Paige: You're listening to Coffee with Gringos. I'm Paige Sutherland.
Mariah: And I'm Mariah Wika. Welcome back to the podcast. this week, we have a special guest with us. And her name is Dani, and we're really looking forward to chatting with her today. Remember, as you listen to our conversation, if you get lost, the transcript and audio guide are on our website to help you out. Dani, thanks so much for joining us!
Dani: Thank you guys! I'm really excited to be here! I've been looking forward to this moment, so thank you so much. For reals, like, I've been listening to a lot about the podcast. I actually got to listen to some of it, so I'm really excited!
Paige: Perfect, so since you are new to the podcast, just introduce yourself a little bit. Where are you from?
Dani: Well, I go by Dani. My name is Daniela Fuentes. I am originally from Chile, actually I always say I'm from Temuco, which is the South. I'm really proud of being from the South because I think it's the most beautiful part of Chile. Sorry you guys from the North. And, I've been back in Chile for the last, gosh, three years now. I spent eight years in the US. So, for me, it has been a period of adapting back to my culture, actually living in Santiago, Chile for the first time in my life these past three years. I love it, and I'm excited to here sharing some of my story, I guess.
Mariah: Fantastic. Okay, so let's start with... so you grew up in Temuco. What motivated you to go to college in the United States?
Dani: Oh gosh. Well, you want me to be completely honest? Actually, I felt like God was leading me there. I went to a school that was a private and originally founded by Baptist missionaries from the South. One of our principals, he was actually an alumni at my school where I went to school. And, he created a scholarship for a graduating senior to go and study on a full-ride. Of course, the fact that it was free and you would be able to experience a whole 'nother college experience was really compelling to me. But, to be quite honest, I felt at 15 that's where God wanted me. So, I worked really hard to get the grades and to be able to apply for the scholarship, and I got it. So, I just left when I was 18, which is very, very uncommon for Chileans.
Mariah: I was going to say, that is not the typical... from what I've seen, I don't want to speak for all of Chile, but from what I've seen, that's not the typical path.
Paige: No, and that's scary to leave your country, your family... and how was your English before you went? Did you have to study a lot or did you go to an English speaking high school?
Dani: I actually, yeah, I had to study a lot. My high school had a focus in English because we were funded by English speaking people, so we did have a good level of English, and they say that if you really wanted, you could graduate speaking English, and that is the case for I think, most of my friends, actually. When I arrived to the school... because you know in Chile, schools can go from Kindergarten all the way graduating senior in high school. In my case, I joined the school when I was in 8th grade. At that point, my English was nonexistent. But my friends were able to pick up a lot of it. I did not like English, actually.
Dani: No. My dad would push me all the time: "You have to learn English, it's going to be great for you!" And I would be like... nah. I don't care about it. Until, for some reason, I got this feeling that I needed to go to the US, and from then on, freshmen year, I said, "Okay, I have to learn." In my school, we had three levels... A, B, C. I started of course in Level C, and then by the time I was, I guess, a junior, I got all the way to Level A. And from then on, every chance that I got to speak to some American, some Gringo, I would take it. And I think that helped a lot.
Mariah: And Dani is a mega-extrovert. So, when she says that she took every chance to speak to a Gringo, she means it was every chance!
Dani: It's very bad. I'm not kidding. I would get on chats. And then also, because of this program, the same program that took me there, we had kind of similar benefits for people from the college, so every two years, every three years, people from the college would come to my high school, and they would do a whole week in the high school. My high school was Baptist, so it would be a spiritual week or whatever, and so we would get to meet them, talk to them, and I would be like a mega-stalker and always make friends with them. And then after that, get their Hotmail because back then there was Hotmail, I know, I'm old guys. And then I would write these e-mails to them like every week.
Mariah: To practice your English!
Dani: To practice my English, literally.
Mariah: That's super committed.
