By Valentine Agostinho-Juenet, reading Business and Spanish at Glasgow University
Greetings from Santiago de Chile, where part-way through my Year Abroad the pandemic arrived.
I had just three weeks left of my three-month traineeship in a marketing agency when Covid19 first appeared here. We started to work remotely several days before the quarantine was imposed by the Chilean government. At first, I was not given many tasks to do, but my responsibilities evolved quickly and I ended up having an even larger workload than before. Even though I could not be at the office and interact face to face with my co-workers, I still got to learn in a different way. I had to analyse how the agency’s competition was dealing with the virus in order to offer ideas on how to respond to it in the best way possible for all areas of their business.
Most of my university friends returned home from their years abroad when the pandemic struck, but I took the decision to stay in Santiago. There were fewer cases here than in Europe, it was summer rather than winter here when it began, and sharing a house with other young people made quarantine feel more like a summer camp than what you might expect. I was initially to go home to France at the end of April after travelling in Peru at the end of my work placement, but I chose to stay in Santiago for my own wellbeing
The daily activities? Lying in the sun in the garden, trying new recipes from Chile all the way to Mexico, entertaining the neighbours with funny yoga postures and sweaty burpees, and being motivated to wake up from Monday to Friday as everybody connected to their laptop to follow a class or meeting. Friday and Saturday nights were still fun, I could do sports with buddies and force myself to get some work and studying done motivated by those working around me.
All those details can seem superficial, but they were what made life still ‘normal’. Maintaining a work routine, interspersed with moments of relaxation, actually made the weeks fly past.
While most European countries underwent total lockdown, the restrictions were more flexible here and people mainly stayed at home voluntarily. This meant I was able to do some little things I could not do back home, like going for a jog or having a restricted-committee picnic at the park near my house.
Most of all, I am keeping up with my main target of this year: improving my Spanish. I am getting more fluent by chatting with everybody around the house and discovering the local dishes and TV shows typical of Chilean families. Living in a house in a Latin American capital enables me to learn a lot about the Hispanic culture in general. With six different nationalities in the house, I am discovering the streets of Mexico by looking at my housemate’s home pictures and learning how to make proper quesadillas. I am learning some Catalan while watching Merlí with the Spanish ones. Also, we all get to laugh together during embarrassing vocabulary confusions, such as when the Spanish girl tells the Venezuelan one she is very mona (in Spain, mona means ‘nice’; in Venezuela, it means ‘conceited’).
Financial considerations were also a factor. I had originally been planning to go home to work while living at my parents’ house. Instead, I started to teach online language classes. From previously having just one face-to-face student before the pandemic, I made myself into a proper teacher by thoroughly preparing each of my classes and organising my folders full of grammar rules and exercises.
What lesson did I learn from the Coronavirus pandemic? Unforeseen situations can come up, but we need to stay calm and think about the pros and cons of each potential solution. Our plans and objectives may change, but we can always learn from the new paths we are taking, both personally and professionally. Even though there can be disappointment when our plans don’t work out, unforeseen events can bring us many positives and teach us lessons through experiences we will remember for life.