knowing exactly which brand of food you need to buy in the supermarket, drinking coffee with fresh dairy milk, or even salt and vinegar flavoured chips. And of course there are the bigger things as well, like spending time with your family and being able to express yourself fluently in your first language. Therefore, although I absolutely have loved my exchange here and wish it could go on for longer, I definitely also have a list of things that I am going to eat/drink as soon as I get back to kiwi land! (I’m missing that whittakers chocolate like crazy, have to confess).

At the risk of sounding cliché, my exchange has been a super great experience in that not only have I had a blast but have also learnt some serious life skills in terms of organisation and surviving on my own. Although I’m of course looking forward to coming back home, I know I will miss this funky country and the awesome people I have met along the way.

Ski trip to the Andes!

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Living in Chile – Caitlin

For this blog I wanted to speak a little about my experience living in a foreign country where I have had to learn a second language in order to operate and function on a daily level. I have touched on this topic briefly in several past blogs, however it has undoubtedly been such a central part of my exchange that I felt it deserved further extension!

When living or visiting Chile, foreigners quickly discover that everything here functions in Spanish on fundamental level. While English still of course exists here (I think you would struggle to find a country without some English component being as it is such a universal language), Chile is perhaps one of the countries in Latin America which has the least amount of daily spoken English. This means that although you will still see English writing on clothes labels, hear English songs and watch English movies, talking to people in daily life in all forms requires speaking Spanish. As you can imagine, having only ever grown up speaking English my whole life this was fairly overwhelming at times. Luckily I had studied enough Spanish previously in New Zealand that even if I couldn’t always understand what was being said to me, I could usually express myself enough to survive without too much stress.

An example of the existence of English on a daily level – a mural in Valparaiso

Another point which has been collectively decided by Latin America is that the Chileans speak the most difficult form of Spanish possible. In fact, when talking to Latinos from other countries like Peru or Colombia they tell me “I can’t even understand the Chileans when they speak, so good luck to you”. Perhaps not the wisest decision to choose the hardest possible country in the world to learn Spanish but I feel it has been worth the challenge because, as they say, if you can understand Chilean Spanish you can understand Spanish from the all over the world.

One of my favourite little Spanish quotes from Valparaiso which translates to “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Now nearing the end of my exchange, I can definitely say that learning and living in another language has been a worthwhile experience. While it has been incredibly tough at times, especially having to take classes and exams in Spanish with the Chilean students, the final outcome has been worth the trials. Coming into this exchange I expected some challenging moments, but what I hadn’t anticipated as much was the satisfying moments which came with finally progressing with the language. By all means I know I still have room for improvement, but it has also been a fun processing learning to develop a new skill like language.

Living as an exchange student has also given me a new perspective on language itself. I have met so many awesome people from around the world who speak such an array of languages, including Dutch, Finnish, German, French, Swedish and even Arabic. The fantastic thing about these people is the majority of them speak at least 3 languages if not more. While this makes me feel rather unaccomplished, having spent years just trying to learn one additional language to English, it has seriously opened my scope of the world and taught me so much about countries I never really knew beforehand. I have found it super inspiring and now have an even stronger desire for international travel!

An 80s party with my German, Dutch and US/Arabic friends

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Campus Life – Caitlin

I feel like unpacking the lifestyle of a student at the Universidad de Chile cannot be done to full justice in just one blog. I find myself unsure of where to start, let alone how to describe everything I want to say in approximately 500 words. However, I will endeavour as best as I can to illustrate my experience as a Chilean student!

During my first few weeks, the university life seemed to be, on the surface level at least, relatively equal to UoA in the fundamental elements. My university campus has a definite left-wing alti vibe, the students attend classes, hang around campus with friends during break, everything is standard university procedure. However, when I say the students are alternative, I seriously mean it. I thought the UoA kids were pretty into the hippie, alti fashion but we are put to shame by the Chilean students. Over here it would definitely be uncommon if you didn’t have either multiple piercings or a multi coloured/shaved hairstyle which you rocked with pride. Also, and this is a point I’ll expand on later in the blog, the students are seriously left wing. There is an alive and buzzing feeling of activism and social movement in the campus which I simply have never felt in NZ on the same scale. The university walls are all painted with political propaganda and my university in particular is famous for frequent marches and protests in the street to campaign social change.

The quad area where students will often hang out on a Friday after class

To say a little more about campus life, everything in general is a little more relaxed (in terms of following rules). Every Friday the students hang around campus to party together in the quad, with stalls selling everything from tequila shots to ‘magic’ cakes. Everyone smokes all throughout the entire day (tobacco and other substances). During the lunch break entrepreneurial students often bring their own handmade food items to sell in stalls, such as vegan burgers, sushi rolls etc.

