My semester abroad was so much more than I ever imagined it to be. I lived in Valparaíso, Chile for five months during the winter semester of 2014, and I truly believe it was the greatest decision I could have made. Chile gave me so much more than knowing what it feels like to live abroad. It gave me a challenge, it gave me knowledge of the world around me, it gave me the courage to confront difficult tasks, and most importantly, it gave me people who understand me and the passion that I have to get lost, to see the world, and to learn something new each and every day.
When I arrived in Chile, I was terrified, to say the very least. As the plane was preparing to land, I began to challenge myself with Spanish words, which resulted in me convincing myself that I knew no Spanish vocabulary at all. (This was clearly not the truth since I had already been studying Spanish for at least six years. But this was different.) This was my daily life depending upon my ability to communicate with people who only spoke Spanish. Within a few weeks of being abroad, I was confronted with the challenge of going to the pharmacy and explaining my symptoms in order to obtain a medicine that would cure my ailment. Although this doesn’t seem like a difficult task, explaining respiratory symptoms in Spanish was much more challenging than I would have anticipated. I succeeded, but not without a lot of struggle and embarrassment.
The first few weeks were a blur of misunderstanding my host family, meeting one new person after another, struggling to learn “chilenismos” (Chilean slang), and getting lost time and time again. Although discouraging at times, this was nothing in comparison to the greater and more unexpected challenges that I would confront later in my semester abroad. Rainstorms, sandstorms and snowstorms in the Atacama Desert. Earthquakes, tsunami warnings, and the biggest forest fire in the history of Valparaíso. This was my study abroad experience and I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
When I reflect upon my time in Chile, I realize that those five short months were the most alive I have ever felt. I was ambitious, fearless, passionate, and in love. I do not mean in love in the romantic sense, but rather, in the sense that I allowed myself to truly open my eyes and find love in everything around me.
“You can be in love with one thousand views and skylines and souls and minds at once. Don’t apologize for your burn, your passion, or your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm propels the world.” — Victoria Erickson
This is what Chile gave me. I fell in love with the graffiti on the walls in Valparaíso, with the strength and love of the Chileans as they fought to rebuild their city after the wildfire, with the bright blue of the ocean and the way that the waves splashed against the shoreline, with the sunset over the Andes mountains, with the silly penguins in Patagonia, with the sound of a prideful roar as the Chilean team competed in the World Cup, and with the people who were alongside me through it all.
Chile became my second home and it forever will be. There really are no words to truly express what impact this experience had on me, except that I have no doubt that Chile gave me the passion, courage and strength to fight for the person that I am meant to become.