Potluck of Cultures

Francisca

This is Francisca. She is from Chile. She has recently learned how to cook typical Chilean dishes. “I miss the food in Chile. I brought some with me, like my grandmother’s jam, for example. These make us feel a little bit closer to Chile.”

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15203186_687876671360796_9194298706440002447_nA lot has happened for Francisca in the past year; not only did she get married to her husband Felipe, she also gave up her job as an engineer in a mining consulting company in Chile so that she could follow him to the United States for his PhD.  Excited about moving to a different country and looking forward to experiencing a new culture and learning new things, the decision to give up her job was an easy one to make. She tells us that her family and friends in Chile were very supportive of her decision. “All the people in Chile were happy because I would have a year to be relaxed without having to work. I think all the people want that there, because in Chile we work a lot!” While initially she didn’t really think about the implications for her career, during the past year she has realized that she is actually very interested in developing her profession. So, she decided to go back to school. After obtaining her GRE and TOEFL certificates, she is currently working to earn her master’s degree in industrial engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; studies that she will be able to apply to her chosen career as a mining engineer when she goes back to Chile. Even though education is very expensive in the United States, Francisca considers it a good investment for her future. “What I paid for 6 years of university in Chile, I am now paying for just 1.5 years of study in the United States. Still, going back to school was the best option that I had here… I never imagined going back to school, but now here I am! (laughs)”

15128808_687876704694126_7058142562191074011_oDespite the fact that, in Francisca’s opinion, Chilean and North American culture bear a lot of similarities, she is often surprised by certain particularities of the United States. Something that really caught her attention was that there is still a big difference between the different ethnic groups in the United States. “I thought that wouldn’t be an issue here because they have an African American president, but there still is. This is very strange to me.” As opposed to her former home in Chile, where the streets are always brimming with people, she feels lonely walking on the empty sidewalks of Atlanta, where people seem to take the car for even the shortest distance. “It really surprised me that people don’t walk. Here, I don’t feel like I can walk by myself, because I don’t feel safe. That is one of the challenges of moving to another country: you miss the feeling of being comfortable. In Chile, you know when someone on the streets looks dangerous, but here you can’t even recognize if someone is. You have to learn everything again.” What she loves most about the United States is its multicultural society. Unlike Chile, Atlanta, like any true university town, is home to a diverse group of races and cultures from all over the globe, assimilated into a cohesive whole. As a member of the Georgia Tech International Spouse group, she has also gotten the opportunity to befriend people from many of these cultures. “I think that is amazing! Knowing people from other cultures makes you grow a lot. I don’t think it is hard to be part of an international group of friends. Sometimes, though, you can have some troubles, because you don’t do the same things or think about things in the same way… But if you understand and respect that you have grown up in different cultures with different points of views, it is not a problem.”

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Although moving abroad has been an amazing experience for Francisca, she knows she wants to move back to Chile eventually. “Last month I was on vacation in Chile and I went to the office where I used to work and I thought: if I had been here the past year, it would have been the same now as it was the previous 3 years… but during this year in Atlanta, I have learned a lot and have met people from different countries; so it is nice to be here. For a short time! (laughs).” She claims the main reason she wants to return home are her friends and family. “I miss my family and friends. Now that I am not living and working in Chile, I can’t help my family anymore… after all they have done for me.  I’m also always worried something will happen to them and that I won’t be able to travel there in time… That has been very difficult for me. Also, a lot of my friends in Chile are getting married, having babies, etc. and I am not there. They are the reason I want to go back.”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

 

 

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