Ann Pogrebitskiy, a sophomore actuarial science and finance major from Denver, Colorado, is studying abroad May 14-June 4 in Santiago, Chile as part of the College of Business Global Immersion program Chile: Business Hub of Latin America. She and her classmates will interact with local Chilean university students and learn essential finance concepts during the three week trip. She looks forward to experiencing a different culture, increasing her global awareness, hearing new stories and checking an item off her college bucket list.
These past couple of days have been one of insane beauty. As a little bit of background, Chile has a very diverse geography. To the west is the Pacific Ocean. To the east are the Andes mountains. To the north is the Atacama Desert, one of the driest areas of the Earth. Basically, Chile is isolated from the rest of South America due to its natural barriers. Here in Santiago, we are located in a valley of the Andes which causes issues like smog. With the hustle and bustle of being a big city, Santiago has a lot of air pollution most of the time. The exception is after it rains. On Thursday, there was a huge downpour with a gorgeous sight to see afterward.
We were sitting in the middle of our Spanish class on Friday when the clouds began to separate. Suddenly, I look over, and there are these absolutely stunning mountains outside of our window that I had never seen before. That afternoon we had some free time. In Santiago, there is a large hill in the middle of the city called Cerro San Cristóbal, the San Cristobal Hill. This hill towers 300m over the city and has a 22m statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We decided that Friday after the rain was the perfect day to hike this hill. After a grueling 45 minute hike full of groaning, panting and sweating, we made it to the top. Boy, what a view!
On Saturday, we traveled to the coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Reñaca. This was a big test of our navigational skills. The first legs of our journey went great. We successfully traveled by Metro to the central bus station without losing anyone (which has happened before…we found them eventually). With the help of my fellow student Eric, who speaks fluent Spanish, we purchased tickets and boarded a private bus to Viña del Mar. The two-hour bus ride was uneventful with most of us sleeping through the entire thing. We even were successful at navigating the local bus system to get to Reñaca which is where our Airbnb was located. This is where things got rough. We had previously entered the address into Google Maps and were following those directions to get to our house. Unfortunately, the place that Google Maps took us to was not the house we were supposed to be. The result was us waiting on the side of a very high-end looking condo building for our contact to find us, just to discover that our house was only a few blocks down the street. But in the end, we all made it and had a wonderful evening and next day on the beach enjoying the sunshine.
It’s been a crazy couple of days and as always, expectations are very different from reality. When I thought about South America, I thought of warm weather; currently it is 35° and pouring rain. Secondly, I knew there would be a language barrier, but only about three percent of the population knows even basic English. Thirdly, I didn’t think the culture here would be drastically different from the U.S., and boy, was I wrong. We’ve been exploring Santiago and learning more about the local culture.
On Monday, we went on a walking tour of Santiago that highlighted Chile’s unique history and illuminated different parts of Chilean culture we would not have picked up otherwise. Throughout this tour, we encountered so many different historical and cultural places I would not have known if our tour guide hadn’t pointed out. As a humorous example, we learned how coffee shops in Chile have a unique history. Chile was originally conquered in the 16th century by the Spanish who were tea drinkers. The population had become so accustomed to drinking tea with lots of sugar that when there was a movement to become more westernized in the 1980s, it was very difficult to introduce coffee because it is so bitter. As a result, coffee shops had to get creative to attract customers to their business. And so, Café con Piernas or coffee with legs was born. It is exactly what it sounds like: their waitstaff wears revealing clothing. If our tour guide had not explained this to us, I totally would have accidentally walked in!
Another example is just simple table manners. The first night we were here, we went to a nice Chilean Italian restaurant. Throughout the dinner, we were getting very frustrated with their customer service – it took a while for drinks to arrive, each time we needed something we had to wave the server down, it took 30 minutes for us to get our check, etc. As we have spent time here, we have learned that Chileans are chill, pun intended. Here it is very common to people to sit for two, three, maybe even four hours for dinner sipping on a coffee or drink; they will not be hustled out like they would be in the U.S. In return, it makes sense waiters do not check in every 10 minutes. Not knowing these customs, we thought they just had really bad customer service. This sort of “chill” attitude is seen in so many different aspects. When standing in line at the grocery store, there is a long line, yet the cashier is still chatting it up with a customer. It all just comes down to the culture.
As a more materialistic example, these murals, painted by famous Chilean artist Inti Castro show the culture and customs of the people here. On the right side is the male. The mining hat and pick axe represent the importance of the mining industry to the nation. Copper mined from the northern mountains is the largest export of Chile. The bread on his back and peppers on his hat represent the large farming tradition in the rural parts of the country. On the left is the female. Of her symbols, the children on her back are the most symbolic, representing the importance of family to the Chilean way of life. Due to the Spanish influence, Catholicism is a very strong force that influences the way of life here. Often times, even for school, children will live with and rely on their families until marriage.
It’s finally here. After months of planning, weeks of meetings and days of anticipating, here I am sitting on the plane for the next eight hours. A plethora of emotions are running through my head, but the one I feel most acutely is excitement. Excitement for a new adventure.
I caught the travel bug after my sophomore year of high school. That summer, I was so fortunate to be able to participate in an exchange program with Germany. In April, my family hosted my exchange sister and then in June, her family hosted me. This is when I fell in love with Germany, Europe and even more importantly, traveling. I knew then and there I would study abroad in college. In fact, that is one of the things I looked at when making that all important college decision. Originally, I was planning on going to Brazil, but when that program did not have enough interest, I quickly discovered the Chile program had even more to offer.
My biggest fear for this trip is the language barrier. As I mentioned before, I studied German, not Spanish, but I guess the best way to learn a language is to go to a country where they speak it. Although the program I am participating in focuses on business and will be taught in English, I really hope to pick up at least some Spanish in the three weeks I am there. Language is such an important part of a countries culture, and I want to experience Chile to its fullest, even if that means struggling for the first couple of days. I’m so excited for what sort of experiences the next three weeks will hold and I can’t wait to share them all with you!