Christmas in July has taken on a whole new meaning for me since coming to Valparaiso, Chile a week ago. Since I’m below the equator, the seasons are opposite from home. Although the mornings can be as cold as thirty degrees, it usually warms up to about fifty then gets cold again at night. During the days though, it’s hilarious because there are people in winter jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves—lots of scarves.
For those of you from places like Florida or California, maybe temperatures that don’t hit sixty sounds dreadful. If you’re from Chicago, like myself, or have spent one winter or fall at IU, you can understand that 50 is like the beginning of summer or late spring. So when I leave the house with a sweatshirt or a light jacket, my host mom begs me to put on more jackets.
My bags were lost for the first couple of days which meant I was walking around with my host mom’s jacket, scarf, and tennis shoes because all I had was my IU sweatshirt and sandals. If I didn’t already look like a gringa (white woman) with my CIEE drawstring bag and my Valparaiso map, these clothes absolutely put me over the top. It was nice.
Weather is definitely a topic of conversation here just like the US but so is the traffic. When my mom said, “Hay un gran taco,” she was not saying, “There is a big taco.” She was really saying, “There’s a big traffic jam.” That was the first word I learned—taco.
Chile is bursting with words that no one teaches you. There’s taco for traffic jam, cachaí? for “do you understand,” and colcho for corn to name a few. My favorite is probably pololo which is a word for boyfriend. Novio is for fiancé. So when my friend told her host family she had a novio, her mom asked to see her ring. We gringas have experienced many awkward moments here because of the language barrier, but even after just 48 hours, I felt like I had a better command of it.
The only thing I don’t have more control over is this feeling of extreme homesickness. Each day I’ve been here, I’ve had a little breakdown at some point. I figured coming here for five months would be like going to school at IU for five months and skipping going home for Thanksgiving. It’s way different. Although it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I have friends who I love dearly, and am extraordinarily excited for my classes and excursions to start, I would honestly pack up and go back home right now if I had the choice.
I told myself I need to give it at least a month before I decide if I can’t handle this feeling anymore. I pray every day hoping that I get the feeling that I never want to leave, but right now it just doesn’t feel like that feeling will ever come. I think it’s okay to be sad though because I at least have a goal for myself—get through the first month. I’m sure I’ll end up staying, and I’ll laugh at myself for wanting to go home, but right now I have no desire to stay here until December. So to future study abroad students, if you feel this terrible in the beginning, it’s okay. My motto will continue to be “Fake it ‘Till You Make it,” and hopefully by the end of four weeks, I will have made it.
Until then, I’ll continue riding the buses through the taco while wearing my host mom’s scarves.