I have arrived in Chile and I couldn’t be happier! I was welcomed to Santiago by a sky full of stars and the sun just beginning to rise over the Andes Mountains. My plane landed around 6:30 in the morning and I got through customs and baggage claim without any problems. I was actually the last of our group to arrive that morning! The Arcadia staff was waiting for us in the airport and once I got there, we started our 1½ drive to Valparaíso!
After meeting my host family and taking a much-needed nap, the Arcadia group and I set off to explore Viña del Mar, Valparaíso’s sister city. We walked along the beach (this was my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean!), watched the sunset from the pier, and ate chorillana at the restaurant, La Flor de Chile. Chorillana is a typical Chilean dish consisting of french fries topped with beef, onions, and fried eggs. It was delicious!
The next day I finally got to see Valparaíso! We started our day with a boat tour. Valparaíso is Chile’s main port and has been an important stop for travelers since long before the Panama Canal was built. During our tour, we got to see (very smelly) sea lions, navy ships, and the cerros (or hills) of Valpo. After, we took one of Valparaíso’s many ascensores, funiculars, to the top of Cerro Artillería. The view was incredible; we could see both the activity of the port and the calm of the hills.
Monday was our first day of orientation at Pontificia Católica Universidad de Valparaíso (PUCV). Our small group of four met hundreds of other international students studying at the university this semester. We took a tour of the buildings, took a short language placement test, and learned more about Chilean culture and the city of Valparaíso. Throughout the rest of the week, we explored both Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, spent time at the beach, and prepared for classes to start the next week.
For our final day of orientation, our Arcadia group took on Santiago, the capital of Chile! We took the metro to see La Moneda, where the offices of the President of Chile are. Underneath the plaza, is a culture and art center where we got to see an incredible Picasso exhibit. Later in the day, we rode an elevator up 62 floors to the top of the tallest building in Latin America, the Gran Torre Santiago. From the observation deck, we could see all of Santiago and the mountains that surround the city; the view was unbelievable. I loved that you could see where the city and mountains collide and intertwine as the houses start to move up the slopes of the mountains. After, we took a very crowded metro back to the bus station and played card games for a few hours while we waited for the next bus back to Valparaíso.
Orientation week was not what I expected at all. It wasn’t stressful, full of icebreakers, or bogged down with too much information. We did a lot of first-hand learning, and while the week was exhausting, it was definitely worth it. I thought we were going to have to learn to do a lot more everyday tasks on our own, like taking the micro (public bus), ordering at restaurants, and paying using Chilean pesos. It was a huge relief when we were shown how to do them multiple times and are still given help when we need it. We weren’t just thrown into a new culture to fend for ourselves; Rodrigo, our program manager in Chile, has helped us learn and adapt. He has helped us with all of our paperwork, taken us shopping for necessities and Chilean cell phones, shown us how to use Chilean pesos and ATMS, and has ridden with us on the micros many times. He always takes touristy pictures of us to send home to our parents and sends us information about upcoming events in Valpo and Viña. He also continues to answer my many many questions about Chilean culture at all hours of the day, for which I am very grateful.
This past week has been a great start to the 4 months that I’ll spend in Valparaíso, and I am excited to continue to share my adventures with you! Saludos!