For those of us in the military, I think we take for granted how relatively easy it can be to make friends. We move so often, uprooting ourselves every few years, that we have to make friends quickly. We literally don’t have time to waste. I also believe that the intense nature of our jobs (our lives, actually) creates an initial foundation of trust, mutual experience and basic understanding amongst service members. I know I learned early to rely on the military community for friendship and support. Wherever I went, I found myself immediately part of a family and had friends with whom to hang out.
Having departed that world (well, almost – the Marines I’ve met in the past few weeks certainly hold the historic pattern – because of them, I already feel like I have family here in Chile), I’ve been in search of new ways to make friends.
Sometimes, it’s random chance. I made my first Chilean friends as part of my cell phone purchase back in August. Javier and Felipe (pictured below) were so kind and helpful as I struggled to understand cell phones, anti-planes and APNs. Javier easily spent 25-30 minutes with me, ensured that the cell phone was working, had critical apps installed (especially WhatsApp) before I left the store. Felipe helped where my Spanish failed me. By the time I left the store, I’d thought to offer a language exchange with both of them (help me with Spanish, and I’ll help with English). They gave me their phone numbers, urged me to come back to the store if I had any issues (which I did) and looked forward to working on Spanish and English together.
Another random encounter occurred a few weeks ago, as I walked towards my favorite empanada restaurant one day. Marjorie stopped me in the street with, “¿dondé está el supermercado?”. I replied, in English, “where do you need to go?” After she exclaimed, “thank goodness – English!” we chatted for a few minutes. Her husband was in Chile working for six weeks and she was just finding her way around. We agreed that catching lunch one day would be fun. So we met up at my favorite Indian restaurant (pictured below) and spent a lovely afternoon getting to know each other. You never know where you are going to meet your next friend.
But one cannot rely upon random chance alone. There is a global group with a Viña del Mar-Valparaíso community, called InterNations. (this was how I met Patricio) It helps to bring expats and Chileans together. When they sent out an email asking for volunteers to lead the Coffee Group, I thought, “perfect!” Coffee seemed like an easy and fun thing to do, and what a great way to meet people. I had used this tactic often in the Pentagon – grabbing coffee was an easy commitment. Lunch was often too much, and who doesn’t love an excuse to get coffee?
My first event was a complete bust. 😦 The group had pretty much been dormant for a year. So it is going to take some effort to reinvigorate it. I was determined (anyone surprised by this?). My second event was slightly more successful. I met a retired Danish couple there (Steen and Janne). One of their sons had married a Chilena, so they split their time between Denmark (one son) and Chile (the other), enjoying summer in both places. Smart people. They were so lovely, and we had a great afternoon had my favorite Indian restaurant (enjoying tea this time). (see pic below)
This led to my next event – an Intercambio (language exchange) that happens on Wednesday afternoons. The goal is to spend the first hour speaking in Spanish, and the second hour speaking in English. The group is mostly foreigners, but there were a few Chilenos this Wednesday. It was a great group – what a fun way to meet people! I also really appreciated having to spend an entire hour speaking in Spanish. I learned how far I have come. Though I’m still at intermediate level, I was able to hold up my end of the conversation. And because it was a language exchange, we all spoke slowly and allowed time for the other person to gather his/her thoughts. I’ll definitely be back. (pic below, large group)
My third coffee event was even more successful! Six people showed up (pic below) for coffee, pastries and this amazing coffee-ice cream drink. Oh my goodness. 🙂 What a great way to welcome summer – which seems finally to have arrived!
So I am making (more) friends, slowly but surely. And I’m having a fabulous time doing it. Till next time!