It’s group post time here in the Chilean corner of the blogosphere. This time we’re talking about what made us leave our comfortable, English-speaking homes for the chance to live here at the end of the world and how long we plan to stay here. A lot of us have similar stories – studied abroad, met a guy, came back to Chile, plan to leave in a few years – but the details differ. I think regular readers probably know more or less why I’m here, but I don’t know if I’ve mentioned why we plan to go back to the US in the future.
For those who don’t know what brought me to Chile, I’ll recap. I grew up knowing I would study abroad – my mom spent a year in France during college, my family had always traveled, and study abroad seemed like a great opportunity. I studied French for 5 years and spoke it well enough that I decided to switch to Spanish my senior year of high school. By the time sophomore year rolled around and I was looking at study abroad destinations, my French was a bit rusty, but I felt like I had a good enough base that I could pick it up again later in life. My Spanish, on the other hand, was good but not totally ingrained, so I decided to study in a Spanish-speaking country through a UC program that would let me get credit for my courses. Brazil and the promise of learning Portuguese held a certain appeal, but in the end I decided it would be better to speak Spanish well than to speak both Spanish and Portuguese equally poorly. UCLA offered programs in several cities in Spain, Mexico DF, San Juan, Costa Rica and Santiago. Thanks to my English connections I’d already been to Spain and knew I would be able to go again – it’s just a quick, inexpensive flight from the UK. Mexico was too close to California and DF for whatever reason didn’t capture my attention. I’d love to go to Costa Rica on vacation but didn’t think it would be quite the right place to continue my political science studies – they don’t even have an army. Santiago, with its promise of distance and dictatorship, struck the right chord.
I arrived at the end of June 2005. I was never really homesick, and I made friends quickly with my amazing host family and a great group of people on my program. I broke up with the boyfriend I had left at home in California, but that would have happened anyway – we had run our course, and several thousand miles only made that clearer. In short, life was good. That said, I never particularly loved Santiago. I loved what I was doing, the adventures I had, the things I learned, and of course you can’t deny that Chile is a beautiful country. Somewhere along the line, Rodolfo and I met in a history class, and suddenly I was thinking about staying. When it turned out that I’d missed the deadline to prolong my study abroad, my thoughts turned to coming back over my summer. I knew that even if he and I broke up in the interim, I would miss my host family and want to come to see them. But it was always about the people rather than the place. That’s not to say that I disliked Santiago, but it wasn’t as much of a draw as its inhabitants.
In total, I’ve been here for a little over 2 years split up into 6 months of study abroad, 2 months of internship and a year and a half of life. I know that here on the blog I often vent about things that I find frustrating or difficult, but that’s in large part because “life is normal, I am content” isn’t a very interesting post. Overall, I like the life that I have here. Parts of it drive me crazy, and parts of it are better than what I had in California. When I moved down here in September 2007, I told people I was planning to be here for “a couple of years.” One year sounded too short, and more than two years sounded scarily long considering that I had no idea how things would go. Now I say we’ll be here for 5 years or so.
Sometimes I can almost see those 5 years stretching into 10 and waking up age 60 only to find that I never left. But most of the time I’m pretty confident that we’ll leave Chile before we start thinking about having kids. There are two main factors to the decision to live more permanently in the US: money and culture. Decent jobs in the US allow for yearly (or even more frequent) international plane flights so that we can visit family and friends in Chile. Decent jobs in Chile do not. It would be hard to live and Chile and get back to the US very often. Simple as that, on the money front. My point about culture is more complicated, and it’s not something that I can fully express. Sometimes Rodolfo agrees with me, and sometimes he finds it offensive – understandbly, since I’m telling him that I don’t want to raise our children in the society in which he was raised. For the record, I think he turned out just fine So many of the things that frustrate me about Chile, like the lack of regard for other people or the lack of a work-life balance, are things that I see as real societal issues. I don’t like the classism and the fact that if we were to live comfortably here we would probably end up isolated in the barrios altos with a live-in maid. I think education, both public and private, is better not necessarily in the US as a whole but definitely in the areas where we’re thinking of living. I don’t want to live in a city forever, but in Chile I don’t think I’d want to live outside of Santiago – I know there are people who would violently disagree with that statement, but for me Santiago offers jobs I’m interested in and the modern conveniences that I like. I am NOT saying that the US is perfect, but its issues and disadvantages are ones that I’m more comfortable with because I’m more used to them. Luckily even if Rodolfo doesn’t agree with me completely, he does agree that as things stand right now, the US offers certain advantages to us that Chile cannot. For the moment though, we’re happy to be here, and on those days when I’m not so happy I try to remember to take advantage of my time in Chile because once we leave, whenever that ends up happening, I’ll miss this place.