After five years in Chile, I firmly believe that the best thing a Chilean can do to better his or her life is to leave Chile. Traveling is ok, but to get the full benefit, a Chilean should live and work abroad, ideally for at least a year. Working in another Latin American country is ok, but to get the full benefit, a Chilean should try to live and work in the US, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand or another well developed country with a completely different culture and set of values. It’s easy to see the difference in attitude in a Chilean who’s been abroad and one who hasn’t.
Both upper class Chileans and non upper class Chileans should leave Chile, but for different reasons. For non-elite Chileans, their lives get instantly better getting out of Chile’s classist system. They instantly have more opportunity, are more likely to get evaluated for who they are, how smart they are and not their skin color, where they went to school or their last name. Non-elite Chileans quickly realize that lighter skin and blonde hair isn’t always aspirational in every part of the world.
They find lots of people who actually prefer darker hair and features and find them more attractive than traditional northern European features. When I talk with non-elite Chilean friends who go abroad, they tell me that smart, educated, motivated non-elite Chileans find both their platonic and romantic prospects much improved and I would imagine self esteem has to go up. Their prospects for success go up the moment they step off the plane. They have the chance to see that if they work hard they might actually be able to better their lot in life. After being abroad for awhile, many non-elite Chileans don’t come back for a long time, unless they have to. And many of the ones that do, have a different view on what’s possible.
Upper class Chileans should leave Chile to break down many of the attitudes they’ve grown up with. Many (if not most) upper class Chileans are overtly classist and nearly all are unintentionally classist. Many, if not most, don’t mean it maliciously, but do it subconsciously.
Leaving the Chilean bubble where life is easy, people live at home until they’re in your mid 20-30s, have a maid and don’t have to worry about much, is a wakeup call that shows that the rest of the world really doesn’t have it like you do. Upper class Chileans generally don’t interact with non upper class Chileans, expect in service situations, so really getting to know people from different backgrounds, who think differently and don’t come from the bubble builds empathy and understanding for others that they likely wouldn’t run across if they stayed in Chile. Leaving the bubble forces them to recognize their privileged lifestyle and gain a degree of self awareness that many elite Chileans are sorely lacking. (Many times, you see a similar effect from sheltered suburban kids in the US).
They see that (shockingly!) white people do manual labor in some developed countries. That some people find dark skinned people more attractive than lighter skinned people. They see that rags to riches stories are valued in other parts of the world and not looked down on as they are in Chile. They are given the opportunity to recognize that maybe Chile isn’t the best country in the world at everything. And that’s ok.
Both upper class and non upper class Chileans should leave Chile to see what it’s like to live in a society where service is excellent, people trust each other and are generally nice to each other in day-to-day interactions. They can see that being passive aggressive isn’t the route to success. That asking for things directly is probably the best way to get what they want. That saying no to things they don’t want is much easier than saying yes to everything when they really mean no.
They learn to be more independent and not to always be able to rely on their parents getting them out of jams well into their 20s. It gives them a chance to raise their expectations for Chile so that when they come back home, they have a new attitude about what is possible, what is right and how they want to live their lives. By far the best thing a Chilean can do is to leave Chile. At least for a year or two.
Note: I think the best thing someone from the US can do is to leave for a few years too, but if a US citizen doesn’t leave, the downside is much less than if a Chilean never leaves.
Edit to add: December 14th. This post went very viral and I’ve said this in the comments probably 20 times, so I’m adding this here. The biggest misinterpretation of this post in the last line, the note. Many are taking it to mean that I think the US is better than Chile. I’m not saying that at all. My entire point is that the US is much bigger, has more immigration, more tourism, more universities where you leave your comfort zone, different kinds of people in different cities so that your chance of meeting someone different from you is higher if you never leave the US compared to someone who never leaves Chile.