By Erin S, Chile, Fall 2012
Yesterday, I decided that I speak too much English. In fact, I got pretty upset with myself when I figured it out. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the only Spanish time I really get is the little time I spend with my host family and the 3 or 4 hours I spend in class every day. Fridays and Sundays treat me pretty well Spanish-wise because I get to spend some additional time speaking Spanish with my Chilean friends at church. Besides that, though, I speak English.
So I’ve decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone because I came to Chile to learn Spanish. Yesterday was trial number one.
Unlike most of the other gringos, I have a Friday class. My hypothesis is that the international program directors quit scheduling Friday class for us because the students always skipped to travel (or just start the weekend early) anyways. Well, last week when I went to the first scheduled class session, I found out why I have a Friday class: it’s for Chileans. Besides one other guy from Oklahoma who was a native Spanish speaker anyways, I was the only foreigner.
This situation is horrendous and advantageous all at the same time. On the horrendous end of the spectrum, I only understood about 10% of last Friday’s lecture. In the classes designed for international students, the professors know that they need to speak more slowly for us. Since this one was composed of mostly Chileans, though, the professor felt no such need to slow down. The advantage of the class, though, is that it’s the perfect environment to make Chilean friends.
That’s why I went back yesterday. Even though I had understood so little the previous week, I knew that I needed to move outside of my comfort zone and do something difficult.
My high hopes of understanding more of the lecture this week were quickly shot down. The professor was very animated, but unfortunately my Spanish listening skills still need some honing. No matter, though. When class was dismissed, I decided to do the second uncomfortable thing: it was time to go and make a friend.
“So what’s the homework for next week?” I asked one of the guys from my class (en Español, por supuesto). I knew very well what the homework was; this was merely a friend-making strategy. This led us into conversation about where we live, where I’m from, what my host family is like, etc. Then my new friend (whose name I didn’t catch) offered to give me a tour of the art building. By this time we had been talking for about 10 minutes. My strategy was working! He took me to meet some of his friends in the café, and then he showed me around the “Zona Verde” (Green Zone). There was a compost pile back there, and I’m still not clear on whether the place is named for the compost pile or because that’s where the Chilean students go to smoke pot–he was quick to point out that interesting tidbit.
At this point, I think my friend forgot that I was a foreigner because he started talking really fast. I was trying desperately to keep up, but I could only catch bits and pieces. Somehow this guy started talking about the Incas (our class is about Aztec art, so I think that was the springboard), and this quickly turned into a 30 minute lecture on the rise and fall of the Incan Empire.
Twenty-four hours later, I’m still looking back and trying to figure out why he felt the need to give me a history lesson. I’m picking over the pieces of our conversation that I remember for clues, but I come up dry every time. I must have looked interested; I have no other explanation.
When my friend finally realized that the sun was setting, we parted ways. For blocks, I puzzled over what the heck had just happened, and then I just started to laugh. It was hands-down the most unusual conversation I’ve had in Chile thus far.
I’ll probably end up dropping the class this week, but I don’t regret going yesterday. Chances are, I’ll never see this “friend” again. But I tell you what, I think it’s going to be hard to forget him. If I have a hundred more stories just like this one by the time I leave in December, my semester will have been a success.
Until Next Time,
Vexed in Viña