But now onto the more serious topic of this blog – perhaps some of you may have seen videos on Facebook of the large feminist movement that has spread across all of Chile. The truth is that there has been an outrage building for years in Chile against the machismo and femicide occurring within the country and education establishments. The movement is in response to several unresolved harassment cases within the university faculties which female students have lodged against professors. What started as a protest has turned into a full on strike, with university classes postponed indefinitely and in some cases with the campuses barricaded.

An example of an area of my campus which has been barricaded with tables and desks. The banner reads ‘Sister, I believe you’.

Therefore, I am now in my fourth week without class, with no clue if my classes will even start again before my exchange is finished. The teachers have had to meet with all the exchange students to talk about how we can finish our courses via individual tests in order to gain the credits. When I visited my campus to talk to a professor I saw that access to my faculty’s building had been blocked by overturned tables and chairs and even more propaganda had been added to the walls, now showing feminist words and sexual abuse testimonies.

I hope I have made clear what I meant when I said there is a tangible atmosphere of social activism which simply doesn’t exist in New Zealand. I could never imagine a protest of this level taking place in an Auckland university, complete with marches of thousands of people taking place on the main street of Santiago every week. Therefore, although the unpredictable university life here has at times has left me at times slightly perplexed, it has been a special experience to see university students like myself band together to try and produce a social change for the better.

More political propaganda at my campus. The words roughly translate to ‘Everything contrary to oppression resides in action’.

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Food, Glorious Food – Caitlin

After living alone in Chile for 3 months, I can confirm what they say – vegetables go off faster when you’re the one buying them. Travellers will often tell you that a great way to get to know a culture is through the country’s cuisine. When it comes to Chile, this statement really hits the spot. Food is undoubtedly a substantial part of the Chilean culture, around which many social norms are based. During my time here, my relationship with food has been an adventure to say the least.

A typical humita, which would cost around $2.00 NZD.

To start, one must talk about the Chilean cuisine itself. In comparison with other countries in Latin America, notably Mexico, there is not a ‘classic’ food style which immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Chile. However, there are plenty of traditional Chilean dishes which I have been fortunate enough to try and I would love to share some of my highlights here. The top of my list would be the humitas, which is a corn based meal. The corn has been cooked slowly with other ingredients to make a kind of thick paste, which is then wrapped up in the corn sheaves and heated until ready to serve. I always eat it with sugar sprinkled on top, a tip given to me by a local woman. They’re such a great size for a light lunch and definitely my favourite treat! Unfortunately, they’re far too complicated to make back in NZ (for my cooking abilities at least!), so I’ll need to eat as many as possible while I’m here! Another traditional dish, also made with corn, is called Pastel de Choclo. It slightly resembles a shepherd’s pie however it also includes olives and hard boiled eggs within the meat mix and in place of the mashed potato it has, once again, some kind of corn derivative.

A Chilean family lunch I was invited to ft. Pastel de Choclo

While these are traditional Chilean foods, they’re not eaten super often. Much more common are the asados (barbeques). These are an incredibly common form of social event, in which friends will gather and cook A LOT of meat for everyone, always with an old school open fire grill. The most common form of asado here in Chile is the classic choripan, which is quite simply small chorizo sausages with bread and usually mayonnaise. This is such a common event that basically every household will have an asado station ready for any family/friend reunion.

A choripan with the flatmates

Around enjoying the occasional Chilean cuisine treat, my diet has also had to overcome the challenge of cooking for myself for the first time in my life. While I already knew some basic staple dishes (Spagbol, stir fry etc), I really did not have the knowledge of how to feed myself substantially three times a day upon my arrival in Chile. It has been a significant learning curve. Through trial and error, I have gradually improved the quality of my meals (there were a few evenings when I went hungry due to a less than tasty experimental concoction) and I feel myself becoming more ‘adult’ with very new successful recipe added to my repertoire. However, I still have a long way to go to before I become the next master chef.

Asado with amigos!

To sum up, exploring the Chilean cuisine has been a great part my exchange, although perhaps dangerous for the waste line, and hopefully I’ll be able to bring a few Latin American eating tips back with me to the Kiwiland!

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Accommodation Awards – Caitlin

Probably one of the most daunting aspects of this exchange, prior to arriving, was the thought of having to find my own living accommodation independent of any university help. One could say I like to challenge myself, deciding to try flatting for the first IN MY LIFE in a foreign country, with a foreign currency, and worst of all a foreign language. As it turns out that it was a lot easier than I expected (that’s the way things usually go I suppose). I am now settled in an awesome house right in the city centre with 15 other people and things are going great.