Dani: I mean, I don't know what was in my mind, I just had this goal I wanted to achieve, and I think I should go back and look at these e-mails... because they were full of really bad grammatical errors. I tried, you know, I put myself out there, and by the time I got to college, of course I could understand a lot and I could speak a lot. But it wasn't perfect by any means.
Paige: I mean, that's the complete learning process of a language. You kind of have to fall on your face and just put yourself out there. Otherwise you won't learn.
Dani: For real, like, in my opinion... I tell that to my girlfriend all the time, who's trying to---or is already learning Spanish, but from the beginning when she didn't know anything, or anybody who wants to learn a language, I always say... if you want to learn, you have to strip off the shame of making mistakes.
Mariah: Great advice.
Dani: Yeah, if you think about how we as children learn, we learn by making mistakes. It's how any baby starts to speak. They're gonna speak wrong at first, they're gonna get corrected, with corrections they're gonna learn, and then finally they're gonna speak. So, we cannot pretend that you are gonna be able to speak perfectly without saying a single word. You have to say them. You have to make mistakes. And then little by little, your brain starts catching up, and then all of a sudden, you're bilingual, and it's crazy. The shame is your worst enemy, and you have to just get over it.
Mariah: So, you have this goal, you felt really drawn towards going to the US since you were 15 years old, and then once you got there, what were your impressions? How did you feel?
Dani: To be quite honest, once I got the scholarship, I was SO excited, and then all of a sudden I thought... oh my gosh, what am I doing?
Paige: This is happening...
Dani: Is this really for real? Am I really going to leave my family?! For me, family is really, really important. I think for most Chileans or South Americans, our families are like a big thing in our lives. My mom was obviously still trying to convince me to stay til' the very last minute.
Paige: Where was the school?
Dani: In Kentucky.
Dani: Yeah, Georgetown, Kentucky.
Paige: So, there were probably a lot of Chileans in Kentucky...
Dani: In fact, I think it was like only the people who come from my school, so in that case, three other people from the other grades above me were Chilean at my school.
Paige: Okay, so you had a little community.
Dani: Yeah, and in fact, once I got there, I felt like it was where I had to be.
Paige: Did you feel prepared? You said that you really hit the books, you practiced every chance you got. But when you got there, was it different? Different words were being used? The accents? Everything?
Dani: Yeah, I mean, I think I was prepared to an extent, but of course there were a lot of challenges. I mean, to begin with, like group conversations were awful at the beginning. I could not understand a single word. So, I understand every single one of you who come here, trying to listen to Spanish speaking people all at the same time, and be like... "I'm just nodding, but I have no idea what they're saying." That was me for the very first weeks in college. And for me, I am an extrovert, and I love joking and having fun. At first, it felt like a little bit of a loss of identity.... knowing how to express myself or how to be myself because I didn't have the words or the ability to be quick enough to be myself, I guess.
Mariah: I still feel like that...
Dani: Yeah, but the more you do it, the better it gets, and then you find yourself again. And maybe you are a different person once you get to that point.
Paige: So what is your advice for someone who is in a similar situation where they feel like they have a good comprehension of English, but then they don't feel like they have the personality or they don't understand group conversations?
Dani: Yeah, I think just be patient with yourself... I mean, it's going to be frustrating, like I understand. I cannot say, "Don't get frustrated." It's going to be frustrating. But, be patient because I think that with time, it just gets better. It has to. Your brain is so amazing. Like there are points in life where like your brain is only picking up certain sounds, certain words because it's only capable of doing that. And with time, it starts to pick up more and more, and this is my experience and probably you guys who are learning a different language. You realize you get to a point where you're somehow guessing words, and you're like, "is this a word?" I don't know if I've ever heard it, but for someone reason, you just guess it. And that's just your brain, which is capable of picking up things without you being conscious, you know? But at first, at first it's normal, your brain cannot just hear every sound and make a concept out of it because it would be crazy, like not every sound is a concept either. So, it has to have an adjusting process, and it's not going to happen really quick. You just have to push yourself over and over and over and over until you get there. Then of course you're gonna have accents and then for me, in particular, hearing certain accents and the south was super hard. And then, I had one professor, ironically, my first communication class -- I am a communications major -- my first communication class was with a professor who mumbled all the time and spoke really low. I had no idea what he said for the first weeks of class. No idea. And it was like a speech class, so I had no idea what were the instructions or anything. So that was a bit scary, but I don't know, you get through it. I feel like we humans are just capable of so much when we put ourselves out there, so we just have to risk it, you know?
