One of my research projects with Amy Ogan necessitated a 5 week trip to Chile to conduct field observations of a piece of educational technology that teaches algebra to 5th – 8th graders. This technology had been added to 26 schools around Chile over the last two years, and we were checking in to see how the students interacted with it. Our trip began with a 4 week stint in urban Santiago, followed by 1 week in rural Villarrica. We visited multiple class and lab periods at 8 different schools in these areas. This was the longest I had ever been away from the US, and after just 2 weeks it felt like we were no longer visitors! I learned a lot of things in Chile, including many new foods, fantastic Chilenismos, and lots of contingency planning.
I was encouraged by how welcoming the Chileans were: I experienced many kindnesses at the hands of strangers and very new acquaintances. I also discovered that I apparently can visually pass for Chilean, which allowed me to experience the culture more naturally, but also inadvertently caused frustration for some Chileans who didn’t understand why I kept asking them to speak more slowly!
Upon arriving back in the US, it took about 2 weeks to get over most of the cultural differences and reacclimatize myself to American life. Two parts of Chilean life have still stayed with me: 1) taking a pack of tissues with me wherever I go and 2) not using travel mugs.