PART 1: Preparation is overrated

Freelance journalist Laura Burgoine writes: This time last year I left Melbourne, bound for Chile, with my laptop and very little else. I had no contacts, zero Spanish skills, no mobile phone, and no real accommodation at the other end. I was armed with a Macbook and the foolish delusion that this might just work.

I had graduated with a degree in journalism, early in 2009, inspired by my University’s motto “Ancora Imparo”: I am still learning. A year later I was using my degree as a coaster, and realised: I am still bartending.

An overseas hiatus beckoned. After stumbling across a newspaper internship in Santiago I gladly accepted the editor’s invitation to sleep on the office couch for my first few nights.

In my haste I certainly overlooked a few things, adequate preparation being one factor, a winter coat being another. However, with seven pairs of high-heels and an un-read copy of Spanish Step-by-Step, I departed ready to conquer the world, or at the very least pay homage to some of its airports.

Admittedly I packed pretty foolishly for this venture but I did take with me the best tool any person can have: a laptop. It took moving to a foreign country for me to fully appreciate the Internet as the pivotal survival tool that it is.

As an honourary girl-scout — another useless qualification courtesy of Camp America — I’ve half-heartedly committed to the organisation’s mantra that a girl scout always comes prepared. But while most girl scouts carry a compass and pray for fair weather, I carry a Macbook and hope for Wi-fi. While most girl-scouts can light a camp-fire with two sticks, I used my skills on my first nights in Santiago to Google “how to light a gas stove”, just to cook a chicken stir fry.

To travelers far and wide I cannot rave enough about the merits of Internet access. For any foreign journey Google is the ultimate guiding star. In fact the three wise men probably could’ve beaten Mary and Joseph to the inn or pre-booked a room if they’d followed the neon glimmer of open Internet cafés rather than an actual star, which is pretty limited as a GPS device.

I don’t think there was a single hour in any day that I didn’t use the Internet for something: to translate the Spanish instructions on the hot water system, to convert currencies, to find maps of where I was, to read updates on Neighbours, oops, I mean…  foreign affairs.

Having lived in Santiago for six months I can recommend it as a place where improvisation goes a long way. As Shakespeare wrote “all the world’s a stage”, then the good Chileans treat it like one big dress rehearsal. This is a country that took almost two years to notice that over a million fifty-peso coins had been put into circulation with Chile spelt ‘Chiie’. They then deliberated for three whole months over whether to fire the coin engraver responsible (and yep, sadly they eventually got the boot).

But to be fair, attention to detail isn’t a huge priority in Chiie. This was best indicated last year by the officials counting the Chilean earthquake death toll who seemed to have mistaken their jobs for a stint on The Price is Right, picking random numbers and then constantly changing between higher and lower. I hope at least one of them went home with a plasma screen TV. Then again, the great thing about being in Chile during a disaster is if you’re in the market for electronics the motto is generally loot now, pay later.

Like any destination I guess there’s always the risk of uncertainty, or worse: like having a bad day at work and later seeing TV footage of 33 idiots donning hard-hats and dressing up as you and your co-workers for Halloween, but can you ever adequately prepare for any of this?

Perhaps you can, but in my case Monash was right: I am still learning…

Stayed tuned for part two, in which Laura survives an earthquake and achieves fleeting local fame to boot.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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