Paige: And I guess you said you lived in the US for eight years, give or take? What made you want to come back?
Dani: To Chile? Oh my gosh, you know, when I first got to the US, I thought, "I'm never gonna leave this country! I love it so much!" I had the best experience of my life in college, but by the 5th year there, one year after I graduated, it started to get really hard to say goodbye every time I came back to Chile. And a big part of it was missing my family and then another part is actually missing my culture, which was interesting for me because I felt like I personally had a really easy time adapting to the American culture, like I loved everything about it. One of the main differences there and here, or at least where I lived there -- in my opinion -- like people once they go out and start working, they tend to get a little bit more individualistic because it is an individualistic culture, I mean, compared to the South American culture, where we're very collectivistic, our lives go around having time with people. Here in Chile, I mean, they're gonna make time to spend time with their friends, no matter whether it's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday... like if it is 11 PM, if it is midnight, doesn't matter... you're going to make the time because it's a priority, y'know? In the US, I feel like the priority is mostly like your close-knit circle - your partner, maybe your close family members, and then if you have close friends, you might see them, but you have to schedule it, it has to be on a calendar, and it has to be like, "Okay, we're going to meet in two weeks, and it's going to be like at 8 PM, and we're probably going to be there until hmm, 11 or 12, and then we're all going to part ways. And for me, that was killing me because I'm a highly spontaneous person, and having things on my calendar actually stressed me out, so I'd rather a friend call me right now and say, "Hey, do you wanna do something?!" "Sure, I'll do it!" than a friend saying, "Hey do you want to hang out in three weeks from this time to time at this place?" And so, to me it started to feel a lot like I needed that kind of relationship that you can get in a country where spending time with people is a priority. I think that was a big thing.
Mariah: So, you and your partner met in the United States, have since moved back here. You have been here for three years. So, what has it been like for the two of you? For you to re-adapt and for your partner to adapt to living here in Chile?
Dani: You know, I think we've had different experiences, of course.
Mariah: Of course.
Dani: To begin with, my partner came with no Spanish, so that was like a huge deal.
Mariah: So brave.
Dani: Yes, yes, one might say she loves me. And to be quite honest, when I thought about coming back to Chile, I really thought that I was gonna be here for a year, and then I would be like, "Yeah, let's go back to the US." Because I thought, you know my entire adult life I lived in the US. I knew how to relate in the workplace in the US, and like my experiences as an adult were all there. And coming back to Chile, I thought, "I'm just probably gonna hate it. I'm probably not gonna like my job, my boss, the way people do things here. All of the crazy things like how it takes so long to do certain things that are so easy." And of course, I hate all of that! Yes, I do hate bureaucracy. I hate the lines at the supermarkets that are so stupid. I hate that you have to go to the notary for every single little thing. I hate that people are so inefficient. That you go to a restaurant and people do not know how to serve you well. You have to beg people in the stores to sell you crap. It's like, to me, the most mind-blowing thing. I hate all of it. Of course I do. But, turns out that I really, really, really like the culture here, like it compensates for all of the little things that make me angry and make my partner angry. To me, like, being able to make friends really easily, hang out, have people who care for you...
Mariah: Drink a piscola or six...
Dani: Drink a piscola… dude, I'm a piscola fan. I never was before... and now I just could drink a piscola everyday.
Paige: And now that you're back... how often are you using English?
