In this amateur blog post lies some of the most profound travel advice you may ever receive. Here lies advice on par with that of Anthony Bourdain and the great Rick Steves. Hold on to your hats, folks. Prepare to have your mind blown and your life changed forever…
Do some of the same stuff abroad that you do back home.
Since I was a wee lad I’ve loved skateboarding. I’ve endured 15 or so years of scraped knees and sunburn so why stop now? To my pleasant surprise, Valparaíso has a stellar skate scene. The oceanside paths are long and buttery, the plazas are full of skaters day and night, and police never give us a hard time. Skateboarding helps counteract the multiple empanadas I consume every day while also helping me make friends. I went to a skate shop in Viña del Mar, Valparaíso’s “Miami-ish” suburb, and in the store, I made friends with Nico and his lovely mother Jessica. They approached me and chatted me up (the guidebooks say Chilean’s can be shy, I don’t know where they got that from). The next thing I knew Nico and I were skateboarding through the streets of Viña del Mar, laughing and teaching each other little tricks. Afterwards, Jessica bought me a bottle of coke and the sweetest cookie I’ve ever tasted then drove me home to Valparaíso. As Nico and I skated along I came to the simple realization that hobbies can really help enhance your immersion while studying abroad. However, if you are going to adopt the skater look whilst abroad I have one little piece of advice: Don’t show up to a super-chill Chilean artist hang out late at night clutching your skateboard. They will make fun of you repeatedly. Also, whenever Chileans make fun of you it is crucial that you do not take it personally. This is part of the culture. Laugh at yourself. This brings me to my other hobby, soccer.
The Chilean kids at the soccer field have blessed me with the nickname Zanahoria, which means carrot. In case you couldn’t tell from my picture, I am indeed a gingery being (thanks, momma!) At first I was offended. Memories flooded into my head from elementary school, bad memories, the self-consciousness that we all have known at one time or another. But quickly I came to realize that the nickname is not an insult, just the opposite. To even have a nickname, any nickname, is a sign of friendship. If you were to be there with us on the cement court you would hear other nicknames like gordito (fatty), bufanda (for the kid who always plays in a scarf), and Messi (the worst player).
I didn’t play much soccer growing up so I knew I had to train before coming to Chile. Last spring I played indoor soccer at the rec every weekend where I made friends and picked up the fundamentals. I’m not saying I’m good, but I’m not complete garbage. The late night pick-up games at the rec consisted of mostly international students from Korea, Saudi Arabia, West Africa, and Germany, just to name a few. It blew my mind to be in Iowa, playing soccer with teammates who didn’t speak the same language, all together laughing and having a great time. The social aspects of soccer called me. So I knew that playing here in Valparaíso would be a great way to make Chilean friends, and it is! There is a community field about 10 minutes up the hill from my homestay where people meet to play every day. There is a large turf field with organized games but next to that are two cement courts where we play “bebefútbol” which is pretty much soccer with no rules. There is no out of bounds, no fouls, and we use trees as goals. My friend Nico and I are the only two foreigners and I’d say we are starting to pick up a little street cred around the court. It helps that we are significantly taller than any of the other kids, making headers virtually unstoppable. Playing soccer at the community field makes me feel like I’m part of the community. On the side of the court there is a small grill with sausages and a boom box that blasts reggae. This field is my happy place.
Also, the kids have taught me nearly every swear word in existence.
Jacob Levy is a Spanish major at the University of Iowa. Jacob will be spending his semester in Chile on the CIEE Valparaíso Liberal Arts Program.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.