Mikaela – Semester Abroad in Chile

Mikaela is one of our Arts Global Scholars, a scholarship program available for Bachelor of Global Studies students. Mikaela went on Exchange to Chile and shares some of the highlights of this experience. 

A fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of a new country is to celebrate its holidays, and I count myself lucky to have been on exchange in Chile in September to celebrate Fiestas Patrias. Also known as ‘el dieciocho’ (the 18th), Fiestas Patrias is the celebration of Chile’s independence from the Spanish empire. The 18th commemorates the beginning of the independence process, and the 19th is the Armed Forces Day. If the holidays happen to fall in the middle of the week, the celebrations often extend for whole week. Sadly, this year the 18th was a Sunday, so we only scored a 3 day weekend.

I loved the experience of getting involved in Chilean culture, and celebrating a holiday that is so important to Chilean people

One thing I noticed about Fiestas Patrias was that suddenly the Chilean flag was everywhere. You don’t normally see so many flags in Chile, or in Santiago at least, but from the 1st of September they were absolutely everywhere. Not only flags, but also typical Chilean dress. We visited a winery on the 2nd September and every staff member was dressed up, apparently for the whole month. Same goes for supermarkets. It’s very cute, although I’m sure the novelty wears off pretty quickly for the staff.

It is normally quite cool in September, but the weather in Chile had suddenly improved and it was 26 degrees almost every day. The change in weather had been making me miss Australia, so I was definitely hanging out for a barbecue and drinking in the sunshine. As luck would have it, that is basically what Fiestas Patrias is!

Fiestas Patrias is typically celebrated through asados (barbecues). On one of the days of the long weekend we hosted an asado at my house, with all of my housemates of varying nationalities and their friends. Everyone brought drinks and meat for the barbecue, and we hung out in the garden, grilling the meat and sharing it all. It’s worth noting here that I didn’t help to cook any of the meat, but I was constantly being brought more and more delicious things that everyone else was making and more than happy to share!

We spent the first day of the long weekend at my house, and then moved to another asado at a friend’s house in the evening. His party was on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. Santiago isn’t the prettiest city in the world but when it’s all lit up the view of the hills and the city lights is beautiful. We sat on the edge of the terrace and we looked out at the city and the moon and the fireworks. It was a lovely warm evening with good food and good people.

I hung out with internationals basically all weekend, but Fiestas Patrias in Chile is a more personal celebration than other independence days elsewhere. It is a time for family and friends and parties at home, and that’s what we embraced on Saturday.

The next day we moved on from asados onto the other great tradition of Fiestas Patrias which are fondas. These are basically huge fairs held in public parks during Fiestas Patrias, and they kind of remind me of English fetes during summer. During the day we went to Parque Ines de Suarez for a family friendly fonda. We sought out any and all free samples, ate traditional Chilean empanadas on the grass, strolled through the markets, and joined in on some children’s games.

Another essential aspect of Fiestas Patrias is the national dance, the cueca. The dance is a re-enactment of the courting ritual between a rooster and a chicken, and involves a lot of clapping and stomping and waving of a handkerchief. It is performed widely during the Fiestas Patrias weekend, at parties and schools and at fondas. At the fonda we attended there was a big tent, a live band, and lots of partners on the dance floor. This wasn’t professionals putting on a show, but rather Chileans celebrating their national dance together and having fun. What really interested me was the variety of people getting involved; this isn’t a dying tradition, it’s something that every Chilean gets involved in. The dance floor featured kids and teenagers alongside old couples, and people who clearly know how to dance alongside people just having fun.

In the evening we moved on to Parque O’Higgins, the biggest fonda in Santiago. This one was a lot less family friendly, and more like a big festival. We bought overpriced chips and went to the concert of a Chilean band we didn’t know whilst dancing along like we knew the words. When the concert finished we went in search of more music, and ended up in one of the makeshift bars where the tables had been moved to make room to dance. We danced until we knew the fonda was about to end, then made our way out so we wouldn’t get crushed in the crowds.

Fiestas Patrias was such a good weekend, probably the best weekend I’ve had staying in the city of Santiago. Although a lot of friends travelled to other towns for the holiday, I loved the experience of celebrating a national holiday in the country’s capital. It was a weekend of good food,  good parties, and good people. I loved the experience of getting involved in Chilean culture, and celebrating a holiday that is so important to Chilean people.