June 13, 2017 | 8:20PM
It seems like I am learning new things everyday here while I am in Santiago. I’ve always believed you learn new things everyday, but this is different. I truly feel like I am stretching and growing as a professional, intellectual, and just as a person each day that I am here. There is much to be learned from the people here, that are willing to share their perspective to people that will listen.
First, let’s start with the weekend. This weekend, I had the opportunity to go skiing for the very first time in the Andes. I wasn’t going to go because of the price and my apprehension about trying skiing, but I finally said to myself “who get to say they have been skiing in Andes?” Turns out I was just about as bad as I thought at skiing (lol) but I had such a wonderful time. The trip up to the top of the Andes was exhilirating. Weaving through the hairpin curves up the mountain, getting closer and closer to the top, we could slowly see start to see the many peaks of the Andes getting nearer. When you are up there, with the sun beating across your forehead and the mountain snow glistening beneath your feet, it almost feels as though you could touch the sky. Learning to ski wasn’t easy, but luckily we had a great ski instructor that was helpful.
Next up this weekend, I was able to visit el museo de memoria y los derechos humanos. It is a museum governed by the Truth and Reconiliation Commission, which was set up after the end of the Pinochet regime to expose the human rights abuses and “dissapearances” orchestrated by the military regime. The museum is beautiful, and I learned so much about the rise of the Pinochet regime and the actions that were committed by it. Possibly the most moving exhibit in the museum was the discussion of donde estan (why are they?) There are still many political opponents of the regime missing. The regime still continues to be one of the most politically sensitive issues among the Chilean public. I think this museum taught me the most about the importance of remembering our past. The human rights abuses committed should shock us and they should make us feel disgusted. Only by doing that can our human society have a better understanding of how to identify and prevent dictatorships and violent rises to power that will only result in suffering.
Another meaningful experience for me this week was through my work. I was able to help out with an event for an exchange program, where the Embassy sends two students from Chile to the National Youth Science Camp in the United States. The Embassy invited these students, their families, and alumni of the program to the Embassy to celebrate them and get these students ready for their trip. The energy in the room was electrifying. These students truly felt so grateful to have this opportunity. It was in this room where I finally understood why cultural exchange programs exist – so students have the opportunity to learn from someone from a different background, heritage, and point of view. And the benefits of this exchange of ideas and lessons is invaluable.
One of the biggest things I have learned about the Chilean culture both through my work and through my personal life is how important it is for them to talk to people who will listen. Sometimes, we get so hung up on wanting to have our voice heard or our own ideas expressed. But oftentimes (and all the time while here in Chile), I have learned how to be better listener and shut up for once. If I listen to people, that is when I start learning more things about Chile, its political system, and its culture. Chileans value people so much and truly value spending time with others. Honoring this by showing that same amount of respect back can go far in Chile, and can open people up to sharing more with you. But they have to trust you, and I have learned that trust comes from being able to listen and understand their history and culture.
More than anything, the most valuable experience for me so far in Santiago has been to better understand and respect the Chilean history and culture. As people, our history and culture are so important to our view of the world, our beliefs, and the values that we hold dear. I’ve understood that more about others, and understood that more about myself. My New Mexican heritage has guided my way of thinking, just as much as a Chilean’s heritage has influenced theirs. Finding common ground between my personal values and that of the people of the Chile is something that takes time – it comes from conversations and comes from being willing to listen. Whether that means listening to the heartbeat of the Andes mountains, to the legacies of those affected by the Pinochet regime, or to a Chilean colleague about the political history of the country, there are lessons and experiences to be had every single day here.
Bottom line: LISTEN, ask questions, and always be ready to learn from the experiences you have every single day.
P.S. : This week, I also experienced my first small earthquake. The earthquake was a 5.6 off the northwestern coast of Chile and the tremor could be felt throughout Santiago. It was so bizarre because I could feel myself rocking back and forth while laying on my couch. What an experience!