Monday, May 14, 2012

What I Learned in Chile

At the age of 15, I traveled to Santiago, Chile with my family. At that point, I had been studying Spanish in school for about 2 years. I could say a few phrases and I knew a lot of vocabulary, but as far as being able to converse, my skills were basic at best. Nevertheless, I felt confident and was excited to speak some Spanish and test out the things I had learned in school.

Then, came my first experience trying to converse with a local. I walked up to the ice cream counter and listened to the worker very quickly and abruptly mumble something. "What in the world had he just said?", I thought. Surely I could have picked up at least one word. Nope. Nothing that came out of his mouth sounded familiar to me. I felt discouraged and sadly pointed to the flavor I wanted, meekly saying "Durazno, por favor." My dreams of having an actual conversation were going to be a lot more difficult than I expected.

I realized then, that it would be really easy to retreat into my comfort zone and rely on my older sister to speak Spanish for me on the rest of the trip. She had, after all, been living in Chile for the past year and a half and could speak the language fluently. But, I made a decision to speak as much Spanish on that trip as I could. Repeating signs as I walked past them. Greeting workers in a store. Patiently speaking with waiters as they took my order. And then, something happened. Towards the end of our trip, I was walking with one of my sister's Chilean friends down a road. Somehow, we had separated ourselves from the group and were enjoying a conversation, just the two of us, that lasted about 10 minutes... in Spanish! The words and phrases were basic, but they were Spanish!

It would have been so easy to let my first experience at the ice cream shop determine my entire trip, but I learned that with will and determination, YOU can make things happen.

photo via


rooth said...

I'm glad you stuck it out and didn't give up - kudos to you!

Vanessa. said...

Lovely picture!


Katrina said...

First, thank you for coming by and following. You have a great blog and I will be following as well. Love the story about Chile. I took it upon myself to learn Italian on CD's in my car for three months and when I got to the airport I thought I would test it out. I got up to counter, did some sign language thing and walked away saying "Good morning", instead of "Goodbye" I felt like such a moron! :)

Amanda. said...

Hey Catherine,

Just wanted to let you know that you inspired me to write my post on Moscow & St. Petersburg.

And I can't stop coming back to your blog so it's officially going up on the blogroll. Your posts on travel are exactly the way I had imagined mine to go and just wanted to say thank you for all the inspiration!


Allie said...

chile is probably one of my most favorite countries in the world!