Overlooking the sea, I was wandering the dirt roads in the sleepy village of Las Cruces. It was my first week in Chile and I was trying to find the local bodega. I mustered the courage to speak Spanish with a man working in his garden.
-Hola, can you please tell me how to get to Malloco?
-Hi! Sure, it’s really close. How about I just drive you there?
During the short ride, we introduced ourselves. Incidentally, he had a son that recently moved to the United States and he was eager to visit. At the end of the ride, I thanked him and could not help but grin at his hospitality. Little did I know, such kind interactions would become a routine occurrence at my new home.
As a Fulbrighter, I was conducting marine biological research at the Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas (ECIM). Along with my advisor, Dr. Sergio Navarrete, and his PhD student, Joan Escobar, I explored how interactions between organisms such as sea stars, crabs, and mussels affect the community structure of the rocky intertidal zone. A typical day might involve collecting organisms for a lab experiment, dodging powerful waves while collecting field data, and on calmer days, ending with a celebratory plunge into the frigid Pacific Ocean.
The international environment of the marine lab offered a unique opportunity to work with individuals from all over South America, Europe, and North America. We were able to share our cultural differences, and more importantly, we bonded over our passion of studying the ocean. In addition to my work, I also volunteered with the local public outreach organization, Chile Es Mar.
Outside of the lab, I gained a deeper perspective of Chile and the United States. I lived with a Chilean who felt hesitant towards the United States due to its past foreign policies. We often had discussions that were elucidating for the two of us. I began to understand the difficulties of diplomacy; building relationships are just as much about the past as our current motives. My housemate was also able to see that Americans may have different views about the actions of their country. As we became close friends, it was clear that average individuals are critical in building international relationships.
Along with home life, community asados, or barbeques that are worthy rivals to their American counterparts, were a staple. At asados, Chileans gather in camaraderie to celebrate life and food into the wee hours of the night. In addition, we also came together to make traditional Chilean foods such as empanadas, ceviche, and sopaipillas.
At the conclusion of my Fulbright experience, I was engaged in a conversation about life with an elderly gentleman on a bus. As the ride ended, he gave me his telephone number and invited me to an asado with his family. My time in Chile taught me that mundane interactions are often at the heart of building foreign relations. There are countless individuals that I will never see again, but whose positive impressions will resonate with me forever. I hope that I have had a similar impact.