After deciding to move to Santiago, I knew that my world view was about to change significantly. Also, I felt that I was more prepared for this change than the average American. I had studied Spanish for eight years. I had even taken a course in college in cross-cultural communication. Nonetheless, none of this had prepared me for the experience that I was going to have first hand. Experiencing a culture different from your own can at first, be frustrating. However, pushing through this frustration can ultimately lead to unforgettable life lessons. Here are five of the most important things that I learned from living in South America.
1. Stop and smell the roses.
As an American, I am always thinking of the time. For example, I find myself often thinking: how can I finish this task in the least time possible? Work is still a high priority, and I also consider myself to be pretty on-time. If I’m supposed to meet my friends for dinner at 6, I’m usually there at 6 (maybe even 5:55). One week in Chile taught me that this is not typically the case in South America. At first, this characteristic of South American culture was a source of pure annoyance. However, I eventually realized that taking a step back and relaxing isn’t so bad. You don’t always have to be in a hurry. Stop and smell the roses. Sometimes if you are so focused on the future, you miss what’s happening in the present.
2. You are not in control.
I am quite possibly the most type-A person you will ever meet. I like to plan. I LOVE to use agendas. I CRAVE organization. This personality does not mesh well with life in South America. The bus may not come. Your students will probably show up late. The process for your visa will take months. Someone may even pickpocket your cell phone. But does this REALLY matter?
3. Let it go.
Realizing that you aren’t in control is one thing; learning to let it go is another. I was so focused on things not fitting into my idea of a plan that I was continually making myself grumpy. So what if things go differently than you expected? This is not the worst thing in the world. You’re alive and healthy, so make the most of your time instead of making yourself upset. Letting go and learning to live without things you schedule always working can be a freeing and excellent experience.
4. Family is everything.
I think I had always been familiar with the fact that family comes first in Hispanic cultures. Nonetheless, it wasn’t something that I truly understood until I started dating a Chilean. It was hard for me to comprehend the extent to which he would go out of his way to make his family happy. I mean, I think I’m pretty close to my family, but I don’t have to see them every day. As time passed in Chile, my boyfriend was able to teach me a crucial lesson: money and jobs will come and go, but family is forever.
5. It’s okay to be affectionate.
South Americans don’t exactly hold back their feelings when they like someone. When I first arrived in Chile, I was appalled by the public displays of affection happening each time I passed a public park. Why did they think that this was normal? Couples were continually doing more than just holding hands in public. It took me quite a few months to realize that maybe it’s okay to be affectionate. If you love someone, you should be able to demonstrate that to the person any time you want. It’s okay to be in the moment. Maybe it’s even better to show those you love that you care for them regularly.