I had no idea what Viña del Mar, Chile had in store for me. I expected to arrive to a coastal city, known as vacation hotspot but I was not prepared for this beautiful city to become and feel like my home for the next five months. Arriving in Viña, I entered a city in which I thought resembled a European Miami. With palm trees lining the cobble stone esplanade which overlooked the ocean, there is an apparent excitement that lingers in the air. Viña was unlike any other city I had encountered in South America. The modern flare and energy of the city contrasted the hustle and daily grind of markets I had grown accustomed to. The lavish casino and vibrant night life made Viña the perfect getaway. With just over 300,000 inhabitants in Viña, it is considered to be Chile’s second largest city when paired with Valparaiso. Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage, boasts magnificent street art and murals that line the cities steep alley ways. The art varies from politicized murals of Donald Trump to marine life that seem almost as if they are swimming along the walls.
I was forced me to step outside my comfort zone and practice my Spanish at every opportunity. Although the lifestyle in Chile is relaxed, the language is not. Chilean Spanish resembles someone typing on a keyboard with no spacebar. The lack of emphasis on words and the slang that comprises the majority of their vocabulary makes it difficult to understand. The thoughtfulness of Chileans was apparent by their patients and ever-present smile as I stumbled over my Spanish. Although, with the very present language barrier, the store clerks, bus drivers and daily commuters were always willing to slow down, speak clearly, or play charades to help me.
The main form of transportation in Chile is by bus. The bus network and quality of the buses puts Greyhound to shame. Turbus, the main bus company in Chile and runs punctually, is clean, affordable and allows for a comfortable ride no matter the length of the journey. Having braved the 27-hour journey from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina I can confidently say the service was high class. The best way to navigate Viña is by Micro (a small public bus) or a collectivo (a shared taxi) which travels specific routes throughout the city. The cramped buses will pick up anyone who has their hand out on the side of the road. An average Micro ride varies from 20 to 50 cents and the average collectivo ride is around one dollar.
Universidad de Viña del Mar has 7 campuses throughout the city. The international campus is located in the centre of Viña which is easily accessible by Micro, collective or the metro. Carlos Torres and his team are in charge of the international students. With Carlos and his camera around his neck, there were always pictures to document the monthly gatherings where we celebrate the different countries and cultures of the exchange students at UVM. The class sizes are small which allows for one on one instruction and the teachers were very patient as I struggled to pronounce even the simplest words.
Viña del Mar is the best possible city to go to for exchange. The people, culture and gorgeous ocean views made my time abroad lifechanging.