Early Challenges

Nobody claims that living in a different culture is a piece of cake but more often than not, the biggest challenges come from the smallest things. The big things are the ones that you can expect and prepare for, but the little things come from what you wish you'd known beforehand, what just gets under your skin for no apparent reason, and what you'll just have to get used to.

As I mentioned in my first post, when I arrived in Chile it was winter. Now, I knew that it wouldn't be really warm when I first got there in July but I was so far from prepared for the eternal chill of a Chilean winter it wasn't even funny. In total, I packed two long sleeve shirts and two sweaters and my warmest shoes were tennis shoes. It wasn't long before the freezing house, the foggy, damp days, and the brutal process of showering got to me. It was never the actual temperature that was that harsh, but rather the dampness that stayed in clothes, bath towels (with no dryer) and bodies. Of course the fact that I had just gotten there and was feeling slightly jarred by all the newness made the cold downright depressing. My host ladies lent me gloves and a jacket until I found one that fit me at the mall but in the beginning I spent a lot of hours under my electric blanket. It wasn't for a few weeks that they really understood how cold I was and put a little space heater in my room. Things started looking up from there but in general, a word to the wise: beware the Chilean chill and plan ahead.

Another major challenge I faced in the beginning was adjusting to all the cigarette smoke that you inevitably breathe in Chile. Smoking is still very fashionable to Chileans and really, non-smokers are the minority. I struggled with this as someone who has never been around much secondhand smoke and never smoked personally. That is one of those things that in the end I just had to get used to although the smell made me sick in the beginning. I resented that my hosts smoked inside even though I asked for a non-smoking house and that coming home from a club smelling like an ashtray was normal and basically unavoidable. I still don't care for smoke but I definitely did get used to it. I bought incense for in my room and as the weather got warmer instinctively left clothes hanging in the open window to air out from the night before. Whether or not something bothers you, sometimes there's nothing you can do but take time to get used to it.

One thing that constantly challenged me and made me think was the very fact that I stayed in a house that was kept, essentially, by a butler who cooked, cleaned, gardened, served food on trays and answered to a bell. It wasn't easy to digest; he wasn't exactly doing it by choice but rather from lack of options in life. The idea of being served on a tray in bed was so foreign to me and it just made me uncomfortable so I quickly assured him that if I wanted tea or anything else, I could walk down 15 stairs to make it myself just as well as I could do my own laundry. Besides him, there was a woman who came in once a week to clean. Since that felt equally unnecessary to me, more often than not I'd make sure that everything in my room was right where it needed to be right before she came on Thursday mornings. All in all, I don't know if I ever came to terms with the whole notion of being served. I spent hours in the kitchen with Armando and he became one of my favorite companions. Finally, after me saying a million times that he didn't need to wait on me I think he started to believe me.

Of course there were many little things along the way but these three challenges are a few of the things that I dealt with the most in the beginning...

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