¡Viva Chile!

by Stephane Alexandre / Jan 14, 2017 /
Stephane Alexandre's picture

Chile turned 206 years old on September 18th! Experiencing the 18th in Chile was an insightful experience of the country's culture, history, and politics. It was a glorious day filled with intoxicating smells of BBQs, Chilean kites flying high in the sky, and everyone laughing and dancing with their loved ones. Looking back, here are some great ways I was able to enjoy such a historic day of a country that I’ve come to call my own.

 ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

Be Present

Firstly, this year the government gave everyone 3 days to celebrate. However, I am told that in previous years, the celebration lasted for almost a full week. A full week to dance, laugh, eat, and cherish with family and friends. As part of my study abroad program, I volunteered every week for 10 hours at Teleton. Teleton is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides medical services to children for free. All week long, we have had cueca dancers entertaining the kids and they let volunteers get in on the fun, too!

 ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

The week leading to that Sunday my host family cooked all traditional chilean foods (pastel de choclo, empanadas, etc.). In short, we ate a lot in preparation to eat a lot. Outstanding.

 ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

My host family had planned this day weeks in advance. By 10am we were on the road to my host brother’s house across town. Since my host parents are in their 60s, all of their children are married and have their own families. Yet another great part of studying abroad is that I magically became an only child! Like many Americans, Chileans,surrounded by loved ones, welcome in this eventful day with barbecues. From the moment we arrived until we headed home, the whole family kept me on my toes. First, the usual questions: Where are you from in the US? How do you like Chile? Who are you voting for? Soon, the questions got deeper and we started talking about political regimes, favorite places to travel, etc. One famous drink in Chile is called a terremoto (earthquake). Yes, Chile is prone to having earthquakes, and yes, it named one of its signature drinks after that. You cannot make this stuff up. Being present meant trying on cueca dresses (my host brother’s wife was my dress size) and learning the national dance. It might have meant drinking a terremoto. It might also have meant not regretting that decision. 

Be Intentional

The saying “say what you mean and mean what you say” could not have proved itself to be more true than on that day. In a very diluted sense, the barbeque was like a mini-Thanksgiving. The whole family is there and you embrace it because they’re family. I am beginning to learn that whenever 3 or more Chilean men gather, they will inevitably talk about three things: futbol, politics, and grilling. It is very scary how similar it was to being home. Of course, as a well-traveled person, you will have many opinions about each specific topic. One of the great benefits of traveling is how it teaches you to mature over time. I am still learning to listen to political theologies different than my own. Always respect. My host parents lived through Pinochet’s regime, thus their opinion indisputably will be distinctly different from mine. Listen anyway and learn to mold an environment where people can have their voices/frustrations be heard, no matter how much you might disagree with those frustrations. And you will disagree sometimes. Guaranteed.

 ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

Be Grateful

It was incredibly difficult for me not to have drifted away into my phone and calling my family. Additionally, I was slightly homesick because we have our own traditions back home to celebrate July 4th (though I strongly suggest that our government follows in Chile’s footsteps and grant us five celebratory days). As an introvert, groups of people always chase me back to my comfort zone as I always run back to my room. It was impossible to get away that Sunday, because everyone wanted to know what I thought of Chile and how I was going to bring back what I have learned to the US. It was great taking photos, laughing at classic “dad jokes,” and trying new foods. I know that it is important to be present in these situations because it is such a joy seeing how people celebrate their culture!

Sunset, Chile. From  ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

 

I sincerely hope that my time celebrating Chile’s independence day was as eventful and delicious as your time celebrating any country’s independence day. Every country has its own traditions of celebrating its independence. Sometimes it is with music and parades, and sometimes it involves mourning and reflecting. In any case, I hope you’re able to see people in their natural habitats celebrating freedom and liberty with their cherished loved ones.

 ¡Viva Chile! - celebrating Chile's Independence Day whilst studying abroad

Stephane Alexandre is the Intercultural Immersion Editor for Wandering Educators. A Tufts University student, she just returned from studying abroad in Chile.

All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre