Next on our series is Leah from Gringa Journeys. Leah is a 25-year-old American from Atlanta, Georgia from who lives as an expat in Santiago, Chile. She has a degree in Spanish and loves linguistics and history. She decided to start her blog after moving to Chile and felt like she could share certain knowledge that would be helpful for future expats in Santiago as well as tips for learning Spanish as a second language.
How long have you been in Chile? How long do you plan on living there?
I’ve lived in Santiago since July 2014. At the moment, I’m moving back and forth between Santiago and Atlanta. I was full-time in Santiago until June 2016 when I had a family emergency and had to begin splitting my time between the United States and Chile. For the near future, I plan to keep splitting my time!
Where did you live at before coming to Chile?
I lived in Winston-Salem, NC, where I was finishing a Master’s in Interpreting and Translation Studies. Before that, I’ve always lived in the state of Georgia.
What made you decide to move to Chile?
I had studied abroad in Spain during college and I knew I wanted to move to a different Spanish-speaking destination. When a friend told me he had had a wonderful experience in Chile, I was sold!
What was the visa process like?
It’s pretty easy once you have a work contract. You’ll have to notarize certain documents from your home country which doesn’t take too long. Nonetheless, actually receiving the visa takes a while. Once you’re approved, you’ll have to go to Extranjeria, PDI, and the Registro Civil. Americans can actually remain in Chile for 3 months at a time on a tourist visa and lots of people I know leave Chile and re-enter when their 3 months are up.
How do you make a living?
I work remotely as a Spanish-English research translator. So essentially I can work anywhere as long as I have my laptop!
What is the average cost of things in Santiago?
I consider Santiago to be more expensive than most of Latin America. However, rent will, of course, depend on the neighborhood you choose. You could pay anywhere from $400-$900 USD for rent. Food is relatively expensive. Cooking your own meals will always be cheaper than eating out.
What have you learned since becoming an expat in Chile?
I’ve learned to go with the flow. My first year in Chile I found myself becoming easily frustrated with situations that were different from what would’ve happened in the U.S. Over time, I learned to let it go and to stop comparing countries.
What is your favorite thing about being an expat in Chile?
I’m a huge language nerd so my favorite thing is definitely being around Spanish every day.
What is the worst thing about being an expat in Chile? What do you miss most about home?
The worst things about being an expat are not getting to see friends and family from home. What I miss most about home is American food and my dogs!
Do you speak Spanish fluently? What has the language process been like?
Yes, I do. Although I’ll say that Chilean Spanish is completely different from the Spanish you’ll have learned in class. It took a while to adapt to the new dialect and expressions!
What did you do to meet people and integrate into your new home?
I went to lots of language exchanges. There I was able to both practice Spanish and meet new people.
What custom/habits have you found to be the most different from your own culture or have found it difficult to adjust to?
Chileans are much touchier than Americans are. After two years in Santiago, I still tense up every time someone goes to kiss me on the cheek!
How do you feel that the people of Chile see you? Are you treated any differently?
Foreigners are definitely treated differently. This may have something to do with Chile’s history and the country being quite isolated and closed off to foreigners. Sometimes people will treat you better because you’re foreign and sometimes they’ll treat you worse.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
Chile is so much more than just wine! People always come to visit the vineyards but there’s so much more to see.
What is your favorite dish in Chile?
Pastel de choclo. It’s basically a casserole where the bottom layer is a mix of meat and the top layer is corn. I love it!
What advice would you give someone who was traveling to Chile?
Familiarize yourself with Spanish before you go, it helps so much!
What are your favorite spots in Chile that you have visited?
Pucón and San Pedro de Atacama. Pucón is a great city to visit in the summertime (between December-February) and for outdoor activities. You can even trek a volcano! San Pedro de Atacama is a huge desert at the very top of the country that is absolutely stunning.
Any plans on visiting other Latin American countries this year? If yes, where will you go and what you will do?
I just spent a week in Florianópolis, Brazil last week. I love it there! It’s the perfect destination for relaxing at the beach. I will also be in Cuba in July where I’ll be doing a tour for 9 days and hope to get to Colombia at some point this year as well.
Where to connect with Leah