First impressions of Santiago, Chile

(Editor's Note: IU Bloomington offers many opportunities to study abroad. Find the right fit for you at the Office of Overseas Studies.)

Molly Cunningham in Valparaíso, Chile. Behind Molly is the Pacific Ocean and Viña del Mar. Molly was in Valparaíso on May 20 with IES Abroad. 

Greetings from Santiago, Chile! I arrived in Chile on May 18 and I am just starting to get used to everything and enjoying every second of my experience so far. Although it’s only been a few days, I can already tell that Chile is an amazing country with amazing people and I know that my experience is going to change my life forever.

I have been fortunate enough to be placed with a family that has been so kind and so welcoming. I am an extremely picky eater and I don’t eat beef or pork, so, I was really worried about the food and having the family cook for me. However, I am very fortunate because my host family usually doesn’t eat meat because my host sister is a vegetarian. When she told me she was a vegetarian, I almost started crying because, one, I was super tired because I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, and two, grateful that IES Abroad really took the time to consider all of our needs to really make this experience the best.

I have spent time learning about public transportation with my host family, watching TV, and eating with them and I am so lucky I am a part of this family now. My first day here, my host mom pointed to a picture of her children and said that I’m one of her kids too. It was a really sweet gesture and it made me feel right at home.

I haven’t really had too many independent experiences because the first couple of days have been planned. These past few days, we had an orientation and then we went to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. I can say now that I have seen the Pacific Ocean and that’s amazing!

One thing I wanted to note in this blog is the similarities and differences between the US and Chile that I have noticed so far. We both have similar cars, similar forms of government, and various opportunities to travel, shop, and live.

I went to the Costanera Center, which is a mall that is located in the tallest building in South America, the Gran Torre. There are also many similar stores and restaurants that we have in the US like H&M, Applebee’s, and Starbucks. There are actually a lot of Starbucks in Santiago. We were told that we shouldn’t go to Starbucks because when American students go to a Starbucks, we are reminded of home and we forget that we are in Chile. So as a result, we leave computers out on tables or don’t pay attention to our surroundings and bad things can happen.

Anyway, like I said, there are many things that are the same about Chile and the US that I’ve noticed but there are also differences. For example, meals are very different in Chile. I have learned that dinner isn’t really a thing in Chile, and that has definitely thrown me off. In my host family, they might just have some bread, something like tortilla española, which is like a frittata, and tea or coffee for dinner. Lunch, however, is the biggest meal because they don’t like to eat a lot of food before they go to bed. It’s very, very interesting. Also, breakfast is also really small. I have eaten corn flakes and some sort of fruit for breakfast a lot. Breakfast is usually bread and coffee or tea and that’s about it. I’ve only been here a few days and I can say I miss having a big breakfast, especially on the weekends. I’m used to eating cereal or oatmeal in my dorm and then running to class but sometimes, I want some pancakes. We are definitely spoiled in Bloomington because there are so many delicious breakfast places around.

Another major difference and yet something familiar is the public transportation. There are buses and a metro in Santiago. I have only taken the metro a few times (once during the week and during the day on a Sunday). When I took the metro early Friday morning, there were so many people. It made approximately 4 p.m. on the 9 bus in Bloomington going towards College Mall during the week look easy and comfortable. There were workers on the platforms helping shove people onto the train and they were forcing the doors shut. It was ridiculous. We had to wait for three of the same trains to go past before we could get on. It was the worst.

On Sunday early afternoon, the metro was fine because Chileans don’t go out until later in the afternoon. It was like riding the “L” in Chicago on a normal day and I didn’t have any problems with it. Also, it’s interesting that on the trains and on the bus, people can sell things or ask people for money. I was on the bus and there was a man who was preaching or yelling (I couldn’t understand what he was saying) and when he was done, he walked around the train and people gave him some pesos. I was caught off guard because in Chicago, for example, it’s against the rules on the CTA to solicit people for money.

Finally, something that was very interesting and different is the president’s office building in Santiago. The Palacio de Moneda is where the president works and official business is conducted there. It is surrounded by other government office buildings and a couple blocks away is the Supreme Court. The Congress is located in Valparaíso because they wanted to make sure there was some distance between the Congress and the President. However, what really struck me (and was also pointed out to us) was that underneath the Moneda, there is the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, which is a cultural center with art exhibits and things for the public to do for a small fee or for free. The IES Abroad person who was showing us around explained that the space around the Moneda is for the public and there are markets and events that happen right in front of the Moneda. Could you imagine going to a museum directly under the White House or Buckingham Palace? It’s hard enough to get a tour of those buildings themselves! I was really struck by this difference and I wish the US could do something similar.

Again, there are many similarities and differences between Santiago and the US (especially Chicago and Bloomington), but these are just the things that I’ve noticed so far. I look forward to keeping you posted throughout my experience!

Thanks for reading! 

Other posts about my experience in Santiago, Chile:

First post of series. 

Related We Are IU Blogs:

That One Time I Went to France

Summer Down Under - Studying Abroad in Sydney, Australia

World Traveler at 21

About The Author
Molly CunninghamJournalism and Spanish major, class of 2019, Director of Mental Health for Culture of Care

Hello! My name is Molly Cunningham and I am a current sophomore studying journalism (Public Relations) and Spanish. I am involved with Culture of Care and Arbutus (yearbook) and have been involved with both organizations since last year. I came to IU in order to have a Big 10 experience and in order to take advantage of all the opportunities this school and this community has to offer. There are so many things to highlight about IU and I want to be able to inspire the next generations of Hoosiers. We Are IU helped me when I was deciding on IU and I want help more current and potential Hoosiers. At IU, we strive to create a culture of care and I want to be able to encourage more people to come here and have the best experience they can have.