Santiago is often overlooked by visitors in favour of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires but, nearly two months into my semester exchange semester at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago already feels like an amazing place to call home. But living in Santiago isn’t without its challenges. Chilean Spanish is particularly unique, with all the locals joking that they speak Chilean, not Spanish. And its true, Chileans speak incredibly quickly, cut off the ends of their words and use lots of slang. So much slang in fact, that there are whole books dedicated to it. The most famous of these slang books is called How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle. Inspired by the book, here are a few survival tips I’ve learned so far:

  1. Learn the slang, weon!

After my first few conversations in Santiago, I honestly questioned whether I could actually speak Spanish. I could barely catch what people were saying, and when I did, it was peppered with words I’d never heard of before. I quickly learned that Chilean Spanish is actually very different to the rest of the Spanish speaking world, especially since Chileans use completely different words for some things (for no apparent reason). In Chile avocado isn’t called aguacate as I’d learnt in class, its palta. And instead of using camiseta for t-shirt, they use polera. But once I got over the initial confusion, learning chilenismos has become one of the most fun aspects of living here. Some of my favorites include weon (idiot, but used as dude or mate), cachai? (do you understand?) and flaite (Chilean equivalent of bogan).

  1. Understand that everything comes with mayo and avocado

As an Australian that loves avocado, living in Chile is kind of like living in heaven. Avocadoes are incredibly cheap, and every meal seems to incorporate avocado with mayonnaise in some way. A classic example of this is the completo: a hot dog topped with avocado, chopped tomato and mayo.

  1. Explore what Santiago has to offer

While often overlooked in favour of other cities, Santiago is an interesting city in its own right. Climbing the Cerro San Cristóbal to get a view over the whole city, going out for pisco sours in Bellavista, checking out the Precolombian art museum, and wandering around the shops and cafes of Barrio Lastarria and Italia are all awesome things I’ve done in Santiago so far.

Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago 2
Cerro San Cristobal
Metro Bellas Artes
Metro Bellas Artes


  1. But, also escape the city once in a while

While I love Santiago, its also one of the most polluted cities in the Americas. So its definitely nice to escape the city once in a while for a bit of fresh air. The great thing about Santiago is that its close to the beach and the mountains so a weekend trip away is super easy! My favourite weekends away have included a trip to Isla Negra, legendary poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda’s beautiful boat inspired house on the coast. As well as a beach weekend in Cachagua with friends, where we happened to run into Sebastian Piñera, the former president of Chile on the beach!

Isla Negra (Pablo Neruda's house).jpeg
Isla Negra (Pablo Neruda’s house)


  1. Don’t be too surprised if there’s a dog in your lecture

I study at San Joaquín, the main campus of La Católica, which actually reminds me a lot of ANU. Think long avenues filled with trees, students lying around on the grass, wifi that doesn’t really work… Except instead of the ducks and rabbits that wander around the ANU campus, San Joaquín is filled with quiltros (street dogs). Santiago is filled with street dogs, and the university is no exception. But at the university each dog has a bandana tied around their neck: green if they’re friendly and safe to pat, red if you should steer clear of them. Every now and then a dog wanders into one of my classes. Most of the professors and students ignore it, but for me it’s a welcome distraction from politics lectures!