The question that I'm asked on what seems like a daily basis. The answer to this question is not a one-liner, and as most people are asking out of polite curiosity, I usually just opt for something short and sweet like “I wanted to learn Spanish”. This was obviously true to some extent; however if this had been my only reason, Chile would have been the last place in the Spanish-speaking world I would have come to, as most Chileans speak Spanish in the same way as a person from some remote corner of Ireland might speak English, a form of the language laced with colloquialisms and slang that even native speakers would struggle to understand.
The adventures that brought me here began with my TEFL Heaven course in Cusco, Peru. Having studied English Language at uni, I had known for some time that I wanted to teach abroad, and so I chose to go to the part of the world that I knew least about, South America. I booked onto the 150 hour TEFL course a couple months before I left England, but made no plans beyond those four weeks. Though the course was challenging, it was an enormously enjoyable experience and my time, split between studying, socialising and exploring the amazing surroundings, flew by. With no time-limit on my trip, when the course ended I decided not to immediately throw myself into finding paid work as an English Teacher, instead I spent a couple months travelling in Peru. In March I found myself in the North of Peru during the worst floods they had experienced in 18 years. Cut off from the rest of the country by damaged roads, I swiftly booked a flight to the capital, Lima, and then on to Santiago de Chile (after some rather exciting Lara Croft-esque manoeuvres to evacuate our flooded accommodation!).
Arriving in Chile with such short notice, I hadn't had time to research jobs, visas or even regions of the country in which I might like to live. I have never seen myself as a 'big-city girl', so within days I took a bus to Valparaiso, a smaller city, just an hour and a half from the capital. 'Valpo' as it is most commonly referred to, is a vibrant and colourful city, plastered in street art with musicians and artisans lining the windy streets. I booked into a hostel where I bumped into Jennifer, a girl from my TEFL course! She had also spent the months since the course travelling and was passing her last week in Valpo before heading back to the US. It was such a happy coincidence and following a crazy couple of weeks it was a relief to see a familiar, friendly face. However, when the time came to say goodbye, reality kicked in, and I realised that having spent most of my money on the flight down, I was not going to be able to sustain a backpacker lifestyle for much longer. The owner of the hostel took pity on me, and although they didn't need help in the hostel, she offered me to stay in her fairy tale treehouse in her own garden in return for watering the plants. This allowed me time to do the necessary research (that I probably should have done before arriving penniless, jobless and friendless to a strange country) to find some work.
With the knowledge my TEFL course had equipped me with, I created an appropriate CV and emailed it to my TEFL trainer in Cusco to check over. It was reassuring to have the ongoing support of the TEFL team, and Claudia replied promptly with a few edits and some suggestions of where to start my job hunt. After several hours of trawling through Craigslist postings, institute websites, and sending out a good number of emails, I found myself with an interview with a reputable company in Santiago. I made the journey back to the capital city for the interview. This was worthwhile as it gave me a chance to get a feel for the institute and speak to other teachers about the experience of living and working in Santiago, which on the whole, they felt was a positive one. I was offered a part time contract with the company and made the move to Santiaguito within a couple weeks!
And so, six months on, here I am, living rent-free in Santiago with my eccentric Spanish student so that she can practice her English at home. Teaching adults in their offices across the city in the mornings and children in their homes in the afternoons, no two days are the same. I'm a big city convert and know the metro and bus routes better than most locals. The thought of arriving in South America without any plans was terrifying, and most of my friends and family thought I was crazy, but I really wouldn't have chosen to do it any other way. The surprises, the generosity of strangers, and the spontaneity it has allowed me have been the highlights of my adventure and I have strict plans to continue travelling without plans. It's not for everyone but if you're brave enough, give it a go and, you never know where you'll end up!