Know Yourself, Keep Calm, and Always Ask Questions: My First Few Struggles in Santiago, Chile

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Before I share my experiences in this huge city, I think it’s important to mention my thought process before I came to Chile and my choice process.

I applied as a low-income, first generation Mexican-American to MIT. After spending a semester at the Institution, I was super aware of what I lacked, opposed to my peers (experience, confidence, hobbies). This meant I was super ready to highlight my value because I sure did miss how that felt! If there was one thing I knew, it was that I could find this opportunity with some program at MIT.

Being a Mexican-American  wanting to have more opportunity than I have been given in the past, I thought it would be a good time to finally use something I had going for me. I could use my Latino culture to empower myself and others. Regardless of background, you can always find that one thing that makes you stand out and feel unique.

So, following my interests (because I sure did not have much experience), and with the thing I can produce anytime and anywhere, my charisma, I applied to the MISTI Chile program. It felt like the end game was that I was accepted into the program. This ended up being problematic, as I slowed down in my preparation to go to Chile.

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Views from Cerro Santa Lucia, Santiago, Chile.
Enjoying the first weekend after arriving.

Thankfully, there were many resources available that helped me catch up in preparation for my travel and if it were not for that, I cannot even imagine what could have happened. I say this because the first DAY that I came to Santiago, Chile, I lost my debit card (and I had zero cash)! This was a result of me never having to prepare for a trip like this.  I lost it after trying to cash out money in 15 different places until I learned I could not cash out money from that particular debit card regardless. Growing up low-income I never had to deal with these situations as I never had a chance like this before. After losing this card I immediately cancelled it and learned different ways to get cash. MISTI did advise me that having a credit card would be beneficial and so I got one. If it were not for that, I would not have known.

In addition, being self-aware of my own naiveness with travel and lack of family knowledge regarding finances or country information I took it upon myself to live with a host family that would take care of some of my meals and advise me as I live in this foreign country. Again, if it were not for this I would have been super lost and I don’t want to think about how panicked I would have been.

So yes I struggle financially in yet another country, but thanks to some of the preparation I had done the days before I left, I was able to overcome that stress relatively quickly. My advice for anyone struggling to become more independent and knowledgeable in any field is to know yourself, keep calm, and always ask questions. I kept asking every single person I knew for help on the best plan of action. The amount of advice was amazing. More directly, my advice would be to bring cash, two credit cards/debit cards in case you lose one, a reliable source of Wi-Fi and phone service for any emergency, and a plan on how you are going to eat and live the first few days.

Being a first-generation, low-income student did lower my confidence in my abilities to do well traveling abroad, but at the same time it actually increased the safety nets I developed for  myself to make sure I was fine the first weeks. I still try to not use as much money as that is a habit I grew up with, but it is important to try to find a balance between that and simply living comfortably. I think I am finding that balance.

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Second weekend after arriving to Santiago, Chile.
Catching up with how other MITers have been living.

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Enriko Kurtz Granadoz Chavez is a member of the class of 2021 studying physics. This summer, he is doing research to understand damping on impulsive motion due to a perturbed water/air interface (analogous to the physics of the water bottle flip challenge) in Santiago, Chile.