I arrived June 11, 2009 with no idea how Chile would look, smell, feel, taste, or sound. I was placed in Cauquenes, a small town in Maule, and absorbed the realities of Chile.
Look: the sun was rising over the Andes as I flew into the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport with an eastward view. I enjoyed the snow-capped Andes all winter long from a variety of viewpoints.
Smell: the fresh air, the salty smell of the ocean, and fresh empanadas baking in a seaside restaurant greeted my nostrils when my host family took us to their favorite beach in Pelluhue.
Feel: the overwhelming sense of family when everyone – my host family, my students, neighbors, teachers, fellow volunteers – hugged and kissed me when they say hello and goodbye.
Taste: I will always crave completos, roscas, and sopaipillas, as well as fresh asado: longaneza, choripan, in quantities too large to be eaten in a single day, accompanied by mouth-burning aji and cooling, stone-ground chancho en piedra.
Sound: the chilenismos rolling off the tongues of students, neighbors, and family members that perplexed me, made me laugh, or slipped past my understanding.
I left with a pretty amazing set of friends, new family, and an overwhelming amount of sensory experiences to remember. I returned in August 2010 to do research in Santiago schools, which I never would have pursued or been selected for without my initial experience in Chile.
Chile is amazing if you come to it with an open mind and let yourself experience it wholeheartedly. If you are debating about doing this program, the one question you must ask yourself is: am I ready to have Chile open doors for me?