-Where were you born?
I grew up in the US, leaving for the first time to live in Chile when I was 16. From that initial experience, I caught the travel bug. Since then I have lived and worked in Chile, Moldova, and Cambodia.
-In which country and city are you living now?
Currently I am working in Valparaiso, Chile and living in Viña del Mar, Chile.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
My dog, Harley, has traveled with me everywhere except Cambodia. Other than her, I live with Chilean roommates.
-How long have you been living in Chile?
I have been in Chile (this time) since August 2007; however, I lived here for 1 full year in high school and another year in college. Additionally, I have returned multiple other times for work and pleasure. Somehow, Chile is always the place I come home to. My godson is here as are many of my closest friends.
-What is your age?
I am 27.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Chile?
I came to Chile as a Rotary high school exchange student. I didn’t choose the country or, for that matter, know anything about it before I came. I loved my year here and made some of the best friends I have ever had. I returned in college and have always said I would go back. Work took me to other places, but I continued to find a way to return to Chile. For me, this is the perfect mix of expat life and feeling like I belong.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Currently I am here with a Fulbright grant. I have always managed to have a job set up in the countries I have worked before arriving. This has allowed me to not have to worry about visas and work permits as my job sites have taken charge of that. I am considering staying here after my grant is completed… so maybe in a couple months I will better be able to answer this question.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I have medical insurance through my job, but it is a hassle. Also, I am accident prone and have ended up in the hospital or with medical problems each year that I have lived here. Overall, medical coverage is less expensive in the States. That said, if you have to pay everything out of pocket it can get expensive.
-How do you make your living in Chile?
As I mentioned earlier, I am on a Fulbright research grant. The process for applying for one is long and involved. I had to get all of my paperwork in by September 15, 2006 and was not told if I was accepted or not until April 2007. Then, I had until the end of July to move from Phnom Penh Cambodia to Valparaiso, Chile. The positives of coming this way include that Fulbright helped with transport and medical coverage. I knew I had a pay check coming in and I have support from a local organization here.
-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I think it is incredibly important to speak the local language. In a country like Chile, I can’t imagine trying to get around in English for any period of time longer than a week's vacation.
In a country like Cambodia, where it is less common to find expat Khmer speakers, being able to say some key phrases was key. It endeared host country locals to me and helped me in numerous situations.
I speak English, Spanish, and Romanian fluently. I speak some conversational Khmer and Japanese.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I am used to living away from my family and have worked to find ways to stay close to them. I now have both my parents and my sister’s family using Skype so that we can talk. I also am getting webcams so that I won’t miss my sister’s kids growing up.
As for activities, I am not really sure that there is anything I miss. I wish that books were less expensive here, but I get them sent from the States or going on buying sprees when I am home. I really love some of the jazz clubs and salsa clubs here in town.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I am planning to continue my life as an expat. I am applying for positions in Chile and throughout Latin America. Part of me would really like to stay here, just to have some stability for a few years. However, that will require me leaving my beach resort home town of Viña del Mar and moving to Santiago. Primarily my plans are contingent on finding a job that will allow me to continue to pay back my student loans and live comfortably in my adopted country.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Renting is tricky in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. As they are tourist cities, it is hard to rent things year round. March to December you can get a 1-bedroom apartment for 400-500 USD. If you want to share, you might pay 200 to 300 dollars. A pension, which may or may not include breakfast, all meals, or laundry, should go for about 200 to 300 dollars. However, in the summer, most places want to rent by day or by week and prices skyrocket for the tourist season.
-What is the cost of living in Chile?
Chile is not as inexpensive as many other Central and South American locations; however, you will have access to most luxuries you would have back home. Also, a lot depends on how much you want to spend.
-What do you think about the Chileans?
One of the best things about Chile is the ability to integrate with host country nationals. Personally, all of my friends, the people I work with, and those I hang out with are locals. It does take time in Chile and effort to make friends. But this effort is well worth it. In my case, these are the friends that I have had since high school (in some cases) and plan on having forever.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Chile?
On the positive side, I really enjoy the emphasis on family. I also enjoy a lot of the local culture: cueca, traditional foods, folk music. The country itself is beautiful and both the south and the north are worth the vacation time and money.
On the negative side, machismo (including crude comments in the street) is very strong here and the country and its people can be quite intolerant of minority groups. Racial issues are also touchy.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Chile?
§Work on your Spanish. Speaking the language is so important.
§Get involved and find ways to meet locals.
§Don’t fret over the amount of mayonnaise used here—after a while you will want to put it on your hot dogs and fries.
§If you get the chance, travel. This country has a huge variety of beautiful spots—both the touristy ones and the off the beaten trail ones.
§Learn to buy your fruits and vegetables at the local markets. It helps the economy, is cheaper for you, and they taste better.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Chile?
I have my own blog, http://claresays.wordpress.com/, where I talk a lot about Chile, my life in general, and about what I do (counter-human-trafficking). As it is a site I have had for a while, earlier entries are about my time living in Cambodia. You can also see some of my pictures from around the world (Chile, Cambodia, Moldova, India, Japan, etc.) on the site.