From Our ReadersTrue Worries of a North American Woman in South AmericaFrom Our Readers

Before leaving for a five-month visit to South America, I was seriously scared.  For the next 22 months, I am traveling all around the world with my boyfriend, but for some reason, South America was the place that scared me the most.  I felt like it was going to be too different, too primitive, too dangerous.  What were people going to dress like?  What were people going to eat?  I know it sounds silly, but I wasn’t afraid of other places, like Africa or the Middle East for these reasons because I had friends who were from there or who had been there, but South America just seemed so…foreign.

As the days grew closer to when I would leave, I felt a panic start to sink in.  I have always been the brave one, the one who has these grand adventures- what if I couldn’t do it? And I would be flying into Colombia- land of kidnapping and cocaine.  What if I was Taken- like the movie!?  The time came to board the plane and I cried.

Well, now I have been traveling in South America for two months.  I have been to four different countries and I am now living and working in Chile, and guess what- it’s not scary.  In fact, it’s lovely.  It’s a beautiful place full of curiosities, but also full of familiarities.  Everyday I see girls in skinny jeans and sundresses, guys in jeans and t-shirts, I go to the market twice a week for milk, bread, yogurt, fruit, veggies and ice cream.  My life here is very normal.

Michael and me in front of La Portada near Antofagasta, Chile

However, my life here is also an adventure.  The island where I am living is also the home to penguins and austral dolphins.  I live in a yoga shala where I teach yoga to Chilean children twice a week (talk about an adventure!).  I am learning to cook Chilean food so that I can be a fill-in gourmet chef on a Patagonian cruise -woah!  If I would have been scared to open myself up to South America, I would have missed out on these amazing opportunities!

Right in front of our yoga shala home on Chiloe Island in Chile

The things I was afraid of – difference, loneliness, inability to communicate – have either become some of my favorite things or things I laugh at.  My difference to South Americans – I am blonde and fair skinned, and therefore stick out like a sore thumb – makes me get whistled at constantly and always said “Hello!” to, which makes me laugh.  Loneliness is non-existent.  People take every opportunity to practice their English with a native English speaker.  My Spanish has gotten quite good, but sometimes it’s still not good enough, and that’s when the funniest things happen because we’re all pantomiming and drawing pictures – that’s when people are the kindest and most helpful.  My old fears have vanished – instead I have new fears:

Bathrooms! They are just…filthy!  The public ones always cost money and look like a toxic waste zone.  I just can’t justify paying money to patronize a post-apocalyptic facility.  You also can’t flush your TP, but rather have to throw it in a seemingly never-emptied waste bin, adding to the general funky pee aroma.

If you took a few years of Spanish in high school, you can get by.  But not on the telephone.  Talking on the phone is terrifying.  I just plain out refuse to use them.

Water can be very scary.  You have not felt pain until you have drunk bad water.  It is totally debilitating.

Lettuce and soft-skinned fruit.  Equal to water, it can be a menace.  This is especially awful for vegetarians like yours truly – I have learned to love oranges and bananas.  Interestingly, I did not eat bananas before this trip.  I found them generally icky- their shape, overall mushiness, and ability to “brown,” but I have been turned into a believer after one too many risky apples.

Hitch-hiking:  A disclaimer to this being that my boyfriend made me do it in two dire situations in Chile and they were both wonderful experiences.  One in particular, we were picked up outside of Valparaiso by Beatrice, a beautiful soul who felt like she was hurting the environment by traveling alone and only picked us up because I was a woman (my boyfriend is a whopping 6” 4’ with a shady beard).  Even though Chile is supposed to be a great place to hitch, and our experiences were great, placing all my trust in a fast-driving foreign stranger still scares me.

I feel pretty good about conquering my original fears and I feel like my new fears are much more rational, and even healthy, but I learned a really powerful lesson in South America.  Do the things that scare you.  Life is in the moments that are scary.  I know I am stronger, and more capable, because I was able to conquer my fears.  And here I am now, on an island in Chile, living my dream.

Exploring the beaches on Chiloe Island

You can read more from Veronica Norton on her blog.

 

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  1. I am from Spain, but my Mother was originally from Chile. I have lived in Chile, Spain and the USA for various different years. I did not feel offended from this article at all. You are all over reacting and blaming and generalizing people from the USA. It makes you just as bad. I hope you all know this. My Mother has read this article as well, and does not feel the girl intended to offend anyone. My advice to those of you who have so much country pride you can’t look past it at what the girl was really saying. I have pride for all the places I have lived and in each of those places I have met people good and bad. I hope I never meet any of you. I may offend you before you can even get a chance to know me.

