At the start of the trip I was very nervous and apprehensive about what the week would hold. Going into the trip, I had little to no knowledge about Latin America (maybe some experience with Spanish in year 9 but asides from that I really didn't know what to expect). The drive from the airport to the hotel was an experience in itself, with Santiago’s large gap in economic welfare becoming quite apparent. It was shocking to see slums and litter scattered on one side of the road, contrasted with large, modern high-rise buildings on the other. Although we have rich areas and poor areas in New Zealand, comparatively we don't have such blatant disparity between the two.
Once in the city we went on a walk up a large rock formation called Santa Lucia, where we finally got to the top. I genuinely could not believe how large Santiago was! Being somewhere with such a huge population and not being able to see even close to the edge of the city was extremely overwhelming.
The next day was our first opportunity to get fully immersed in Chile and explore Santiago. The day started with our first Chilean language lesson which I was surprisingly anxious about. At the start I really struggled, but soon found myself gaining more confidence as the lessons continued. The walking tour was a great experience, learning about the rich history Chile has to offer and the recent tragedies they faced was extremely eye-opening. The free time was a great excuse to try to speak the language and interact with the people of Santiago – these are some of my most memorable experiences.
The company visits taught me an unbelievable amount about business in Chile and the culture which was integral to being successful throughout the country. Due to the businesses being spread across so many different sectors meant getting insight from a diverse range of perspectives, which really helped form our business strategy for the challenge. It was interesting to observe the common insights shared by each business person at the different companies. Much of this knowledge could only be learned from living and working in Chile and getting real accounts from the people with the wisdom gained from life experience. This was something I really appreciated about the trip.
Visiting so many businesses in one day taught me a lot about being an active listener, despite being tired or feeling unmotivated. I learnt the importance of giving people the attention they deserve, especially when they’re giving up their own time to present and share their expertise. Through this, my understanding of Chile developed into a more well-informed opinion and allowed me to become more aware of the complexities of Chile’s values and customs. I can confidently say that the information that I took away from the business trips are all going to help me in the long-term and throughout my life in business. I have immense respect for all the people who spoke to us, each of them being undoubtedly passionate about what they do and so excited to share everything they know with us. No textbook or google search could have taught me the valuable and extensive information that was offered to us during those trips and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
My perceptions of Chile and Latin America have completely changed over the course of one week. Unknowingly, I held all the common misconceptions going into Chile and from everything I experienced I discovered I was completely wrong. An aspect that I love about the culture was the emphasis placed on formality and hospitability. Even just walking outside the hotel, I noticed everyone's high standard of dress even in a neglected area of town. It was refreshing to hear about the strongly upheld traditional side of the business. Face to face interaction is very important, and having recurring meetings to establish a relationship before jumping into business with someone is essential. Meeting the Grange students gave us a chance to interact with people our own age and compare our lifestyles and language which taught me a lot.
I wish we had more time with the Grange School students (the local school students that we worked with on the business challenge), as they gave a really contrasting perspective on Chile compared to many of the other people who we had met. The business challenge presentation section of the trip was unbelievably stressful, but it was a good chance to test our new knowledge and gave us a goal to work towards during the business visits to ensure we stayed focused.
There was much that we learned which was an honest reflection of Chile like some of the corruption and disjointed systems which the country ran on. Scattered throughout the trip we were hit with some rough facts around the stability of the country. For instance, the poor public/private school system was shocking, especially coming from a country where regardless of school type you are generally giving a decent education. I definitely took a lot away from visiting the WineBox Hotel and being confronted with the harsh realities which you may be faced when you attempted to go against the societal normalities. All of the buildings in Santiago are owned by seven wealthy families, which is quite a concerning circumstance. Many of the people we spoke to pointed out how much class and social hierarchy was ingrained in the Chilean lifestyle. Each country has its flaws and it was nice to get a perspective of Chile and be able to leave with a genuine understanding of the inner workings of the country. The trip taught me a lot and made me so grateful for what we have in New Zealand and I’m excited to go back to Chile in the near future.