So I’m not gonna try and pretend like I just spent the last 8 hours volunteering, because I feel like you actually have to be doing something in order to call it that. But, technically, I still volunteered my time, I just spent a lot of it sitting around and waiting. It was an amazing experience though, and definitely one worth writing about.
For their freshman class, Universidad de Adolfo Ibañez holds a day where everyone comes together and visits a local community in Viña to paint, plant, and clean up trash. It wasn’t mandatory for the exchange students, but one of the main reasons I chose AIFS in the first place was for the volunteer opportunities, so even though it started at 8 in the morning (like that’s 5 o’clock Iowa time), the other students in my program and I decided to go for it.
When we got there, everyone was splitting into different groups, which was scary because 1) new friends are always a little scary and 2) I don’t speak Spanish. I said bye to my English speaking buddies and dove in to Team 1. Everyone went around the circle saying their name and maybe their major? For all I know they were all spouting off their credit card #s, I was so lost. So when it got to me, I said my name, that I was from the U.S., and that my Spanish sucks. (I’m really good at saying that phrase because it’s basically my go-to.) After I finished speaking they all were like “OHHH”, which I think was an “oh-that’s-why-you’re-so-quiet-and-sound-so-dumb oh” lol, being American is such a great excuse.
Then we all got on the busses and I got to have a conversation with some of the girls in my group. When we got to the neighborhood we were volunteering in, a girl came up to me that spoke English really well and said she would help me practice Spanish and I could help her with English. How perfect is that.
The neighborhood was pretty run down, definitely way different than like downtown Viña where I’m staying. It made me think of what it would look like to put a West Des Moines suburb next to this town full of torn-up shacks and stray dogs. Such a stunning difference.
We spent the morning digging holes and planting trees. Someone there said “Everyone once in their life should write a book, plant a tree, & something else” Idk the last part bc like I mentioned idk Spanish. Planting a tree can officially be checked off, give me a few years on that novel though.
Around lunch time (which is anywhere from like 1 to 2 pm here), the mayor of Viña came to thank all the students for our work. A bunch of rando photographers from the press came as well, which I thought was a little bit different.
Then she left, and we ate (somehow I got stuck with a vegetarian sandwich, and I hate vegetables so that sucked. I ate more than half of it though so see mom I told you I could do this whole foreign food thing) and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting and talking. I think the other groups were still working on stuff but our trees were all in the ground and we were good to go.
That was probably my favorite part because some of the girls taught me Chilean slang, and helped me practice my Spanish but also spoke to me in English a little bit which was really encouraging. Like I want to learn Spanish, swear, but for these first few days, any English I can find is like manna from heaven seriously.
Happy to report that I still haven’t had the culture shock meltdown that I was warned about. And happier to report that I’m making friends and loving every second of this experience, even the seconds of confusion that occur right after anyone speaks to me en español. That’s how you know I’m being serious here.