The GoGlobal Blog

You always learn from your mistakes

You always learn from your mistakes

I hope this is true, and if it is then I am possibly one of the most learnèd 20- year olds on the planet. Or, at least, in Loyola’s study abroad program.

My stay in Santiago started in a very… interesting manner. And what I mean by ‘interesting’ is a 5-hour stay in the airport. Think Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’.

Mind you, this situation was one completely of my own making, as these kinds of things usually are. It started with me leaving my passport in Chicago and needing to get a new one when I came to stay with my family in New Jersey after fall semester ended and I vacated my apartment.


I received my passport a little less than a week before my Chilean adventure was to start and due to the complete unresponsiveness of the NYC branch of the Chilean Consulate and the unfortunate vacation period of the person who approves passports in the Philadelphia Chilean Consulate branch, I was unable to receive my student visa before coming to Chile. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting to come to Chile, so I decided to come as a tourist and get my student visa after getting here.

Some countries require tourist visas, but in the case of Chile, tourists are able to stay without a visa for 30 days, and only have to pay a reciprocity fee (which is a fee that the government of Chile charges incoming tourists from countries who charge their citizens. Example: US charges Chileans $160, and therefore so too does Chile to the citizens of the US).

So as to be able to pay this fee, I made sure to have $200 in cash with me when I travelled. This would have been perfect, except that when I got to the front of the checking baggage line in JFK airport, I was told that I would not be able to bring my longboard on board (no pun intended) with me, as I had been able to do with Southwest. My only options were to get rid of my board (trash? random donation to the people behind me in line? who knows) or pay, as my father was long gone by then. How much was the fee you’d like to know? $180.

Lesson 2: Be ABSOLUTELY SURE about the rules regarding special baggage.

addendum: or just…. don’t bring a longboard.

As you might have guessed, I paid said fee. With the $200 meant for the reciprocity fee. Once I got to my gate I called my parents, knowing that this would be the last time I would be able to do so until probably Chile a day later. Because now the problem lay in my lack of money. Because, you see, I only had about $50 in my bank account at this time, as my parents were going to transfer the other money in two days later on Saturday. The best my parents could do was promise that they would try to get to the bank on their lunch break tomorrow to transfer some money into my account. And that was the last time I would be able to contact my parents for a long while.


12 hours, a rerun of ‘Pretty Woman’, two in-flight meals, and a layover later, I touched down in Santiago, Chile. What a beautiful country! And now to see if my father was able to get to the bank on his lunch break… too bad we had thought that Chile was two hours behind EST rather than two hours ahead, which left my father with the idea that he had until around 4PM EST to get to the bank rather than 12 PM EST (I touched down at 1:45 PM … ‘Chile time’).


After I tried paying with my debit card (twice, about an hour apart from each other), I knew something was wrong. And not only was I stuck in the airport unable to leave the section cordoned off by the Chilean police, but my host mother, Yali, was also waiting for me outside, and now, cellphone-less, I had no way to contact her. Worse, even if I had had a phone, I didn’t have her number.


I had my United States OIP coordinators number and an iPod touch with a calling app, but unfortunately I was unable to access the wi-fi, and the only place with wi-fi happened to be in the departing section of the airport. With my stumbling spanish I was able to explain my problem to the guards and was let through to the departing area. I found the VIP Salon, where there was free wi-fi, and beggared my way in.

I started sending e-mails to everyone I could think of, as well as sending my Chilean mother a message through facebook (the means through which we had been communicating) saying that I would be fine and would take a taxi to her address when my parents were able to transfer funds into my account. As I was sending this I received an e-mail from my father saying that he would be unable to reach the bank until the next day, Saturday. And so I started to settle in to spend the night in this VIP lounge.

However this was not to be: the people from the program were having none of that. I know this because at that point Yali (well, the coordinator for my program in Chile using Yali’s Facebook from cell phone of my coordinator… yes it’s all very confusing I know) reached out to me through a Facebook message telling me to STAY WHERE I WAS SOMEONE WILL COME TO GET YOU.