A mural of Venus currently being painted by my talented landlord.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing to begin with. In fact, I was living in a different flat for the first 10 days in Santiago, which I had found online before my arrival. On the internet it looked fantastic (typical), however I didn’t realise that the location was less than ideal. With a 45-60min commute to the city centre and no direct bus to my uni campus, I decided the best course of action was to go flat hunting for something more central, quickly coming across my current house! Unfortunately, this led to a rather uncomfortable debate with my first landlord about giving back my prepaid first month of rent (which he obviously won as I am a passive enough person in English, let alone in Spanish). I decided to cut my losses, pack up and move into the centre, where I am today!

Flat outing to the local park – frisbee games ensued.

Onto the the happier topic of my new house, it is an incredibly large, old-fashioned house in the middle of Santiago central. At this exact moment we have 17 people living here – 1 German, 3 French, 2 Colombians, 2 Nicaraguans, 1 Mexican, 7 Chileans and obviously 1 kiwi! As you can imagine, the house is its own mini melting pot with a mix of cultures from all over the globe. We are also all a mix of students and workers, with ages ranging from 20 to mid-40s, so this balance of diversity means that there is a super buena onda (good vibe). Because we have so many people living here it means there is a birthday basically every weekend – and therefore, obviously a party to go with it – to the point where we have justified turning one of the spare rooms into a discoteca (club), fitted with lights, music and all. Another spare room we have turned into a cinema, fitted with mattresses and a projector! There is always someone around to chat with, cook with or drink with depending on your mood.

The view from my 3rd story window (the camera doesn’t do it justice I promise).

My bedroom is on the 3 floor (5 flights up, which I consistently think are too many) and I have a beautiful view from my window/balcony of the street outside, especially during twilight when everything turns slightly pink. My favourite part of the house is when I climb through a window on the 3rd floor and sit on the roof top, because our house is one of the tallest buildings on the street, granting it a great view of the Santiago rooftops.

¡El Tomy, mi gatito loquito! (Tomy, my crazy little cat!)

On a final point, I could not write this blog without mentioning the arrival of our newest flatmate! We recently adopted an adorable kitty named Tomy, who at the time was only 40 days old and the size of my hand (although he’s growing bigger every day!). Being a cat crazy person, who misses my cat in NZ like crazy, this gatito (little cat) brings a little more happiness into my life every day.

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First Impressions – Caitlin

Being 3 weeks into my semester exchange, I think to say it’s been a lifestyle change wouldn’t do it justice. Of course I was expecting things to be different, however I’m not sure you can ever be truly prepared leave all friends, family and support network to travel halfway across the world to a country where they all speak a different language. In my first three weeks here I have already been presented with various challenges, such as having to change my flat (and squabble with my first landlord in Spanish – not easy) and learn to cook for myself (honestly one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had so far). However, in spite of this, the first few weeks have been a blast and I am loving south America!

Santiago – Living in Latin America

From the surface, the city of Santiago seems much like Auckland. It is a city with a similar climate, people making their daily commutes in rush hour traffic – a regular city by anyone’s standards. However, there are a few obvious differences:

  • The landscape

Chile is a country filled with beautiful scenery and Santiago itself is situated in a Valley, meaning it is surrounded by mountainous landscape. At first it felt a little strange to be in the centre of a bustling city and yet also be able to look up to see the large mountains looming over you. However, when the sun is going down and the edges of the peaks are all stained pink, it sure does make a beautiful view.


  • The people

There are just many more people. Attempting to brave the underground metro during peak hour traffic (7:00 – 9:00PM) is overwhelming to say the least. I am consistently amazed at the amount of people they continue to cram into the metro cart when I am sure there is no physical space left.

  • The language

This is undoubtedly the biggest adjustment I have had to make. You really don’t appreciate the ability to express yourself freely until you are placed in a world where every sentence takes three times more brain power and you are often cut short halfway through a phrase due to lack of vocabulary. Since my arrival in Santiago I have spoken very little English, as only Spanish is spoken both in my classes and in my house. In fact, being able to write this blog in English feels luxurious! However, every day I am improving and learning more!


While I have only been here a short time, I have also attempted a taste at local culture by attending a football game with a group of Chilean friends. Therefore, believe me when I testify to the amount of passion the Chileans have for football. They did not stop singing, at the top of the lungs, for the ENTIRE game, no matter what was happening on the field. It sure was a memorable experience.

In conclusion: this city seems to offer the perfect amount similarities to home, so as not to be too scary, but also the right amount of differences to make it a challenging new adventure. I am happy to say that I have now settled in, have learnt the routes around my alti-left wing university, and most importantly have met a great bunch of people both in my house and through the exchange network! I look forward to what the next 4 months will bring!

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