  2. Being a Southamerican myself (from Argentina), let me first say that I was quite offended by your first paragraph… I guess we have American education and Hollywood portrayal of Southamerican countries to blame for such absurd fears… This is not 1492 and you’re not Colombus… Southamerica is not the Wild Wild West… We dress, eat, work and do the same kind of activities that anyone would do in any developed country… Of course you have the country areas, the big cities, the underdeveloped areas… just as anywhere around the globe… It is quite insulting that in the 21st century there are still people who have such misconceptions about other countries… If you haven’t been taught, then you can sure learn by yourself, if you care enough to do it… You’d be surprised how much more advanced we Southamerican are in so many ways than Americans… specially, we are much more openminded… And if the fruit and veggies taste funny, it’s because they are NATURAL, not filled with chemicals. I have been in contact with so many foreigners that came to Argentina, French, Americans, British, Polish… and they all fell in love with the country, and some of them even decided to stay. It is preposterous that in this time someone would think of Southamerica as primitive.

  3. Hey there! Im an American girl living for a year in Argentina as an exchange student. Ive been here for 7 months already, and Ive never had any of these problems or fears haha. Still, Im half Ecuadorian and half Puerto Rican, and Ive been to both countries, so I had a slight idea of what I was getting myself into. I think I understand why people are getting so offended. I mean, this isnt even my country and I was feeling a bit defensive at first too. I think people just get put off when they here the stereotypes of their countries. Like, who know how people sometimes say stupid stuff about us and how we dont care about other countries and were all ignorant? But still, your saying what you THOUGHT and how you think now. Theres things you like and things that are still new. Haha, Im still going through the same thing. If you ever need a place to stay in Mendoza, Argentina, Im sure my host family wouldnt have a problem with it! :D

  4. I’m agree with Cristina, Adriana and Iris, and I just wanna write, that is easy to say bad things about other country, and it’s really dissapointing, that people in the USA are so ignorant, that doesn’t know that mostly of the exportations in Chile are fruit and vegetables. Also, everyone with that information can say that the FRUIT in Chile is one of a kind and its flavour is really appreciated by other countries. I’m chilean, but I live in Germany and here you can find vegetables and fruit from Chile, and people here like it and mostly says, that it’s one of the best fruit worldwide. I don’t know if you don’t like its taste, but I think you cannot say that they’re bad, because chilean fruit is a great product WORLDWIDE.
    Finally, I wanna say that in my opinion, it would be better for you to be more thankful with chilean, because we’re mostly friendly with foreign people. I’m now in another culture and I can tell you that nowhere else can you find such kind of friendship and care.

  5. our fruit is not dangerous, did you know most of your fruit in winter comes from chile and other south american countries? I’m amazed by your ignorance, really.
    Don’t you have internet in other countries? I mean, you could have perfectly done some research on the countries you were about to visit.
    All of this as an advice, you shouldn’t be that narrow minded in the future; we like foreign visitors in Chile but we don’t like to feel offended :c
    There are some blogs of “gringos” living in chile that you should check , this is a good one http://cachandochile.wordpress.com/glossary-glosario-chilenismos/ C:

    p.s- Hello Giggles admins: the connect with fbk button doesn’t work in chrome, I had to open internet explorer D: (a complete nightmare, what an awful browser). I hope you get someone to fix it :)

  6. Hi, I can see why a few people were offended initially (“too primitive, too dangerous”) but I know that were also are trying to express to us your apprehension at embarking on a trip to a place that was truly foreign in every way. I guess once you progressed to the hypotheticals (meant to be funny) it was going to charge some people up. Even I was a bit upset or uncomfortable at first…but I also want to leave a positive and encouraging comment because I believe you went well and are sincere. I think you, like a lot of contributors, only have so much space and room to write something. I think it’s cool that you travel as you do! And that it’s obvious you are open minded and were just nervous to embark on your trip (as I know I would be too!) and that you came to enjoy and cherish the countries that you visited and the time you spent there.

    Mostly, I was intrigued by the part where you said that you were living at a yoga shala, teaching kids, and learning to cook so as to work on a cruise, etc. I think that’s the heart of the story here. I can’t speak for anyone else but that’s what this is about to me. I would love to travel and learn how to do it this way but haven’t seriously planned anything. This S American trip with your BF sounds soo cool. How do you plan your travels? Do you use certain blogs, travel agencies, books, travel guides? How do you obtain your jobs and how far in advance? How do you schedule your time table? I’m definitely going to check out your blog!

    Don’t let the too negative comments get you down. You sound like a brave person (to go inspite of your fears…I think I’d be close to backing out) I know that I can be paralyzed with fear and it’s hard to overcome that and as you show us here it’s when we get out of your comfort zone that we are able to overcome that and grow.

