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  • Writer's pictureGrace Rector

Creating Community: Painting, Exploring, and Acting

Moving to a new place is always overwhelming, nerve-wracking, and exciting. The easiest part is getting there and unpacking, but the hardest part is creating a community of friends that will last you the whole time. Working full-time is exhausting and at the end of the day I just want to go home, not socialize, but if I never leave the house then it gets harder to make friends.

In order to find community outside of school, I joined an improv group, an all-female ex-patriot group, and I connected with old friends in Santiago. Two years ago while studying abroad in Chile I was searching for somewhere to feel like I belonged. I didn't have many friends in the program so I made the choice to go do something I loved with the hope of finding people that understood me.

I found a theater called Lospleimovil in Bellavisa, and took English improv classes. Every week I excitedly jumped on the bus nervous and jittery but filled with happy anticipation at the same time. Two years later I stopped by the theater. I went through the main doors and felt a rush of familiarity and warmth as I saw swarms of people moving through the courtyard. I saw a familiar face that belonged to my old improv teacher, and I approached him. I gave him a hug and smiled at the thought of being there again.

Two years later, I signed up to rejoin the improv classes, but this time in Spanish. I entered the classroom clenching my hands in nervousness. Everyone gathered around in a circle and bounced with energy in their steps. They smiled in their eyes despite their mouths being covered by masks. We counted in sync, a game I've played before in English. The improv mini-games are fun because it's playful and doesn't require Spanish fluency. However, when we started improv scenes I got more nervous because I was scared I'd miss an important detail because of the speed of the Chilean Spanish dialect. Nonetheless, I tried. I paid attention. I threw myself into it and just had fun! Improv continues to be a weekly activity that I look forward to because I get to meet new people and because I put myself outside of my comfort zone.

See a snippet from an Improv show I attended, below:

In addition to improv, I looked for ways to meet other girls my age with whom I could hang out! I found out about an organization called Trenzas, which is a network for female ex-patriots living in Chile. I saw an event they were hosting that included a watercolor class. I'd always wanted to learn how to paint, but had never had the chance. I arrived feeling like I was going to school on the first day. I saw a group of 30 women standing outside with mimosas in hand laughing and smiling. I came down the stairs with a new sweater on and my hair curled with the hope of making new friends alive. I sat down at the only table with an empty seat and introduced myself to the other women. They looked back at me with kindness in their eyes and shared the various countries that they were coming from.

We spoke in Spanish about Chilean slang and how different it is from Spanish in Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico. We shared stories and chatted until the painting teacher arrived and started her instruction. She took a large brush and colored her whole paper just with water. Then she took color by color and blended oranges and yellows and greens across the page until she deemed it an adequate sunset. Then we attempted to do the same as her and laughed at our errors in the progress. We continued by painting on additional details, and bit by bit, our photos emerged! By the end, we held up our paintings proudly and shared them with one another. However, the best part of the day was our decision to meet up again. Not only did I have a lovely time, but I left with friends, and I couldn't be happier.

I'm always looking for more people to connect with, and I'm grateful for organizations and centers that work to create a community for people like myself.

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