As of today, I’ve been in Chile for about two weeks. Though in the grand scheme of things (and in the grand scheme of my trip) two weeks isn’t a long time, it has felt like months because of how much I’ve accomplished so far.
When I landed in Chile, I hadn’t spoken Spanish in over three months. I had been out of school for roughly that long as well, and while more enterprising people than I used the break to work, I went to the gym and did LSAT prep. Coming to Chile was a shock to the system in so many ways.
Within a few days of living in Valparaiso, I managed to get lost several times and lose my temporary Chilean ID. I have found that nothing is a greater test to your foreign language skills than being forced to communicate while you are panicking. Last week, I got lost after having dinner with some friends because instead of patiently waiting for the bus at the bus stop like I should have done, I decided to walk in the direction (or so I thought) of my house until I encountered a bus. Big mistake. It turns out I was walking in entirely the wrong direction and left the safe residential areal for the area where all the seedy casinos and nightclubs are located. I walked around for about 20 minutes at a brisk pace and with a scowl on my face (to discourage robbers) before I managed to calm down enough to ask for directions. I had been practicing how to say, “Where is the nearest bus stop” in my head for a good five minutes before I found a worthy candidate to practice my delivery on. A very nice man who was sweeping the street told me that it was just down the street – in my panicking, I had failed to realize that I was actually in a part of town that I’d been to before. I made it home and I learned my lesson to not be impatient and to always carry emergency taxi fare with me.
I’ve only recently managed to clear the hurdle of homesickness. During the first week, I was a nervous wreck and just wanted to go home. I didn’t like any of the other exchange students, I hated the food, and I felt like I was missing out on so much that was going on in Oxford. My favorite band played a concert in Oxford and my friends texting me about it to tell me they missed me just made it worse. In an effort to find a piece of America in Chile, Anna Terry and I went to see Lincoln in a local movie theatre and get French Fries. Halfway through the movie, I realized I was wearing a shirt that had “REBEL BASEBALL” blazoned on it, and it made me sad that no one else in the movie theater would fully understand the (unintentional) irony of my attire.
I didn’t stop being homesick until I learned to be comfortable here and accept that fact that, for better or for worse, I am here for 4 months. Conversations with my mother helped immensely, as she reminded me that it had been my dream for years to travel the world, and that if I couldn’t survive this, there is no way I’m going to be a successful foreign service officer one day. After that, it was so much easier to get out of my own head. I took the bus by myself a few more times and did not get lost or robbed. I finally started understanding what my host family was talking about around the dinner table. I found other exchange students that I liked and managed to carry on conversations with native Chileans that didn’t end in them switching to English.
This weekend, we went to the sand dunes in a part of town called ConCon. We climbed to the very top and looked out onto Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. Later, we climbed down to an observation post and then onto some rocks to get a better view. I think it was right then that I fully appreciated the beauty of where I live. Viña and Valpo are sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean. Where I live in the suburbs has all the charm of a small town, but Valpo is big and bustling enough to satisfy my love of big cities. Yes, the Spanish is indeed muy raro and even un poco loco, but it is beautiful, and I’m catching on. I get to take some really fun classes (on literature, modern Chilean politics, latin American history, and Chilean culture) and I even have my first weekend trip planned!
It may be premature to think that I’ve got everything figure out, but I’m on my way there.