Dani: All the time. Yes. All the time because it's part of the reason I think I've had a better experience than what I imagined I would have. I've been working for my job right now for a year, and it's all in English. I mean, at least in my work with my coworkers... my boss is all in English. When I used to come back, it would be so hard for me to speak proper Spanish because I was so used to speaking English all the time. In the US, I barely spoke Spanish. I did not have Spanish speaking friends. All of our friends were American, and so I would have a hard time remembering words in Spanish. Now I'm back to being able to speak full Chilean somehow. People are always asking me if I'm from a different country because I have a weird accent in Spanish. It's like a mixture of accents I guess. I think I would not like Chile so much if I did not have this part of, to me, the US in my life. Some of our best friends are from the US, and we see them every week. So, having that part of the culture in my life helps me also be happy here, I think. Right now, for me, the American culture and English life is so much part of my identity as the Spanish part is.
Mariah: Fantastic, well thank you so much for sharing this part of your story. And next week on the podcast, we are back with Dani to chat a little bit more... she alluded to this earlier, but to chat more about her work, what that entails... and to learn a little bit more about what it's like to work for a start-up in Chile. Thanks again for listening, and we'll talk to you next week.
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
For reals (slang) - honestly, seriously
Example: For reals, I’m so excited to be on the podcast.
Gosh (slang)- used to emphasize a point or express surprise
Example: I’ve been back in Chile for, gosh, three years now!
Period (noun) - an amount of time
Example: I spent eight years in the US. So, for me, this has been a period of adapting back to my culture.
Founded (past participle) - established
Example: I went to a school that was private and originally founded by Baptist missionaries from the South.
Alumni (noun) - a former student
Example: One of our principals, he was actually an alumni of my university.
‘Nother (slang) - short for another
Example: I wanted to have a whole ‘nother college experience.
College (noun) - university, NOT colegio
Example: Going to college in the United States was a very exciting opportunity for me.
Compelling (adjective): fascinating, causing interest or attention
Example: The idea of going to college in another country was very compelling.
Pick up (phrasal verb, separable) - in the context of a skill, to learn
Example: I was able to pick English up over time.
Push (verb) - in an interpersonal context, to strongly encourage
Example: My dad would push me all the time: "You have to learn English, it's going to be great for you!"
Mega-stalker (noun, slang) - an exaggerated term to describe a person who follows other people
Example: I was a mega-stalker! I tried to become friends with every gringo I met!
Committed (adjective) - dedicated
Example: Dani was very committed to learning English.
Fall on your face (idiom, slang) - make really big mistakes
Example: In the process of learning a language, it’s totally normal to fall on your face!
Put yourself out there (idiom, slang) - to take risks and leave your comfort zone
Example: You need to continue putting yourself out there. It’s the only way to improve.
Strip off (phrasal verb) - to remove
Example: If you want to learn, you have to strip off the shame of making mistakes.
Scholarship (noun) - a financial award given to support a student’s education
Example: I received a scholarship to study in the United States.
To nod (verb) - to move your head up and down to communicate “yes”
Example: I'm just nodding, but I have no idea what they're saying.
Give or take (slang) - more or less
Example: You said you lived in the US for eight years, give or take?
Come back (phrasal verb) - to return
Example: What made you want to come back to Chile?
Close-knit (adjective) - used to describe very strong relationships
Example: In the US, I feel like the priority is mostly your close-knit circle.
Hang out (slang) - to spend time with a friend
Example: Hey! Do you want to hang out next weekend?
Gonna (slang) - going to
Example: I'm probably not gonna like my job, my boss, or the way people do things here.
Crap (slang) - a negative way to say “things”, also used as a synonym for poop
Example: You have to beg people in the stores to sell you crap.
Mind-blowing (adjective) - completely surprising or shocking
Example: Sometimes cultural differences are mind-blowing!
Allude (verb) - to suggest or mention indirectly
Example: Dani alluded to this earlier, but next episode, we’ll be talking about her job!
Startup (noun) - a newly established business
Example: Dani works for a small German startup in Chile.