During the summer of 1981, as a rising junior at Boca Raton High School, I applied to be an exchange student with American Field Service, or AFS. I was accepted into the program and assigned to Chile, in South America. My host parents Erika and Hector Arancibia met me at the airport. I remember Erika being so happy that I had arrived … and yet Hector was so solemn. Hmmm. Wonder why? It turns out that Erika had not told her husband until that day that I would be spending the summer at their home in Valparaiso! Yikes! And to boot, they had a young child, Paulita, whose room I would be occupying … which meant she was staying in their room!
I loved my time in Valparaiso, in Cerro Placeres. It was a working class city, and we lived in a humble two-bedroom / 1 bath home. As Chile is in the southern hemisphere, that meant summer was their winter, and it was cold! To take a warm shower you had to pour phosphorous into the tray where the shower spigot, and then light it. For food, I remember eating lots of wonderful bread and prietas (blood in intestines), which I found horrifying. I went to school during the week at the Liceo Commercial, a pre-university that prepared its students for financial-related jobs. And I met a wonderful friend, Ms. Erica Castro, with whom I hung out with every day after school.
After Hector got over the shock of a strange American living in his home for three months, he finally took a liking to me, and attempted to show me how to play the guitar. To this day, I still play “Baila Bamba”, and think of him when I play those 3 chords he showed me. After school, I enjoyed going down to the Police Department where Hector and Erika worked, to get a delicious bocadillo (sandwich).
Erika’s family were wonderful and we’d often go to their home for various celebrations, occasions and holidays. I have several distinct memories of my time in Chile. One was traveling to the Portillo ski resort, a few hours outside of Santiago. Another of the most memorable times I remember in Valparaiso was being shaken out of bed by a large earthquake. I vividly remember thinking that the house might fall down on me … this was not something I had ever experienced living in Florida. To this day, I look so fondly back on my time in Chile, and stay in touch with my Chilean mother Erika on Facebook.