    I’m glad your trip went well and thanks for sharing! Safe travels! :)

  7. After reading a few of the comments regarding this article, I was stopped in my tracks. I thought, were we really reading the same thing? Then my second thought was, how can people be so hateful? Calling her statements complaints, acting like this is a closed minded ‘North American’ perspective, and scoffing at her learning experience is the most elitist and closed minded way you could have possibly responded to this article. Her jokes came across as quite tasteless and they were. This does not excuse your very harsh judgments to her genuine experiences.

    We are all products of our cultures. Some of us are lucky to have many outside experiences growing up that make understanding foreign cultures easier. Many of us do not. In actuality, many of the more so-call open minded super cool North Americans are on the rich side of the street because, duh, they could afford to travel going up. The working class and ‘small’ minded people from small towns are exploited and then harassed for their ignorance. I digress, just really, have some social etiquette, and be respectful of her experience. Oh, and since when does using the word gringo make you open-minded, just saying.

  8. Wow im wondering how some people are trying to tell someone how dare she write about concerns she had travelling to a foreign country and how shes ignorant and how hellogiggles can publish her article… Im wondering why hellogiggles hasnt removed your comments..everyones entitled to write of their personal experience and if that what shes lived through why are some people bashing on her instead of leaving your comments which are more disgusting than anything she wrote in her article save your comments and leave this page..i applaud you for your courage to travel and incorporate youself into other cultures i myself dont think id ever been able to not because it doesnt call to me but im a huge,wirrywart and,that stops me in my tracks lol once my friemd said we should take a cruise only for ne to be like no way didnt you hear of that girl who,went missing on the,ship? so i love reading these type of articles..and hope you write again once your off on your next adventure..and once again i applaud you and your boyfriends courage to travel, not everyone gets to and unless thisppl that commened have i dont see how your worries werent valid..best of luck to you both ;)

  9. I don’t know why HelloGiggles is publishing this kind of blogs. You are as ignorant as the most of U.S. people, talking about Southamerica. I really enjoy reading here but this time was just shocking. To contribute in this page, do I need to be “like that”? No, thanks. At least you found out it’s not how you thought and that you are landing in wonderful places, because that’s about: your wrong view of countries you didn’t know, but through the news and gringo comments. Some of you people should realize that you are NOT the center of the world, neither the best. Be humble, accept it and go home. You don’t deserve the friendly treatment you are getting there.

  10. First of all I want to say, I LOVE South America!! If that didn’t come through enough in my article, then I am sorry. This article was in no way meant to be offensive or a political statement in any way. The things that I am talking about in this article are meant to be funny. Of course I’m going to get sick in a new country trying new foods- it has nothing to do with the country and is in no way an attack, it’s simply saying that I have different bacteria in my stomach because I grew up somewhere else. And the bathroom thing, again, is a joke. I am not expecting pristine bathrooms. Please realize these are miniscule problems I am writing about because I have loved my experience in South America. I am still living here, it’s been almost 5 months now, and every single day, my common fears are never the outlandish things like getting kidnapped, or drugs, it’s getting sick because of something I ate, or gross bathrooms, that is to say, my life here is pretty good. The major point of the article, however, is that my silly fears were totally invalid and my new fears are very small and have completely to do with my physical body- nobody wants the stomach flu when they don’t have a bathroom (or bed) to call their own! Please try to see the larger point of the article, which is that sometimes fears are silly and we need to get over them in order to have incredible experiences. If you would like to find out more about my trip, I invite you to read my blog and see if you feel differently. That’s where I talk more about the amazing food, culture and people that I experience. If you don’t want to, that’s cool too. As a contributing writer for HelloGiggles I don’t have the platform here to write every detail about every place that I go, so my blog may be more your style. I appreciate that you took the time to give me your feedback and I’m sorry that you found my article was not satisfactory. Everyone experiences travel in their own way, I’m simply talking about mine. I believe the point of travel is to be uncomfortable, to be taken out of your comfort zone. In my opinion, if you’re not uncomfortable when you’re traveling, then you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. So yes, sometimes I am uncomfortable, but that’s the point of travel. My point is not to sugarcoat my experience, my point is to be honest, and I completely believe that the good outweighs the bad 10 to 1, but every place has its flaws. My hometown has many flaws, but I still love it. Some of you speak ill of America just in your comments and I don’t take offense to that because that’s your own experience, but please be open-minded yourselves then when someone has their own opinion about your continent. Again, my opinion is that South America is an amazing place, and it can still be amazing while having food that sometimes makes me sick ☺

    • I just wanted to write an encouraging comment here. I really enjoyed your article, and can appreciate it, because I understand what it’s like to travel to a new country and wonder what life will be like. It’s a complete and total adjustment, and kudos to you for taking a huge leap to get out of your comfort zone and experience not only a new culture perhaps within the United States or another country that speaks primarily English, but rather in a completely different culture on a different continent with a foreign language. When I studied abroad in Seville, Spain in high school, even small adjustments, like having to eat a lot more carbohydrates and drink a lot of water to combat the heat, were things that I had to get used to. I’m sorry people are missing the point that you’re trying to relate your experience adjusting to a new place in the world. I hope you’re having a lovely time in South America!

