In this series of interviews with current and former study abroad students, This is Chile has the word straight from the horse’s mouth: classes, friends, travel, language – it’s all here.
Each year, thousands of students wing their way to Chile for the chance to study at one of the region’s leading universities, polish their Spanish, and travel one of the world’s best natural playgrounds.
Today we talk to Luc McCann, a recent graduate from the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the United States.
Highlight from the classroom
The Spanish major spent six months in Chile during 2007, with a few short trips to Argentina. Studying at the country’s leading public university, the Universidad de Chile, he took classes in a variety of departments: environmental planning, organic agriculture, a course on Chilean history and politics organized by the University of California Education Abroad Program, and a one-of-a-kind counterculture course on Rock ‘n Roll.
“My favorite academic experience was the History of Rock ‘n Roll, with a Chilean professor who was more knowledgeable than any American I have ever come across on the topic. It was an amazing experience because it was international proof of how pervasive and worldly a certain type of music – and all music – can be.”
Learning Spanish, Chilean style
Every study abroad student travels his or her own bumpy road along the idiosyncrasies of the Chilean idiom. Chile’s former geographic isolation and the linguistic influences of the indigenous language Mapudungún have created a treasure trove of expressions, popular sayings, and a very distinctive accent.
For Luc, however, the Chilean idiom proved very persuasive – prior to studying abroad, the UCSB grad was planning to major in Environmental Planning. His favorite “chilenismo”? Cachai and cachaipo.
Spend some time chatting to your classmates, and you’ll be sure to hear the cachai nailed on to the end of every other sentence. Translated roughly to “you know?” (i.e. “The party was boring but the girls were cute, ¿cachai?”), this ultra-Chilean verb for “getting it” morphs into all sorts of conjugations, like: Yo no cacho matemática (“I don’t get math”) and Me cacharon al tiro (“They figured me out – or caught me – right away”).
A word of dubious etymology, cachai is almost as ubiquitous as po’ (read our interview with Amanda Reynoso-Palley). And then of course, you can say “cachaipo” – a sort of double-whammy of Chile-speak with no real translation to English. Like most slang and the subjunctive verb tense, this is part of the Spanish language that is only picked up through extensive exposure to real Spanish – ¿cachai?
The best of Chile, on a student’s budget
Luc arrived in Santiago in time for the height of the Chilean summer – a perfect time to backpack before classes started. His favorite place to visit?
“Best trip I took, hands down, was a backpacking excursion into Patagonia with an amazing group of friends,” says Luc. “[We] flew down to the tip of the country, backpacked through some of the most surreal landscapes I have ever seen, and bussed all the way back to Santiago, so we got to see a ton of the coastline on the way back.”
“Every student’s goal should be to make a journey to the Torres,” he added – referring to the legendary natural landmark in the Torres del Paine national park, outside Punta Arenas. “That’s when you’ll really know you’re traveling and removed from the world.”
Little pearls of wisdom
Luc’s advice to future study-abroad students is to make the most of the chance to explore Chile – both the geography and the people. “I would suggest that any student going to Chile … take full advantage of the experience and travel with any period of free time, so you get to see the whole country, because Chile has a lot to offer.”
Make time to travel to the far south during the summer months (December-March) and far north (a good winter destination), and don’t miss out on the many weekend trips available to students in Santiago and Valparaíso, like the surf mecca at Pichilemu, the volcano in Pucón, the vineyards in Colchagua, or the hiking trails in Cajón del Maipo.
“I would also recommend that you really pay attention to hanging out with Chileans as much as you can and make an effort to learn their values. It is easy to hang with the people in your program, but when you do things that make you uncomfortable, you will learn a lot more,” Luc says.