The past month has gone by in a blur. After Torres del Paine (of which there has since been a fire, causing the authorities to evacuate most of the park), I went back to Santiago for a couple nights, then travelled to Mendoza, Argentina, returned to Santiago, flew home to Boston for a couple days, went to New York City for New Years, was been back and forth between Boston and my house and just got back to Ithaca.
Since I’ve been back in the U.S. some of the biggest “culture shocks” for me have been: constantly interacting in English, witnessing the differences in diversity, not having mayonnaise smothered over everything I order, not constantly seeing the Andes mountains and no longer using Monopoly money (Chilean money is brightly colored and the conversion rate is roughly 500 pesos to the dollar, making it seem fake- although my bank account begs to differ).
One of the things that I miss the most though is the ease of getting from one place to another. Maybe it’s just because I lived there for five months, but Santiago felt much more condensed and easier to get around than New York or Boston, and especially Framingham; if I couldn’t walk somewhere in Chile, the public transportation was always visible and easy to maneuver. At home, I basically have to drive everywhere and in New York City I felt lost just trying to navigate Manhattan, never mind all five boroughs…
Speaking of public transportation, I’m also going to miss all of the performances on the buses. On a lot of them you can find some sort of musical act ranging from rap to folklore to “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on a ukulele. In addition
to the singers there were clowns, comedy routines, bird imitations and people selling ice cream, just to name a few. Yes, they asked you for a contribution afterwards, but a couple cents was well worth the limitless entertainment.
Finally, I can’t finish my blog without acknowledging a key part of my study abroad experience: my host family. They all treated me as part of the family and went out of their way to make me feel at home. Whether it was Laura explaining a new Chilean phrase to me, seeing Gus (her boyfriend) get super excited to spend 20 minutes learning English with me, tutoring Vicente (the oldest child, 13) in math, lending my
iPod to Salvador (age 8 ) so he could play Angry Birds or just watching over Lucas (age 3) there was rarely a dull moment at home. At times I did miss the independence of living on my own, but my home stay gave me a perspective on Chilean culture that I never would have gotten by living on my own and created a home away from home for me that I would never exchange.
Here are some of the most common questions I’ve been asked since I’ve been home:
So are you fluent in Spanish now?
Although my Spanish has improved greatly, I’m realizing that “fluent” is really hard to define. Native speakers will always be able to tell that Spanish isn’t my first language, but I can have a conversation with someone, read the newspaper and take classes in Spanish without too much trouble. So in that respect, yes I’m fluent. Do I still have more to learn though? Absolutely.
What was your favorite place that you traveled to?
I’ve thought a lot about it and I think I would have to say Torres del Paine. There’s something really satisfying about carrying everything you need with you on your back for over a week. There were parts where felt like we had the entire park to ourselves and could take our time enjoying the beautiful scenery. Machu Picchu was an unbelievable experience as well, but there were so many people on the trail that I never felt like it was mine and mine alone.
Do you still want to be a doctor?
That’s the most difficult question to answer. I didn’t see anything that really turned me off from medicine, but I didn’t see anything that convinced me that that’s what I want to do either. I know that there’s a lot more to medicine than what I saw, so I’m going to think about it while exploring my other options. Research is definitely a thought and I’m hoping to get involved this semester. Another opportunity that I hadn’t really though of emerged as well- teaching. Between Gus and Vicente I found that I really enjoyed seeing their progression over the course of the semester and knowing that I was responsible for it. I still have three semesters left, and hopefully I can narrow down my options before then.
Do you miss it? / Are you going to go back soon?
Absolutely. I was ready to come home and see my family and friends here, but I’m going to miss the family and friends I made down there too. Plus, even though I’ve been to the extreme north and south of Chile, there are other places in between that I want to see, specifically Pucón and the Lake District. I’m going to practice my Spanish as much as possible here, but I know that the only way to truly perfect it is to surround myself with it again like I did for the past semester, even if it’s just for a couple weeks. Once I have the time and the money I will be on a plane to my adopted home.
This is going to be my last blog post, but if anybody has any questions, feel free to contact me, either via comment or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). The past couple months have been the experience of a lifetime and I can happily say that I have no regrets about it.