The program, the woman told me, would lend me the $100 I needed (I had at the time $20 left on cash and $60 in my bank account) and would deliver it to me by one of the airport personnel.

Aren’t you happy that my story’s almost over?

I think that I would have appreciated that as well.

Except… remember how I wasn’t really supposed to be in the lounge? Because of this, when the airport personnel came to find me, she was told that I couldn’t possibly be in there. So after another hour of searching, they said my name over the loud speaker and I was able to find the woman, who gave me the $100 passed on to her from my program coordinator.


Spoiler alert: Nope.

When I returned to the window to pay the fee, the woman, who was the only person in this ordeal who spoke a good amount of English, shared with me a look of amused sympathy. Which then turned into a look of apprehension and regret.

Because, as she told me, you couldn’t pay half on a card and half with cash.

And where was the nearest ATM (‘cajiera’, as I learned that day)?

It was inside the ‘country’, where I could not yet go.

Of course it was.

So I waited in line for the Chilean police, as I would be able to get to the ATM if one of them were to accompany me.

The man to whom I explained my situation acted just as most of the people there I had met acted; with concern for me and with a wonderfully helpful manner. However no amount of helpfulness could have made me understand that gosh darn cajiera (cah-hee-erra).

Lesson 6: BE FAMILIAR WITH THE MONETARY SYSTEM (clarification: VERY familiar!)

Because that cajiera was NOT in dollars, and furthermore, it kept telling me that I had MUCH less money that I had (most likely because it was saying something like $30000 pesos and I was thinking ‘$30.00’.

Eventually (after three failed tries which left me near tears) I was able to take out [what I thought] was $20. It was also in pesos, which I wasn’t able to comprehend at that moment! I was very, very scared, because having only $20 more meant that I still would be unable to leave the airport.

I returned [YET AGAIN] to the register to try to pay the fee, and my new friend Mr. Chilean Policeman came with me to help. The woman looked at my money and said [to my relief] that there were $50! But then… “I’m sorry, but you can’t pay half in pesos.”

And so I climbed the stairs once more and Mr. Chilean Policeman (whose name is Hector, if you’re interested) handled the transaction for me.

I was finally able to pay. What relief I felt! And after some paperwork, I left Hector behind with this:

“Querría decir algo, pero no sé como… en español. Gracias. Por todo de tu ayuda.”

My grammar was horrible, but I got enough right that it was comprehensible. I wanted to get across what his help had meant to me.

And he knew.

Lesson 7: One person can change someone’s experience completely.

Without Hector, I wouldn’t have been able to change my dollars into pesos so easily or more importantly, been able to get through my ‘journey’ without a heart attack. He listened to me worry aloud [in very bad Spanish] and ask questions to calm me down, and went faaar out of his was to help me. I’ll always remember that experience.

I’ll always remember, also, my Chilean mother waiting for me when I finally exited out into the waiting area (Well, I exited the wrong way at first, but really, would you expect anything different of me? Eventually I got to her.) The first words I said to this wonderful, wonderful woman holding the sign was “LO SIENTO.” I think you probably know what this means.

The first thing she did after recognizing me?

She hugged me. “Mi hija!”

Most people might think that my 5 hour ‘journey’ in the airport was something to look back upon with horror, and while I can understand that sentiment, I also think that there is no better way that I could have been introduced to the absolute best part of Chile: the Chileans themselves.

Lesson 8 (and the moral of my story): You can learn a lot when you screw up.

Whether you learn that it’s important to double check everything, or you learn that people are a lot more wonderful than you expected. Both are valid, and both are things that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I’m including a picture of my Chilean mother, Yali (who says she ‘labored for 5 hours birthing me, her hija’) and some of my wonderful friends who came to eat ‘onces’ with us on my second day in Santiago.

Yali (mi madre chilena) and some of my wonderful LUC/UAH friends!

Hasta luego, amigos míos.


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