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Trip to Chile was eye-opening experience for Ernesto Marquez

Ernesto Marquez traveled 6000 miles from Kansas City, Missouri to Chile, a long and narrow coastal country that boasts a variety of climates and landscapes. During his journey with the Rotary District 6040, he discovered a country that could be compared to the United States and people who embraced them and opened his eyes to the global economy.

"This trip made me realize how large the world is. Going to Chile and being able to live like a local I realized how many similarities we have. It brought back that we are more alike to the outside world than we think we are. I think about how I am establishing my career and what do I need to do. One of the things is you must think global or you are going to be left behind,” said Marquez.

The opportunity to travel came from the Rotary District Group Study Exchange Team program. It is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for business people and professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their careers.

The team members experience the host country’s culture and institutions, observe how their vocations are practiced abroad, they study the economy, view their education systems, develop personal and professional relationships and exchange ideas.

Marquez traveled with Rolfe McCoy, Group Study Exchange team leader, Leslie Gasser and Alan Vanzant-Dominguez. The group spent their days visiting with Rotary members in Chile and observing service projects, touring factories and schools.

“We visited with a government run bank that gives loans to entrepreneurs and support business initiatives. We looked at their agriculture, we looked at different industries, such as salmon, which is a big business there, they are looking at ways to cultivate caviar,” he said.

Marquez has traveled to other Latin American countries and he was surprised when he landed in Chile to discover how developed the country was and similar to cities back in the United States.

“I was expecting to see very busy streets, people crammed into old school buses, which I saw in Central America, but it wasn’t like that. It was modernized, very developed and it was interesting to see no old cars on the streets. Their license plates are not the same as ours, they are European size. They consider their selves at the end of the world, but they live like we live in the United States,” he said.

The Chilean cuisine of seafood, beef, fruits and vegetables had Marquez trying several different plates of foods. Traditional recipes include asado, cazuela, empanadas, humitas, pastel de choclo, pastel de papas, curanto and sopaipillas.

“I came back 10 pounds heavier, the food was amazing,” he laughed.

During their time in Chile, they stayed in homes with other Rotarians. Curiosity about each country’s’ political leaders was a topic, but not the focus of the trip.

“They were curious about our take on our President. They asked how things were in the United States especially after the bombing of Syria, they asked what was he thinking. I felt comfortable talking to them just like I do my friends when we have opposite views,” said Marquez.

Through their conversations, they discovered that both countries were facing immigration issues. “They felt it was ridiculous for him (Trump) to build a wall. They have an educated way of fixing problems and I think that was a key point that I respected on every conversation we had,” he said.

Marquez learned that Chili has open borders, but he said people are conflicted on the topic of immigration.

“There is a big Haiti immigration and almost 400 new people arrive in Chili every day. The Chilean people are conflicted as there is a demand for people to do work that Chileans don’t want to do, but people coming in to do that job they are not welcome there. The last two weeks I was there they passed legislation to restrict immigration,” he said.

As he visited seven cities while in Chile, he found that his bi-lingual skills were a plus to helping them navigate the city.

“Communication was key when you are moving from one place to the other and trying to break the ice with individuals that you meet. We gave presentations and I would do the closing talk to make sure that people understood what we were doing. Surprising many people spoke English and spoke amazing English, but they also spoke German. They spoke English with a German accent because they learned German first,” he said.

Speaking Spanish in another country did make him a little nervous, as he explained, “Spanish in this country is different than what they speak in other countries and South America. Certain words have different meanings and the dialects are different, so you have to think about which word to use.”

The Spanish spoken in Chile is distinctively accented and unlike that of neighboring South American countries because final syllables are often dropped, some consonants have a soft pronunciation. Through an initiative called English Opens Doors Program, the government made English mandatory for students in fifth grade and above in public schools. Most private schools in Chile start teaching English at the kindergarten level.

Chile has crept into Marquez heart, the people, the country and the landscape calls to him.

“During my time there I created friendships and I have made it my goal to go back in January to Chile when it is their summer. Every host family has opened their doors and told me anytime I want to come please do.”

A lesson he learned during the exchange program is, “we are all global citizens and as the world gets more interconnected there is always opportunities to do business in any part of the world. Chile is a country similar to the US, it is a well-developed country and they have a lot of resources that make them a very attractive place for business,” said Marquez.