Livin’ La Vida Chilena: Part 2 – Overcoming The Culture Shock


One of the biggest warnings anyone going on a year abroad is given is the amount of time it will take to adjust and overcome the cultural differences.

Although classes have now started and I am slowly getting used to life as a student in a Chilean university, adjusting to life on the other side of the world has been by no means been quick or easy.

Chilean Spanish itself has proven to be a whole new learning process. Since moving into more permanent accommodation with mainly Chilean flatmates I have been introduced to a comparative smorgasbord of slang phrases that don’t seem to exist outside of the Chilean border – from ‘weon’ (guy), to ‘sipo’ (a combination of the Spanish words si and pues – basically a more convoluted way of saying yes). It took a good long while for me to be able to understand most of these conversations but now I at least have a vague idea of what is going on. Understanding humour is still difficult in some situations, however. Getting used to not being able to get all of the jokes is a change in its own right.

At University work has also gradually been intensifying over the past few weeks. From the initial point of getting into the swing of things, exams and assessments are now fast approaching. While I am able to understand and follow the classes in Spanish, learning in another language does make the progress somewhat more complex when it comes to revision – the most difficult part is applying concepts that you have already learnt and been taught about in English.

With a lot of the teaching and preparation being done in class and less independent work, Chilean education leaves you much more reliant on being attentive during the lecture and on taking good notes at the time. Getting exact information about the timing and assessment here has not been the easiest of processes – sometimes if information isn’t emailed we can only find out about things on the day which can make class preparation interesting.

On a less academic note, the weekend of 18th/19th September was Chile’s Independence Day or Fiestas Patrias, a national holiday to celebrate the end of colonialism in Chile. Given that in the UK we don’t really have any celebration of independence or being British it was interesting to see the number of Chilean flags and banners that appeared overnight. The nature of the celebration here is akin to how we celebrate Halloween or Christmas in Britain – supermarkets devote whole aisles to 18th September themed decorations and accessories and large municipal festivals that last all month.

Laguna Aveda‎ño, Quillón (Image: Cameron Ridgway)
Laguna Aveda‎ño, Quillón (Image: Cameron Ridgway)

The weekend is also a time for families, friends and communities to come together. I was invited to a few local celebrations and an asado (or barbeque) in the small town of Quillón – my first real foray outside of Concepción. This itself was a contrast – rural Chile is much more isolated and as the roads become unpaved and the buildings change from high rises to small cabins you quickly lose the generic ‘big city’ feel of Concepción itself.

Alongside the rather large quantities of meat on offer (including eating beef with your bare hands), there was also a chance to sample the rather different and varied range of drinks, such as punche (white wine with peach slices) or the Chilean liqeur pisco, most often mixed with lemonade or coke to form a piscolo due to its vodka-like strength. For that reason alone I wouldn’t recommend drinking it neat.

I hope to be travelling further afield in the next few weeks, so stay tuned as I explore the country further. Meanwhile, back to the revision…



Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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