South America: Expectation vs. Reality

Flashback to 3 years ago. I was applying for University and there was only one set of criteria when it came to choosing a degree: that it included the opportunity to go on a year abroad. Now, here I am living and working in Antofagasta, Chile and travelling around South America in my spare time. Currently I have visited Argentina, Peru and Ecuador, and have upcoming trips to Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. So, what is it like to live here? Is South America like everything we see on the news? Does it live up to the expectations I had set for my trip beforehand?

In short, no. South America is nothing like I had ever expected after growing up in the UK.
Before setting off on my big year-long adventure, I heard a plethora of negative comments. Everybody I spoke to implied that South America was full of drugs, violence and danger. It was suffocating, scary and was ultimately putting me in a negative mindset before I had even arrived in my home for the next year. Yet when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised, because nobody told me about how incredible it would be; all the wonders that would await me how this continent would soon reveal itself to be a beautiful place for me to call home.

To put it into perspective, South America covers an area of almost 7,000,000 square miles. Meanwhile, the UK covers around 94,000 square miles, meaning that the UK could fit into South America around 74 times! What’s more, the continent stretches almost 5000 miles from North to South (and almost 4000 miles East to West) – that’s around the same distance as from London, UK, to Havana, Cuba! Do you ever hear people comparing London with Havana? No? So why do we begin to formulate negative ideas about a whole continent based on the fact that they belong on the same 7,000,000 square miles piece of land?

Of course, some of the dangers you hear about are very much real, ongoing issues that are being faced in certain places within the continent. However, for the most part, the majority of these generalised ideas have been influenced and heightened by what we see in the media. I now realise that in reality, we must not judge an entire continent as one. For me, here in Chile I feel safer than I do in the UK. I feel free to be myself without judgement. I have experienced and become familiar with so many beautiful landscapes: deserts, coasts, jungles, forests, mountains. I’ve learned and experienced so much about new cultures and ways of life, and I’ve met some of the most beautiful people, who I can now call friends for life. So next time you hear stereotypical comments about a region or somewhere that you’re unfamiliar with: stop, research and maybe even explore. You never know, it could be the best experience of your life.

by Isabella Pugh


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