I’m supposed to speak Spanish?

It turns out that my Spanish is really, really bad.

I quickly came to realize this upon entering Chile a week ago.  Though customs was surprisingly easy for a government notorious for making arbitrary decisions when it comes to immigration policy, I found myself able to communicate scarcely better than I had been upon arriving in Japan roughly four weeks before.  So much for 6.25 years of Spanish instruction.  I feel that some of the unintelligible babble can be attributed to two consecutive nights in which my total sleep amounted to less than five hours, but the most important factor was simply that the difference between “learning” and speaking a language is huge.  Even the kids in the sister program to my own, who theoretically have had at least three years of college Spanish, claim that speaking has been difficult – “difficult” of course being a relative term.

Orientation isn’t really worth writing about – for some reason someone thought it would be a good idea to put a bunch of jetlagged kids in a hot room after feeding them and talk for an hour about safety – but since my moving in with my host family my Spanish has improved dramatically.  Speaking exclusively Spanish in the house has made my speech remarkably more fluid, though I’ve only been here a few days.  I realize that the conversations I can have at this point aren’t terribly interesting, so I’m trying to refrain from chatting non-stop about nothing, but I’ve been surprised at how much fun talking is.

Classes start in about a week, at which point I’ll hopefully be able to speak more to the academic experience, but as of now the other thing worth mentioning is the Chilean sleep schedule.  At home a three in the morning bedtime would make for an average, verging on late, Friday or Saturday night.  Needless to say, when three days ago I found myself stumbling home with the stray dogs at seven AM, I realized that these next few months were going to be a little different.  Most Chilean clubs don’t really get going until midnight or two.  As for school nights – I’m told that Tuesday through Saturday are for going out.