The initial two weeks of my time in Chile were far less glamorous than I imagined they would be. My program through CIEE began 10 days before classes began, with scattered orientation activities. Before leaving the US, I imagined I would take full advantage of this free time to thoroughly explore my new home and enjoy my time to the fullest. The reality proved much different, however.
Outside of the planned orientation activities and excursions my host family scheduled, I saw very little of Viña del Mar, the city where I live, and Valparaíso, the neighboring city where I study. To be embarrassingly honest, the majority of my time was spent seeking refuge in my room.
It wasn’t that I was homesick or unhappy. On the contrary, I was very excited to begin life with my new Chilean family in this new city. But an overwhelming and all-consuming fatigue held me back.
Maybe it was the sudden and complete immersion into Spanish. My host family speaks so fast and with so many slang terms that I have to focus intently on every word of every conversation to catch even the general meaning. I constantly rack my brain for obscure nouns like cinnamon, fiberglass, and platypus (we have some interesting mealtime conversations) and when I fail to retrieve them, struggle to describe them accurately with my admittedly limited vocabulary. At times, the energy to communicate is exhausting.
It could also be the massive amount of carbs I consume. Bread is hugely popular here, forming the backbone of onces, the Chilean version of dinner. According to one of my professors, Chile consumes the second largest amount of bread per capita, trailing only Germany. While I have not looked into this factoid myself, I trust this gauging from my personal experience. Fresh bread of multiple varieties is served at every meal. The options range from doughy to crumbly to tough. No matter the texture, the bread is always white and bland, requiring butter, marmalade, or the popular ham/cheese combination to add flavor. With such a carb-laden diet, I found myself lacking energy to do much beyond lie in bed and wait for my heavy stomach to digest the mass amount of dough I’d just consumed.
The fact that I lean toward the introverted side undoubtedly played a factor. As much as I enjoy meeting new people and making friends, the prospect of meeting 35 new American exchange students, my host family and their friends and family, my professors, the CIEE staff, and Chilean friends provided an excessive amount of social interaction at times. The lack of alone time meant a lack of energy, resulting in a sleepiness I couldn’t shake.
Whatever the culprit, I was a slave to my need for sleep for much of my first two weeks studying abroad. This frustrated me endlessly, as I wanted to take full advantage of my time here and start off on a good note with my new friends and host family. But I gave in to the urge and clocked some serious hours of REM cycle.
Now that my two weeks have ended, I find myself emerging from the groggy coma I was living in. I’m glad I was patient with myself and indulged in my need for rest. I finally feel ready to take full advantage of my beautiful and fascinating new home. My greatest lesson learned during this time was to be patient with myself and accept that not every moment of living abroad is mind-blowingly sublime. Giving myself time to settle in and adjust to my new environment was the kindest thing I could do for myself. Now that I have a solid foundation, I am ready to build my life for the next four-and-a-half months here.