As I looked at the study abroad options before me, my mind was swimming. Should I go to Buenos Aires with its fading elegance, juicy steak, sultry tango, and cosmopolitan offerings? Perú’s indigenous culture is well-preserved and their food is out-of-this-world good. But the Quito, Ecuador program includes five days in the Galapagos Islands, four days in a mountain rainforest in southern Ecuador, and four days of hiking in the Amazon rainforest! I knew the political histories and cultures would be fascinating in each place, and all of the programs offered homestays and instruction in Spanish–two primary requirements for me. With so many appealing options, how was I to make the decision?
With the program deadlines fast approaching, I reached out to a friend who recently returned from studying abroad in South America. I explained my indecision and she suggested I consider Valparaíso, Chile. That program, for whatever reason, had never been on my list of considerations. After our conversation and a bit of Internet researching, I quickly turned in my application for the Valpo program and never looked back.
IU offers over 250 programs in 52 countries, so I feel the pain of those trying to make a decision. For those struggling to decide and curious about Valparaíso, below are a few of my favorite and least favorite things about studying in the city.
- People I cannot say enough good things about the Chilean people I met. My host family, neighbors, classmates, friends, professors, micro drivers—basically every person I met in any and every situation—were incredibly caring, helpful, and good-natured. While Chileans are stereotyped as being somewhat closed off, I found them to be very warm after initiating the interaction.
- Weather It only rained twice during my five months in Chile. I arrived in winter, with temperatures around 50 degrees, and left in summer, with temperatures in the 80s. It was sunny nearly every day with frequent cool ocean breezes.
- Scenery Coming from the flat cornfields of suburban Indianapolis, almost any natural landscape fills me a deep wonder, but the views here are remarkable. The beautiful amphitheater of colorful houses surrounding the port, the dunes of Concon, the misty haze of the Andes on a clear day, and the vibrant sunsets are truly special.
- Small, but close to Santiago Valpo is home to about 300,000 people, so it’s not overwhelmingly large. When craving access to museums, ethnic restaurants, or the big city pace, Santiago is only an hour-and-a-half, $5 bus ride away.
- Transportation system Between the super-cheap metro, throwback ascensores, exhilarating micro rides, shared colectivos, and walking, getting around is always easy and interesting.
- Art Valpo is known as the cultural capital of Chile. Intricate murals, music, and dancing fill the streets.
- Outdoor activities Surfing, trekking, climbing, rollerblading, sandboarding, camping, and horseback riding are just some of the available activities.
- Markets Ah, la fería. It’s a farmers’ market as it should be—busy, loud, messy, and full of the most delicious produce imaginable.
- Fiestas Patrias Chileans celebrate their independence for an entire week. Prepare for a week of empanadas, cueca, terremotos, ramadas, and no classes.
- Nightlife Approximately 80,000 university students live here, so there is no shortage of clubs to dance the night away.
- Travel Chile is home to breathtaking scenery and is close to other worthwhile destinations. I was able to see volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, salt flats, vineyards, geysers, pre-Columbian ruins, and the world’s deepest canyon (sorry Grand Canyon, but Cañon del Colca wins).
- Expensive The cost of living is comparable to that of a bigger U.S. city like Chicago.
- Gringolandia With Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday’s, Papa John’s, McDonald’s, and Walmart (disguised under the name Lider) a few blocks from my house in Viña, I sometimes felt like I hadn’t left the U.S.
- Limited access to books An unfortunate remnant from the Pinochet dictatorship, the book tax is 19%. This, coupled with a dearth of public libraries, meant I didn’t do much reading apart from assigned classwork.
- Food While the produce is mouthwatering and I developed a strong love for choripan (grilled chorizo on a bun), as (grilled meat, tomato, avocado, and mayo on a bun), and fried cheese/seafood empanadas, the gastronomy is quite simple, with bread, mayonnaise, and salt being overwhelmingly popular.
Every study abroad site has its positive and negative aspects. But I would never trade my five months in the jewel of the Pacific for anything.