I arrived in Santiago with one suitcase and no idea of where I was going to stay. I arrived in July 2014 and my first thought was “It is freezing!”. Of course, I knew it would be winter in South America when I arrived, but I certainly never thought it was going to be so cold. Make sure you take some warm clothes, as the temperature really drops during the winter months! I had reserved a hostel for the first three nights so I went there before attempting to find accommodation. I was quite lucky in that I found some on my first day of searching. I stayed in a student house called Casa Suecia, which is a house of 32 students in Providencia, Santiago. Most students in Santiago stay in the areas Bellavista, Providencia or Irarrazaval, as they are convenient for most of the universities in the city and are also pretty central for exploring the city both by day and by night! An average rent in Santiago can be as little as 180.000 Chilean pesos a month (around £180 in GBP), although of course there are a lot more expensive also.
I paid 240.000 pesos a month, including bills, which was quite average but probably expensive for the quality of the things I got. Whilst Casa Suecia was definitely great in terms of ease (no bills, a house full of friends ready-made, cooking equipment and bed sheets provided), living in a house with so many people also meant that it was quite hard to find time to relax and that the communal areas could sometimes get quite dirty! There is a cleaner who comes in 6 days a week, but this is only for a few hours a day so by the end of each day there were filthy pots and pans everywhere and mess on all the surfaces! The landlady could also be quite strict sometimes, and tried to ban guests and alcohol (something near impossible to do in a student house!), so would sometimes turn up without notice to the house to check up on us. Perhaps if I were to do it again, I would look for other options, but the house definitely had a good location and transport links and it really was a very easy and stress-free option, so it is something to consider! Otherwise there are plenty of other options in Santiago which you can find online. Just make sure you check them out first to ensure that they are as advertised!
As for studying, I attended the PUC in Santiago (“La católica” to the locals) and I was on the San Joaquín campus, where most humanities students are based. There are actually five campuses around the city, but the two main ones are the Casa Central campus, which is for sciences, and the San Joaquín campus. My campus was absolutely huge and very modern, and it took some working out at the beginning! However, at the induction day which you will attend before you start your studies (they will email you all the information for this) you get given maps and explanations of all the processes and how the classes are structured, which makes it a lot easier. Most international students take 3 to 4 courses and each course runs once a week for 1h40. At the beginning, I barely understood any of the lectures, especially due to the Chilean accent, but as the weeks progress it becomes easier each time so I would definitely say try to attend as many as possible! I definitely had a lot more assignments at PUC than I do back home at King’s College London, although I felt like the work at PUC, as it was more frequent, was not expected to have quite as much time put into it. They use a scale of 0-7 to rank the work, with a 4 being a pass, which was confusing at first but soon manageable! The university also runs courses specifically tailored for foreign students, which I did not do, but many of my friends did and they spoke very highly of them.
Santiago has a lot of culture to explore, and there are many free walking tours which start from the central Plaza de Armas, and are a good introduction to the city, especially in terms of learning its geography! ‘El museo de las memorías’, which documents Chile’s time under the dictator Pinochet is also something which is a must see and is very moving. By night, Santiago is very lively along the Pio Nono strip in Bellavista, which is very popular amongst students due to its cheap clubs and bars which are always completely filled. There are also many restaurants around there, as well as places to try the famous Chilean ‘chorillanas’ or a ‘pastel de choclo’, popular traditional Chilean dishes. The former consists of meat, eggs, onions and chips in huge quantities and is generally a sharing dish, and the latter is made of corn and meat. Other foods you must try are the ‘churrasco’ or a ‘lomito’ (Chilean takes on burgers) or an ‘as’ (a Chilean take on a hotdog), and of course, most of these come with avocado, arguably the most popular food in the whole of Chile!
Understandably, the idea of moving to study in Santiago de Chile is something which can seem daunting! I felt overwhelmed at the beginning, especially as I had never been out of Europe before even for a holiday, but I was surprised at how quickly I settled in. At the beginning it may seem impossible to feel settled in a foreign culture, speaking a foreign language and making new friends, but it really is surprising how quickly this begins to feel normal and the settling in process will happen very quickly. Naturally, this is made all the easier with a little bit of background knowledge and an idea of what to expect from your destination will hopefully ease the nerves about what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience.
For me, the thing which made the biggest impact on me was the opportunity travel and therefore to meet such a variety of people from all over South America. I believe that part of making the most of Study Abroad is to take the opportunity to explore new places, and South America is probably the best place to do this. I visited Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil and various places in Chile and I would recommend travelling to everyone. You learn more about the different cultures, cuisines, dialects and people from each country and I feel that it teaches you a lot about the world. The differences between neighbouring countries in South America is staggering. The poverty in Bolivia contrasted to the more affluent country of Argentina is an interesting comparison, and wonders of the world such as Machu Picchu are things that you have to see whilst you have the chance. After studying in Chile, I definitely feel enriched in terms of my cultural knowledge and experiences and also in terms of what I learnt about myself along the way. Determination and perseverance are key to making the most out of Study Abroad, especially as there will of course be phases of homesickness (somehow always coinciding with deadlines), but these will pass especially if make sure you take advantage of as many opportunities as possible along the way (it won’t give you time to think about home)! Don’t be worried if there are rough patches; these will pass and the whole experience will be over before you know it so don’t wish it away. No doubt your Study Abroad period in Santiago will be as rewarding as mine and if I could do it all over again I would in a heartbeat. ¡Buena suerte!