Q&A with Suzanne Adam, author of Notes From the Bottom of the World

You grew up in the U.S. and moved to Chile. Why?

I came to be with my Chilean boyfriend whom I met in Berkeley. We later married and settled in Chile where he felt he had better job opportunities.

What wisdom did you gain from living as an expat?

I came to realize that connecting with Chile’s natural world was the most effective strategy to facilitate my adaptation.

What was the best thing about Chile?

I’d have to name several: its climate, forests, the Andes, abundant fruits and vegetables and the close family life.

What was the worst thing about Chile?

Lack of diversity in the population and its classism.

How are the two countries different culturally?

The population of the U.S. is so much more diverse, producing a greater variety and richness across the cultural spectrum: food, art, literature, music, language. Only in the past decade or two, important numbers of immigrants are arriving in Chile, bringing about changes in attitude and cultural diversity.

What is the message of your book?

In these personal reflections on a variety of topics, I reveal the strategies that have enabled me to adapt to and live a full life in another country.

Do your small vignettes or stories connect into a whole?

The essays reflect facets of my journey of self-discovery through a wide variety of life experiences whether traveling in Patagonia, visiting my hometown or conversing with my gardener. Always present is my curiosity and openness to serendipitous moments.

What insights have you gained by moving and living in another country?

Living in Chile has provided me with experiences and perspectives that I would have not lived and known in the U.S.: a military coup, years of dictatorship and the transition to democracy; economic hardships including shortages of basic products, lack of availability of telephone lines, television, automobiles; insights into myself as I learned to adapt.

How important is the environment to you, and your writing, and how well do you know the many facets of Chile’s environment?

I consider myself a tree-hugger. Trees, mountains, ocean, and sky are my sustenance. I have immersed myself in the forests of southern Chile, trod the sands of the Atacama Desert, and strode along mountain trails. I hunger for more.

How connected or disconnected are humans from their environments?

I believe that those that live in small towns and the countryside are more connected with their environments. For city dwellers (and I include myself in that category) we must make a great effort to seek out our natural environments and even bring them into our cities through parks planted with native species.

Do you believe that small, local actions can make a larger global difference ecologically?

I see my neighbors and friends working to develop the recycling habit. Cities and the national government are passing pro-environment regulations. The Chilean media is very focused on environmental issues. Most heartening is seeing local citizens rising in protest when they are being poisoned by industrial emissions.

What have you learned living in Chile and what can the people of the U.S. learn from the people in Chile?

Although now most products are available here in Chile or online, in the past, before the introduction of malls, Chileans knew how to live frugally and simply, and many still do. Now massive consumerism, advertising and marketing have made for an agitated style of life in Santiago, the capital.

What is one piece of wisdom you can impart on a life lived in two countries?

Wherever one lives, happiness lies in generosity, tolerance and respect. Also, notice and appreciate the beauty wherever you are.

What is your favorite destination to go to in Chile? All of Patagonia.  Its national parks, mountains, and glaciers, are just part of its stunning landscape.

What’s your favorite Chilean food?

Pastel de choclo (corn pudding) and razorback clams.

Where does your heart belong, the U.S. or Chile or both?

My heart belongs in Chile because my family is here, yet I long for the California landscape.

You have traveled around the globe. Is there something that the people in each country have in common? What are the differences that stand out?

Each country, even though they may be neighbors, possesses a distinct rich culture, history and identity of which its people are immensely proud. Different indigenous and migrant populations have made each country quite unique.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, what are some of your most memorable moments?

Learning to live with the humidity, giant cockroaches in my bedroom, the nighttime chorus of frogs, wall-shaking claps of thunder; the gaiety of music sounding in every household; most of all, the friendships with poverty-stricken neighbors who welcomed me into their homes with dirt floors and no running water.


A California native who grew up in Marin County, Suzanne Adam served in the Peace Corps in Colombia. In 1972, she moved to Santiago, Chile to marry her boyfriend. She recounts this life experience in her 2015 memoir Marrying Santiago, which won The 2016 Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award. Suzanne, who calls herself a tree-hugger, is a nature writer, who loves to read, garden, and watch CNN. Before becoming a writer, this grandmother of four, including twin girls, taught learning-disabled children. She has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, California Magazine, The Marin Independent Journal, Nature Writing, and Persimmon Tree.