It was four months and nineteen days in all. It was a new family, a new set of friends, a new language, a new city, a new mountain range, a new coast, a new tattoo, a new sense of independence, a new compassion, a new perspective.
I will do my best to make this conclusive reflection unique against wide assembly of abroad wrap-ups. Most experiences living on one’s own outside of his or her comfortable community, or in this case even outside of his or her nation, foster similar notions of confidence, independence, or humility I’d bet, so my attempt to individualize this summary may be no easy task. But I promise you I will do my best.
One of the closer friends I made this semester prompted me the other night with the ‘classic’ end-of-abroad question: “how have you changed through this experience?” It was a natural follow-up to the on-going conversation; we were already discussing how she was noticeably calmer in new, different situations (after having had to experience them for over four consecutive months) and how our other friend was visibly more in-tune with her persona, with her quirks and discomforts and needs.
But when the question got to me, at first I faltered. I didn’t want to make something up for my friends, but I also didn’t want to have thrown away 5 months in a different country. I mean, that’s the whole point of going abroad right? To figure out who you are? To have the 20-year-long epiphany that lets you know exactly what you want to do with your life?
Well, eventually I did find my answer, but it took me a while before I was really comfortable with it: I haven’t had any perceptible character change by the end of my time in the Southern Hemisphere. But I have absolutely learned a great deal, which is intrinsically linked to perpetual growth and change.
As I fly back on this uncomfortable, hot, stuffy American Airlines flight, I know much more than I did when I took the unpleasant overnight trip in February. I know the religious background of the indigenous Mapuche community. I know how Chile was completely reconstructed by and how it responded to a brutal seventeen-year military dictatorship. I know how to distinguish a wide-mouth wine from a flat wine. I know that knowing the words “cachar,” “po,” or “weón” won’t give me a leg-up in any Spanish class I take for the rest of my life but that using all three helped me get through a semester of making Chilean friends in a South American country. I know that machismo and backwards, pseudo-feminist extramarital affair responses to machismo still undoubtedly exist in the world. I know that the majority of other people on the planet neither adores nor hates our country, but rather that a great deal of people just genuinely don’t care about us either way – in the best way possible. I know that our education system is comparatively still fairly vertical in its professor to student relationship, and that I prefer learning that way. And I know thatm though I am now more critical of the US than ever before, I also have a greater pride in my country than I had originally ever realized.
So when I reunite with my friends this fall, they may not notice anything different about me. Physically maybe my hair’s a little longer and maybe all that white bread and mayonnaise eventually caught up to me, sure. But if anyone’s looking for something more than that, he may not find it. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t changed. I have. My five months abroad have taught me more than I ever could have learned at home, and that education, I’m sure, will permeate every decision I make and every action I take for the rest of my life. And so for that I thank you, Chile. Hasta muy pronto.