Abstract: All my time in Chile has given me some useful wisdom I’d like to share.
Introduction: In the United States the school year is almost over, the skies are warming and people are getting ready to go to the beach. In Chile winter is setting in, people are bundling up and turning on their heaters! This will be my last post to Reach the World, so I’m going to try and give you all some advice about Chile and traveling abroad in general.
Oh my goodness I can’t believe so many months have come and gone, and this is my final article for Reach the World! One of the most profound and hardest things to tell you all is that every once in a while I realize all of my dreams, all of my hopes for my study abroad experience are coming true and I can’t even believe it. Everything I did at first in Chile was something I weighed and judged thoroughly. I stumbled over my own words just because I was so afraid I would say estás instead of está. A rumor like “gringos shouldn’t go down this street late at night” was blown up in my mind to mean, “NEVER walk within a five block radius of this spot!”
All of my anxiety has eased. Like small grains of sand the weight of my paranoia dissipated until I didn’t even think it ever been there. My goal was to improve my second language, now I’m writing entire essays exclusively in Spanish. I wanted to make friends, to learn more about the culture, to ultimately become part of Chile’s everyday life. Now as I walk confidently down the streets, taking shortcuts and even giving locals directions, I realize this is becoming more and more true.
This didn’t all hit me at once, but a few events have really let me know how far I’ve come. One of those realizations came as my friend Elizabeth and I tried to go to and from a magical camping place called Cochiguaz. The whole trip took a long time to get together. We had to find a bus company, find tickets, find time and buy supplies. Most of these things I have never done before, I’d barely even camped. There were a lot of headaches until we learned our first lesson: It’s easier to plan with someone in person than on a website. After so many problems, we walked down to the bus terminal and got our tickets in about five minutes.
Secondly: you cannot plan everything! Elizabeth and I ended up making plans on the fly. We traveled to La Serena and simply asked people where we could get buses to where we are going. Everyone was more than happy to stop and try to explain in Spanish, and eventually end up pointing and gesturing with the map when we couldn’t understand!
Finally: there are good people everywhere. I’ve met some truly passionate, sweet, open people in Chile. They’re all more than willing to invite you out, talk to you, anything to make you feel included. These people are probably the ones who taught me the most. I’ve been attending grammar classes, cultural and even history classes, but if you get the chance to sit down with someone and talk about it, you’ll almost certainly remember it. We all learn in different ways and for me I learn through conversation. I get the chance to see their little twist or insight on a subject I learned and suddenly the whole idea goes from 2D words on a page to a 3D roadmap in my mind.
I still stumble here. I get asked a question in Spanish and the whole sentence flies over my head. I give people 3,000 Chilean pesos instead of the 300 they asked for. But I can communicate and that has become one of the most useful tools here. I still have a month of so left, so hopefully I’ll move a little further beyond ¿Cómo te llamas? But I’m more certain than ever that I can do it. I was right when I first said I would be changed when I got here. Sometimes as I’m walking around downtown Viña, with the sunset sun shining bright in my eyes I can feel a thud in my chest. I’m here. I’m in that small, weird shaped country I always see on the globe and I’m happy!
I’m so glad I got to share this whole experience with you. What Reach the World does is invaluable in my mind. I hope you all have been able to think a little more deeply about international travel and culture, just like I have every time I’ve sat down to write a new article for you all. Thank you, to everyone who pitched in to edit, publish and organize Reach the World and to all of the students and teachers who have become a part of the program.