There are a lot of choices you make in life, but your family isn’t one of them. Lucky for me, however, I was born into a pretty good one. For those of you who don’t know, I am a sister, daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of some of the finest men in our country—members of the United States Navy. (Not to leave out the better half of my ancestry, I am also a daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of some of the finest women in our country—Navy wives!) More so than ever before, I’m realizing how much being a “Navy kid” has affected my life and the way I see the world.
Since my dad was a submarine officer, we moved around all the time, every two or three years. I’ve lived in five different houses since I turned three, and I can’t remember the three before that—and those numbers don’t even count my grandparents’ houses or the apartments and hotels we lived in between moves. Long story short, my life has been pretty full of change. So as I’m sitting in my room in my host family’s house, with entirely-too-full-by-airplane-standards suitcases all around me, I’m reminded of each one of those moves.
I loved every single place I’ve lived. Leaving was heartbreaking, and every time we got new orders, I’d beg my dad to let us stay so we didn’t have to leave home. Of course, we always ended up moving anyway (apparently eight-year-olds don’t, in fact, have the right to make big family decisions), and, sooner or later, the next place became “home” too. I think the best thing about being a Navy child—and studying abroad—is that you learn to be at home wherever you are.
As my semester is coming to a close, I can honestly say that I’ve lived in Chile. I didn’t just travel here, and I didn’t just study here. Santiago has actually been my home. I’ve made friends, run errands, battled the public transportation system, and established a routine here. I know which phone company will get you a discount at the movie theater, how to yell at a cat in Spanish (this image brought to you by Peteco the devil cat, who is currently hiding under my bed after a rather severe scolding), and where to go for the best selection of ice cream flavors (it’s the Bravissimo near the corner of Pedro de Valdivia and 11 de Septiembre, by the way). When I got here in July, I wasn’t sure how I’d ever feel at home in such a strange place, but now I can’t imagine not having come here.
That’s not to say I’m not excited about heading back to the USA. After all, Moe’s is there. So are peanut butter, refrigerated milk, my swim team, and my dogs. Oh, and my family and friends…them too.
Actually, the more I think about it, I think I’m actually really ready to come back. It’s been an amazing semester, but I’m finally feeling like it’s time. I’ve been here for a semester. I don’t think I know everything there is to know about Santiago, by any means, and I don’t think this semester will be my last time going abroad…but still, it’s time. I’ve learned so, so much here. It’s been a truly amazing experience, and I don’t think I’m the same person I was when I got here on July 24. I’m a little more confident, a little more independent, and a lot happier.
When I say happier, I don’t mean that Santiago is by nature a happier place than Charleston; in fact, I believe exactly the opposite. I don’t like big cities, and nothing beats the friendly Charleston vibe. Plus, Charleston is by the coast—come on y’all, how do you beat that? (Plus I miss being able to say “y’all.”) I mean that I’ve figured out how to be happy where I am. Being a Navy kid taught me that if you choose to be happy in only one place, you spend entirely too much time being miserable everywhere else you end up going. Coming to Santiago brought that onto an international scale.
There are a lot of things about living in a big city that really frustrate me. I hate public transportation (call me a silver spoon child, I don’t even care), and if I never see a Chilean public bathroom again, it will be too soon (let me put it this way: you’re lucky if you find one that has either toilet paper or soap, let alone both). There are plenty of other things I could list that I am ready to say goodbye to, but I think somewhere along the way, I learned that it just isn’t worth it to do so. Despite all of the slight annoyances, I am truly happy here. I’ve been annoyed, yes. Irritated? Only every time I try to catch a bus. But one or two missed buses every now and then isn’t enough to make me hate Santiago—in fact, it makes it that much sweeter every time I actually come out ahead and get somewhere on time.
No place is perfect—not even (as sad as I am to have to admit it publicly) Charleston. I learned a long time ago that if you focus on the bad parts of one place, you miss out on all the great parts. Santiago may be a little difficult in terms of transportation and toilets, but it’s amazing in terms of history and people. I’ve learned so much about the world here, things that would have been impossible to learn in America. I’ve made friends with people I would never have spoken to in the United States, and had conversations I’d never imagined having. I’ve eaten food I’d never dreamed I would try (for more on that, read the blog post about Peru), and experienced things I’d never imagined possible for a girl from South Carolina. More than anything, I’ve learned to adjust to the things that are different…and actually enjoy the differences! Rather than avoid the less-than-attractive aspects of life in Santiago, I’ve tried to experience them, to really get a sense of what it’s like to live here (Which I think is the point of all of this…I would hate spending five months and end up still being a tourist). I mean, let’s be honest here anyway…not every aspect of life in America is perfect (if you disagree, go spend some time at the DMV or the post office, and then we’ll talk again).
When I first got here, it was a struggle to find peace with all of the changes and figure out how to be happy…and then I did, and ever since, it’s been unbelievably cool. Living here has made for some of the best, most eye-opening months of my life. But now that the time has come to leave, I’m making peace with that, too.
It was an adventure coming to Santiago, and it will be an adventure heading back home. I know I’m going to miss it here. I’m going to miss my host family and the amazing friends I’ve made. I’m REALLY going to miss the easy classes and the fun weekends. But Santiago is just a place. I lived in Santiago, but my life is not Santiago. Chile was an experience and, to be sure, a part of my life, but as for my life itself…Where that goes is up to me. And no matter where it goes, I’m pretty sure that I’ll have it in me to find my own place and be happy no matter where I am.
So where is my life going in the long run? I’m not sure. But for right now, it’s going back to Charleston. It’s going to beaches and sweetgrass baskets, to palm trees and Harris Teeter supermarkets, and, above all else, to the four most important people (and the four most important dogs) in the entire world.
Which, you know, is probably the best place it could be going.