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Christmas and Tacos

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

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.Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

“Are you crying?”

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

That question is the most awkward way to break up the sentiment of saying goodbye to a best friend for five months, and that’s just what I decided to do on my last night in the states.

It honestly hasn’t hit me at all yet, so as my friends and aunts are crying that I’m leaving, I’m just wondering when all the hugging will be over. To me, leaving the country for five months isn’t much different than going from Chicago to Indiana University for fall semester. The only real holiday I’m missing is Thanksgiving, but other than that, I wouldn’t be seeing my friends or family between August and December. Granted, it is only July and I’m losing a month of summer, but it’s not like much else is different.

I think what’s so scary about this whole studying abroad in Valparaiso, Chile thing is the fact that no one can make empty promises that they’re going to come visit me. Being four hours away from school, my friends, parents, and aunts can all tell me they’re going to come down to visit, but we all know they aren’t actually going to. Leaving for Chile, no one has said, “Oh well maybe if I have a weekend, I’ll come down and visit you!” Instead people are giving me tips on how to survive and not be robbed—which is just a bizarre thing to give advice about. I’m a 20-year-old girl, going to a foreign country alone, where I’m scared to death that I’m not going to understand anything anyone is saying. Telling me I need to sit where the bus driver can see me just in case someone tries to stab me is not going to help me calm down, Target cashier.

That’s what I’m most afraid of—not the being stabbed on a bus and dying alone in a foreign country scenario—but the language barrier I’ll have with everyone around me. Technically, I’ve taken Spanish since I was in third grade and am planning to have one of my majors be Spanish, however, I can barely speak enough to order a burrito at Chipotle. Give me a book to read, an essay to write, or a subject to be taught, and I’m golden. Then ask me to tell a story, and I can promise you that you’ll regret wasting an hour of your time as I Google Translate every word I don’t know.

I guess those are the things I’ll be updating people on the most—leaving a large, over-emotional family behind while trying to build a relationship with my new, Spanish-speaking family. I’d say I’m sad about leaving in 12 hours, but I really just don’t believe it’s actually happening.

So I think it’s emotionally appropriate to end on a joke my neighbor told me.

“Bring lots of oyster crackers!” “Why?” “Cause you’ll be in Chile!”

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

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