By TIFFANY RONEY
A woman from Chile has traveled to Peru, Mexico and Spain for graduate and post-doctorate research. This week, Emma De Ramon made a personal visit to Abilene.
When Danise Auldridge, Abilene High School graduate, and her family hosted Ramon, then a foreign exchange student from Chile, Auldridge gained more than knowledge. She gained a lifelong friendship.
Across oceans, continents and decades, the two have stayed connected. This week, Ramon is back in the town where she spent her favorite year of high school.
“I want to see the high school where I was so happy,” Ramon said. “It was much better here because I was free.”
Part of the family
Ramon said her favorite times in Abilene included attending basketball games, going to Pizza Hut with friends and spending time with Auldridge’s parents, Dan and Audrey McGrath.
“I remember when we went out, every time we went out, they gave you (Auldridge) $5 and they gave me another $5,” Ramon said. “They treat me like a daughter.”
Auldridge reminded Ramon of a funny memory at Auldridge’s parents’ farm. Though the story started lighthearted, it ended dim.
“You (Ramon) liked it when they put guns on you and the cowboy hat. You loved it so,” Auldridge said. “But at that time in Chile, you had a dictator, and so your father told you to destroy the pictures when you went home.”
Ramon said she did not want anyone in Chile to think she was receiving terrorist training during her stay in the states.
From dictatorship to democracy
At the time of Ramon’s exchange student stay, Chile was under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinoche. Anyone who entered the streets from midnight to 6 a.m. would be shot.
Auldridge reminisced with Ramon about how different Abilene’s government was from that of Ramon’s home city, Santiago.
“I remember one night how scared you were when we were out right at midnight, and you were so worried that we were in trouble, thinking there was a curfew here,” Auldridge said. “At that point, there was a curfew, being underage, but we were on our way home.”
Ramon and Auldridge both said Chile’s government has changed drastically since the 1970s.
“Now, it’s a democratic government – we have elections and everybody can say whatever you want to say,” Ramon said. “You can go away in the night. It’s a good country. It’s a nice place to live.”
Auldridge went to visit Ramon and stayed with her family in Santiago in 1985. It was her first time in the city of 7 million and her first time on the subway.
Ramon said there was one “first” she was glad Auldridge did not have to experience.
“You don’t have any earthquakes when you stay there,” Ramon said. “It’s more fear if you have no idea what it’s like.”
Though Ramon said she has experienced several earthquakes, there was one in February 2010 that made her afraid. She said it was a tsunami similar to the 2011 one in Japan.
The Santiago tsunami came while Ramon was on vacation. When she returned to her 11th floor apartment, the damage was readily apparent.
“I come back and there were broken glasses,” Ramon said. “The building was alright, my dishes not, and my wine not. Chile’s a place that has very good wine, so I always have wine. So – crash – everything is a mess.”
Auldridge and Ramon commented that Ramon never saw a tornado during her time in Kansas, so they both escaped each other’s natural disasters.
During Auldridge’s disaster-free visit to Chile, the friends spent time at the beach and the mountains. Since the country is south of the equator, Auldridge’s July visit came right in the middle of winter, but Auldridge said Chile’s winter is mild compared to Kansas’.
“It’s a very beautiful place,” Ramon said.
Ramon: “The internet put us together again.”
After Auldridge’s Chilean vacation, the two did not see each other for 8 years. They wrote letters for a while, but their contact eventually slowed as their lives grew busy in other directions.
Auldridge got married, and she worked as a line mechanic for Phillips Lighting in Salina. Ramon earned her PhD and now works as the director of the National Archives of Chile and teaches history at University of Chile. She has authored more than 10 books.
In 2010, the long-lost friends reconnected.
“Now we’re back, Facebook friends,” Auldridge said.
Ramon confirmed the source of their friendship’s restoration.
“The internet put us together again,” she said.
Older but happier
Ramon said she would like to say hi to everyone she became acquainted with during her exchange studies in Abilene.
“I have wonderful memories of everybody here,” Ramon said.
While the two said they enjoyed reminiscing with one another, Ramon said the present holds just as much joy as the past.
“We are older, but we are happier,” Ramon said.
Auldridge said Ramon’s visit holds one small challenge.
“It’s such a short trip,” Audlridge said. “We’ve got so much planned, but the one thing we can’t work in is sleep.”