This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat Series was written by Emilia from Curiouser and Curiouser Travel Blog.
There are two kinds of situations one may encounter: the ones you have control over and the ones that are bigger than you.
Facing the latter all we should do, is go with the flow and acknowledge the journey.
And so I did when my heart happened to beat for a Chilean man named Alvaro. I lived in London at that time. He normally worked in the mining industry; so London wasn´t the greatest choice for developing his career.
So I made my decision.
Not being aware of it at the time, I was going through a manic episode of bipolar disorder. It manifests itself by making me feel hyper active, unreliable, and making life choices spontaneously.
I call it flying, because you are extremely detached from earthly life. Imagine the endorphin’s skyrocketing and just as it reaches the top, (what in my case took months), it starts plummeting; and this final part is the scariest place I have ever been to.
Why I am mentioning this?
My ticket from London, Gatwick to Santiago, Chile had a date on it: 20th of December.
By that time the utopian optimist that Alvaro met half a year ago while traveling in Budapest was now gone. Instead, a shadow of a person, is what was left.
Hello miss depression.
The date on the ticket was getting closer and I was getting worse. At that time the disease had already seized my body. I had no life energy, gained weight, wasn`t able to focus or convey a normal conversation. It was very severe, but at the back of my mind I remembered the old me. The one who was so excited to meet Al in Budapest, the one so different to what I represented at that moment. Not wanting to make him feel disappointed I waved back and forth with my decision of taking the flight to Santiago.
I was unable to make the simplest choices – not to mention moving to South America. However, he kept telling me how much he wanted it to happen. I took the flight and still did not know what I was doing.
Living In Chile: A Short-Term Expat
I changed northern for southern hemispheres. Longer nights for longer days. Winter for summer. City full of noise for the sounds of the Pacific Ocean. And you know what? I didn`t care. A smile and appreciation were treasures out of my reach.
With the Polish passport I had the permission to stay in Chile for three months. The truth is, that to prolong it, one can simply go on a one-day trip to any of the neighbouring counties, come back and gain three months more. It’s a good thing to know, but personally I didn’t need to do it.
After three months I decided to come back home.
It was overwhelming. I didn’t seem to get any better. The contrary, I hit the bottom. I had enough of being a burden for the man I cared about (at least I thought so at that very moment.)
Returning to Chile: The Positivies
The second time I stepped on Chilean ground was in the first days of August 2015.
Coming back to myself, was a slow process.
I was able to say that I was totally back eventually, and at the beginning of the South American summer: this time I did not let it slip through my fingers. I let my senses discover my new home.
Merging with the new culture went so smoothly I didn’t even realize when I started to feel like it was my place on Earth. Despite considering themselves conservative, Chileans are very warm and friendly. They understand that learning Chilean Spanish is a challenge and are patient when foreigners pause after every word or try to figure out what ¨huevon¨ means. Hearing gringa speaking their dialect makes their day!
The Not So Positive Things
The other challenge I encountered was while I applied for my temporary visa (lasting for one year) and my Chilean identification number (RUT). Don´t fool yourself into thinking that you have prepared all the necessary documents. As soon as the date of appointment finally comes, you will be asked to bring additional papers too.
- but there was no mention about it on their official website.
- and they have other rules in Valparaiso than the rest of the country.
Yup, rules of applying for visa differ from region to region in Chile.
I also had the situation in which employees of two offices told me to bring paper from that other office, because without it they cannot give me the stamp from their own.
How I can receive any stamp, if both ´have to´ be collected from them first?
In this case you need to tell them clearly that you had the same response from people working in the other office, therefore this is impossible to accomplish. If they insist, ask to speak with their manager – they are generally better informed. In case that fails too, try to gain the paper in the same institution, but different location. It´s surprising, but it actually works.
Other things that attracted my attention here was the way locals reacted to how I look. Being white and light-eyed in a country full of brown-skinned people with brown eyes and black hair will make you feel very stared at. I don’t mind actually, it’s far better being treated like foreign royalty than as though you are the worst of the immigrants in the United Kingdom.
In Chile, I learned what white privilege actually is. Being born in racially plain Poland, I had no idea of its scale and power. People here will treat you better just because you are from Europe. White skin also makes them consider you rich. Never had I had so much ‘imagined’ money.
Where To Now?
There were many obstacles on the way to where I am now. Not so many from the country I moved to, but rather from within myself.
And maybe as you already got to know, those are the hardest ones. I doubt there is any darker side of me than the one I was lucky to get familiar with.
I bounced back to reality with more appreciation for its beauty than ever. With more life energy and motivation that ever. With the knowledge that it´s all good, whatever happens.
I am grateful for Alvaro´s patience and big heart. I have no idea how hard it had to be to spend time with the living dead. To show so much love to someone not able to give it back.
He is the shore where my stormy waters may always find peace.
Not only did I find him in this hurricane, but myself and the place on earth where I belong.
If you enjoyed this story, be sure to read Nikoleta’s story about what she has learnt from her expat experience!