Thousands of feet in the air on my way to begin my fall semester in Valparaíso, Chile, I am in the ultimate state of limbo. I have said my goodbyes to family and friends in Indiana, but have yet to make any introductions in Chile. For these ten hours in flight, I am in between the familiar and the unknown. Surprisingly, the overwhelming feeling I experience is a peaceful contentment—I am exactly where I want to be.
The hardest parts of departure are over. All of the unexciting, bureaucratic paperwork associated with studying abroad has been filled out and approved. I’ve carefully selected which clothing to pack, what gifts to bring my host family, and squeezed everything into my bags. I’ve said goodbye to tearful family members and accepted that I am inevitably going to miss out on fun with friends in Bloomington during my five months away. I’ve dealt with weather delays, a missed flight, and resulting 20-hour layover.
Although the worst part of leaving is out of the way, I know another round of difficulties lies ahead of me. Making friends, settling into my homestay, learning a new city and university system, and the notoriously painful Chilean course registration remain to be tackled—in a language I’ve rarely spoken beyond academic settings, nonetheless.
As daunting as these impending encounters are, however, I’m not shaken by them. I know I will encounter challenges during my time in Chile, but that was a primary factor in my decision to study abroad in South America. I want to be forced outside of my comfort zone, discover my limits, strengthen my weaknesses, and question my beliefs. None of this personal growth will occur if I avoid things that seem scary or difficult.
With this determined mindset, I am overwhelmingly excited for the wonder that lies ahead. I’ve been dreaming of the wine, avocados, beaches, mountains, and desert for months. With just a few hours left to daydream rather than actually experience, I let my mind wander to idealistic scenes of sharing maté on the beach with my Chilean friends, chatting and laughing with them in perfect Spanish. As unrealistic as this reverie probably is, I’ll enjoy it until my plane lands and I’m thrown into the reality of living in Valparaíso.