Learning to Adapt

Isabel Morales León, ISA Spanish and Latin American Studies in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, Chile Summer 2022

Looking back at my experience in Chile, I feel like I usually remember many of the big events, like experiences I did not expect to have. Some of those unforgettable experiences are when I hiked up part of a 9000 ft volcano (Villarica), or when I saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen in my life. I can say these events helped me view life differently, to view it more simply and less worrisome. But, I think remembering them sometimes can overshadow the small, yet meaningful things about my study abroad experience, such as the challenges I faced. Because I was born in Colombia, Spanish was my first language. Also, being familiar with Latin American culture, I thought studying in Chile was going to be easy and that there would not be a culture shock at all. However, I was partially wrong, and being wrong was challenging.
For starters, Chilean Spanish, or the Chilean slang and accent, is very different from other Latin American countries’ I have heard. So, at first, I could not understand everything a Chilean was saying, and in a way, I felt out of place. But, that was not the biggest thing making me feel like a foreigner in a country that spoke my native language. I think what truly made me feel this was riding the bus— yes, something as simple as this. To get to the university I was attending every day, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), or anywhere really, if I wanted to go to the beach, the mall, etc, I had to either take the metro or the bus. Both of them had their pros and cons, but one thing that stands out about the bus is that the drivers go extremely fast, especially in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. 
The bus in Chile is called “la micro”, and most people use it because it is cheaper, faster, and more convenient to go anywhere. I remember my first week in Viña del Mar when my host family and some family friends told me that micros are crazy because of how fast they go. I started taking the metro because it seemed calmer and easier to manage, but there were times where I had to take the micro. The first time I rode one was when my roommate from my program and I were going to surf at a beach in Concón, a city that was close by and known for its nice beaches. We were both confused about which bus we were supposed to take, but we realized later most of the buses had signs on the front mirrors with the places they went to. Yet, the hardest part was getting the bus to stop. Some people raise their hand when they see a bus coming, but the buses sometimes go so fast it is hard to make yourself noticed by the driver, so you have to be prepared and take initiative. People were looking at both of us because we evidently looked confused, but we finally got a bus to stop. We got on a bus, but the driver said he was not going that way so we had to get off. It was a little embarrassing because people were staring. When we eventually got on the right bus, we had to stand in the aisle because all the seats were taken. As we were walking, the bus took off right away and we had barely any time to grab on tight to a seat or pole, so our bodies swerved and pushed some people on the bus and we almost fell. The best way I can describe the ride is that it felt like an attraction at an amusement park. Besides the bus moving back and forth, side to side, and feeling scared that it was going to tip over at certain points, the whole environment inside the bus was hectic. The bus driver was blasting music, people grabbed on to their bags to avoid getting pickpocketed, and people working in the informal market got on to perform or sell a product. Even getting off was an experience. The buttons to get the driver to stop did not work properly, so people had to get up and in a way notify the driver to stop either by yelling or going towards the front and standing close to him. We missed our stop because we were scared of taking initiative, but fortunately we were close to the surf beach. The  driver barely stopped though, and I swear I got off while the bus was still moving. 
Though I was still scared to take the micro after my first experience, it got easier after a while. That is, after getting on the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong bus stop several times, of course. However, after that while, I actually enjoyed taking the micro, and I learned to embrace the environment and take it as a learning experience. I learned that everything is just about adapting. Obviously it might not be ideal at first and I might feel embarrassed and confused, but sometimes you just have to do things because it is the only way you will learn.