Without having written even a single sentence, I already know that this will be my most challenging blog entry yet (perhaps that is why I have put off writing it for so long??). I don’t want to call it a “farewell post” since I am now beginning my second semester here in Santiago and therefore not saying my good-byes to this country yet; however, I feel that it is necessary to have a commemorative post to reflect on my first semester here.
My expectations for this experience were very high when I applied for the IES Santiago Calendar Year program last September. By the time January rolled around, though, and I had already moved out of Wofford and said a teary good-bye to my beloved roommate (who also studied abroad in the spring), some personal circumstances had changed and some fear had set in to the point that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go anymore. With such a mindset, it goes without saying that my expectations at that point were pretty low. Regardless, I stuck with my decision, and got on the plane to go establish a new home 5,000 miles away from my “normal life”…and I can say with complete conviction that it was the best decision I have ever made.
Chileans, Germans, and Americans celebrating a birthday juntos
In the past five months, I have learned a lot about the language, customs, history, politics, people, and culture of Chile and the Andean region, both in and out of the classroom. Through travelling all over Chile and seeing firsthand the beautiful, diverse landscape it boasts, I have met incredible people from all over the world: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Peru, Scotland, Switzerland, and various states in the US. Each trip and each person taught me something new and gave me insight into new perspectives, be it about history, relationships, politics, or just life in general.
With friends at the largest mall in South America
I have gained knowledge, experience, and life lessons as well. One of the biggest takeaways for me is the importance of having balance. There is a picture of a Venn diagram for college students floating around on the internet that says “Sleep, Schoolwork, Social Life: You can only have two.” While at Wofford, it was absolutely relatable. Here, though, I have been able to strike a balance and juggle all three—and I have been happier than ever! After all, education is very important, but what is the point of being in a new country if I’m not going out to seeit and experience all it has to offer? Because of this, I felt much more fulfilled and thus took advantage of my time here: I tried new things, came out of my shell, didn’t stress about the little things, came to appreciate my surroundings and the people around me, and learned so much about myself. Everyone and everything surpassed even my highest hopes once I opened myself up to change and learning.
Goofing around during a layover
I also learned the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. I developed strong friendships with some of the people I met this semester, friendships much deeper than I expected to make. Being in a foreign culture without your friends, family, routine, or even your first language really makes you form stronger bonds with the people you meet in that situation, I think. These people were a home away from home, a support group, a wonderful source of laughter and entertainment, a group of dear friends, and a family to me. A friend once told me when describing a trip he had taken that, “Any place you visit, is only as beautiful as the people you encounter there.” After this past semester, I could not agree more. Chile will always hold a special place in my heart, due largely to the beautiful souls I have met here. Some of these people, fortunately, are still in Santiago. Others, though, returned to the US a few weeks ago…and I already miss them terribly. It was hard going to the IES center, knowing that mis amigos aweonados wouldn’t be there waiting for me, and realizing that I would be starting the “make new friends” process all over again. But, as those friends and I said when we parted a few weeks ago, we were not saying “Adios” but rather “Nos vemos.”I know that this new semester will be different than the last, and that it holds new experiences, new memories, and new people. I wouldn’t trade last semester for the world, and thus I am so happy I have the opportunity to keep living in this city I have come to consider my new home. I am excited to see what all this semester holds in store for me…and this time, I am jumping in without preconceived expectations.
Cena de despedida con mis mejores amigos