  11. Firstly I would like to say how disappointing this blog is; you have a wonderful opportunity to visit so many amazing countries. Instead of writing about Chile’s interesting culture, food, history, attractions, nature, politics, etc., you choose to complain about trivial negatives from a clearly close-minded ‘North American’ perspective. Especially in an economic downturn when many HelloGiggles readers don’t have the opportunity to travel, the only thing they will read is about bathrooms looking like “post-apocalyptic facilities”. News flash, IT’S A PUBLIC BATHROOM. What do you expect? Even in modern, Westernized countries there are absolutely disgusting public restrooms. And the baskets for used toilet paper? Many countries’ sanitation infrastructure is not modernized and able to process human waste as well as toilet paper. The fee to pay for the restrooms? That money will probably be spent towards installing new sanitation infrastructure so a person can flush their toilet paper down a toilet. Regarding you blasé comment towards being abducted similar to “Taken – like the movie”- one, that film takes place in FRANCE. So obviously someone can be abducted in a “modern” country. Two; comparing a movie with immature teenage girls while at the same time homogenizing a whole continent is wrong. As in innocent bystander, hopefully not purchasing drugs, you won’t be kidnapped. It would be more dangerous for a North American traveller to cross the U.S./Mexican border into Tijuana for a night out then to travel to Colombia, where even though it illegally exports cocaine, anyone who has been watching the news would be aware that unfortunately Mexican drug cartels are extremely active and much more realistic. Lastly, if you planned to travel to South America for an extended amount of time, it would be advisable to at least revisit your Spanish, instead of “getting by on high school Spanish”. Then you wouldn’t be so scared to use the telephone.

  12. why some people hate ppl from united states… u cant eat fruit? pff the bathrooms are filthy and cost money? u sure havent travelled the world much, chica. please PLEASE dont come to Argentina, pleeeaaasee.

    • Hey Aggie, I’m sorry you felt that way about my article. What I was trying to express was that I need to overcome my fears in order to have amazing opportunities. It’s too bad people feel the need to hate entire countries and citizens based on singular experiences, let’s hope you and I won’t do the same. Argentina was lovely, by the way, I enjoyed it just like I have enjoyed all of South America. Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it :)

  13. michaelandveronica.wordpress.com

  14. Wow how ignorant can you really be?? You didn’t know how people were going to dress?! What did you think it was like? Tarzan style?. Also let’s make it clear that Colombia does produce drugs, but the land of cocaine is the united states since they are the biggest consumer in the World all Colombia’s cocaine gets shipped to the US. Since you didn’t clarify that, I have been to Colombia many times and is ignorant people like you that give a beautiful country a bad reputation.

    • Thanks Sara, I appreciate your response. I actually wasn’t thinking Tarzan, but more, will they wear mostly pants? dresses? What will the major stores be? Something anyone would wonder when trying to figure out how to pack for a 6-month trip! I’m sorry you found me ignorant, and thanks for sharing your insight. I loved Colombia and look forward to being back there in two weeks. I’ve never met kinder people than Colombians.

  15. The link to Veronica’s blog doesn’t work! I would love to follow her adventures, does anyone have a link?

  16. I read the first paragraph and was a bit shocked as to what was about to read. I’m from South America, Chile, in fact. I live in Viña del Mar. I do not know what part of Chile you went to work, but not everywhere is as primitive as you describe it. As in any country, there are places that are not as developed as others, but in Chile we have a similar level of technology and development that in North America, only perhaps not accessible to the entire population. But please! you can not say that vegetables and fruits are a menace just because they are 100% natural … Girl, your fears are totally legitimate, but clearly do not know the best things that Chile has to offer yet … good luck!

  17. Omg, I have these exact same fears, that someone will put coke in my luggage and I’ll be locked up in some scary prison for the rest of my life! I hope I’ll have the courage one day to travel to South America, it’s such a beautiful piece of the world!

  18. Just felt the need to come in here and tell you to come to Brazil. Not Rio, nor São Paulo, but Brazil.