I have two days left in a city I’ve spent 149 days in, and I’m not sure either number has hit me yet.
Seven days into my trip to Valparaíso, Chile, I was on day seven of crying myself to sleep, calling my dad begging to come home early, and googling 100 different ways to cope with homesickness. Even 40 days into studying abroad, I was on day forty of crying myself to sleep and begging my dad to come home as my search history filled itself with even more blogs. My parents told me if I still hated it at the end of two months that would be sufficient enough to make an educated decision on whether or not to come back to the states 100 days early.
Here I am with only two days left and a search history that consists of more than obscure blog posts.
I’m grateful I didn’t decide to go home early, but I also wouldn’t belittle those feelings I had for almost two months. I’ve met at least 1 million new friends, give or take, and have traveled to some of the most beautiful sites in the entire world. I’ve learned recipes of food I would have never thought of trying (cauliflower), found myself screaming at the TV screen during soccer games which I would’ve fallen asleep to before, and learned a language I was stagnant with for years. I had some of the most rewarding and challenging moments of my life in a country I was dying to get out of.
I was miserable those first two months, but I think most of that contributed to the fact that I had only ever heard how amazing studying abroad was and never about how hard it would actually be. The words of Chris Martin, “No one ever said it would be this hard,” would run through my head at all moments of the day those first two months and even many days after those first two months.
Of course I missed my family and friends, but I also missed being able to have a conversation with an adult—a conversation I could actually participate in and be sure I understood every word being said. I missed being able to walk down the streets without someone looking at me being able to tell I wasn’t from here. I missed going to restaurants, ordering something, then having the waiter switch languages because they could tell I just didn’t know their language. “Podemos hablar en español.” [We can speak in Spanish.] “No! It okay. I study English in school. I want practice.” I missed my Midwestern culture, my beautiful city, and walking into a restaurant and knowing what the old couple at the table next to me was saying.
People always said, “Get ready for the culture shock!” but never really explained what that meant. However, I’m not sure anyone ever could. Even now I’m having a hard time expressing what I missed and how miserable I felt just because I’m not sure what it was exactly that was missing. I had a family, friends, Netflix, and food, so like…what else even is there? Yet there was still something missing that’s just impossible to explain.
Going abroad was extraordinarily difficult and was absolutely not filled with only rainbows and butterflies, but I really don’t think I would be who I need to be without it. By going abroad, I learned more about myself and where I come from than I ever have in my entire life. I learned trivial things like the French think we eat cereal, eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast, sausage, milk, etc., etc. for breakfast every morning or that tornadoes are scarier to Chileans than a volcano erupting, but I also learned really important cositas [little things]. For example, I am absolutely a family oriented person who needs to be close to her cousins and grandmas or that I can survive being alone at a restaurant or on a walk or in a grocery store. (Granted, I still hate being alone, but at least I know I’m not going to die nor is the world going to end like I once believed.)
Being in a different country for 151 days, well 149 days with two more to go, has taught me it’s okay to be different from everyone else. It’s okay to be ready to go home, it’s okay to have cried 40 days in a row, it’s okay to not be the happiest you’ve ever been every single day of your life, and it’s okay to eat cauliflower and actually love it.
If the day ever comes where I have any sort of pull in any number of people’s lives, I’m going to make it a rule that they must study abroad. Without going abroad, I don’t think I could ever be the person I’ve always wanted to be. To be that person I still have to learn how to not start crying at the thought of doing my taxes alone, but I definitely have grown twice as much in these five months than I have my entire life. I care about things like politics and world matters now, and I’ve become very good at asking people to re-explain themselves in words I might be able to understand.
Look out United States. Not only will I be tanner and have an easier time pronouncing definitivamente [definitely], but I’ll care a bit more about things other than Justin Bieber and the White Sox’s latest pitching trade.