What Chile Has Taught Me About Being an American

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This headline might seem a bit obscure. What can you learn about being an American living abroad? The short answer is a lot! Living in Chile for the past year has definitely taught me more about the American culture and myself than I would have ever learned in the states.

Move Outside Your Comfort Zone

Everyday little tasks like going to the doctors, going to the grocery store, and picking up my daughter from school pushes me outside my comfort zone. I have to learn a new culture and new processes – make sure you kiss as a salutation, make sure you take a number for every line you stand in, make sure you have your produce weighed in the produce department. The list goes on and on.

When I arrived here, I refused to be paralyzed by fear. If I was, I wouldn’t have experienced all that I have, and this is a great business lesson. We all know Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Also, fear can be overpowering, but in the end, it’s your own mind that kills you. The actual task at hand never seems to be as bad as you imagined it.

Hablo Poco Español

When I first arrived and people were speaking a mile a minute in Spanish, all I could think about was how stupid I was that I had no idea what they are saying. I quickly discovered the best way to learn a foreign language is to get over yourself and realize you will make mistakes. Sure people might look at you funny when they don’t understand what you are saying (we all have been guilty of this), but you have to try. It’s the only way to learn and advance your skills.

Instant Society

I’m honestly scared for all of us Americans. At what point is enough enough with our instant society? Everything from drive through banking and ATMs, smart phones, and Amazon 2 day delivery has given us more time so we can add even more crap to our plates.

While Chile is pretty technologically advanced, it takes weeks (or more) to get a bank account open, its complicated to get a cell phone plan and the list goes on and on. I’m not saying I like this, but it just gives you a different perspective on things.

I think the most telling thing here in Chile is the freezer aisle. It is about one quarter of that in the states. They aren’t rushing to make dinner with a variety of frozen foods. There is one drive through restaurant I know of in the area, and you guessed it – it’s McDonalds. No drive through banking, no drive through coffee shops, no drive through beverage stores.

When is American’s ongoing obsession with the word “instant” going to stop? It’s scary to think that a gold fish has a longer attention span than us Americans.

Relax

It’s true… Americans are all about work work work. It’s part of the American dream and ingrained in our DNA. The more you work, the more you will succeed.

The Chilean culture is much different. Many Chileans will tell you they work so they can take time off and enjoy life. Many take off for a month or more during the summer, and they celebrate way more holidays than we do in the states. What you see during the summer, on holiday, on weekends, and in the evenings is people just enjoying life. Strolling by the waterfront, spending 2 hours for lunch at an outside café, inviting friends into their homes for coffee even if they are just stopping by to drop something off.

Ask yourself this: when you look back at your life, are you going to regret not working more? No… your regrets are going to be why didn’t I spend more time with my family and friends and the people/things that matter.

Now the key to all of this for me is, can I take some of what I experienced and make a life change for my family and myself when we get back to the states? Or will I be sucked back into the only way is the American way. I guess time will tell.

Jennifer Manocchio

After starting her career with Edelman in Chicago, Jennifer joined Sweeney and quickly established herself as an exceptional industry innovator. In 2004, she opened Sweeney’s first full-service office outside of Cleveland and quickly rose through the ranks to become agency president. Jen leads by example and without fear. She has been critical to agency growth throughout the past decade and continues to lead the agency into the future.