“Three things are likely to happen when you study abroad- you gain weight, you get sick, or you fall in love.”
This was the warning our “Latin America on Film” professor gave to us our first week of class. It was followed by this statement:
“Personally, out of the three of them, I’d prefer to gain weight.”
I will now tell you how I managed to do all three of these things in my past 4 months of being abroad.
1 Gain Weight
If you could see the food in this country you would understand. Not only do I eat an absurd number of completos on a weekly basis (completos are tomato, avocado, and (some might say) too much mayonnaise, all piled on top of a hot dog), but I also feel the need to try everything new and foreign that I lay my eyes on. Churros con manjar, chorillanas, empanadas de camarones… The food here is incredible. On top of that, carbs are served with every meal. Breakfast = toast and butter and yogurt. Lunch = pasta or potatoes. Dinner = toast with avocado and cheese. The bread is abundant, and I am not protesting one bit. I have a whole new appreciation for the bottom level of the food pyramid after this experience.
To be honest, I’m not actually positive that I’ve gained weight. I haven’t looked at a scale in my time here, and am perfectly happy with both that decision and the way I look. The weekly soccer matches with my fellow exchange students and sporadic attempts at learning yoga from youtube videos has kept me in line. I’d like to say that I spend a lot of time in the on-campus gym here at my university. I really would.
2 Get Sick
Getting sick in a foreign country is such a bummer. The medications that you’re used to, like Dayquil and Benadryl, are nowhere to be found and instead you have to translate active ingredients to figure out what you need. On top of that, you’re sick. Laying in bed all day because you feel like death is such a waste of a day, especially when you live 4 blocks from one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.
Besides a nasty cold I had a few weeks ago, I’ve had some sort of allergy for my entire time here. After two (unsuccessful) trips to the dermatologist, with my translator/advisor/soccer coach(?) in tow, I’ve given up on trying to fix it abroad. I’m so itchy and uncomfortable all the time, but if I’m being honest it hasn’t gotten that much in the way here. I’ve still managed to do all the things I had planned on and go all the places I wanted to see. This will be the only black cloud over my abroad experience, but it is out of my control for the time being.
That has been one lesson I’ve learned while I’ve been abroad- there is no use worrying over things that are out of your control. The bus is late? You can’t do anything about that. It’s raining right now? Well you probably shouldn’t have wasted time straightening your hair, but still, you can’t do anything about that. You have an itchy allergy to who-knows-what? When you go back to the states, the allergen will probably stay in Chile. If not, you will have an easier time explaining what’s wrong to a dermatologist in your native language. Either way, right now, it’s not within your control, so try not think about it. It is almost impossible to get stressed out in this amazingly beautiful and super laid-back country.
3 Fall in Love
This one is my favorite. My somewhat cynical professor didn’t like this one as much, but I adore it. I like it so much that I’m going to split it into three parts, to be as thorough as possible.
a. Chile. I have fallen in love with a country. The U.S. will always be my first love, of course, but now I’ve gotten the taste of another country, the taste of travel, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to stop exploring. Chile has everything- mountains, valleys, big cities, the beach, the desert… It’s an explorer’s dream. In my time here, I’m both sad and happy to say that I wasn’t able to explore everything. Sad because I missed out on the beautiful Patagonia and didn’t get to climb the mountain in Pucon. Happy because that is an excellent excuse to return to this country that I’ve fallen so hard for.
b. Chilean Culture. Besides the food, which I already raved about above (although I realized I left out sushi which has also been a very important part of my time here), I love so many things about this culture.
I love the language. Spanish is really hard for me, one of the most challenging things I have ever attempted to learn. However, it’s been a blast to watch my progress in the language. I officially know most of the colors and am great at ordering the food mentioned above (una tabla para dos por favor). I also love hearing it spoken. It’s a beautiful language that, before my time here, was almost completely foreign to me. Now when I eavesdrop on the couple next to me, I can actually catch some of what they’re saying. The only downfall is that all of the Chilenismos that I’m learning here will only do me any good in this one country, cachai? Sad that I won’t be able to bring these slang words back to my Mexican and Salvadorian weones in DSM.
I love the people. My host family is full of saints. They are the greatest people that I’ve met here and I love spending time with them and having (broken) conversations in Spanish with them. I’ve also met some pretty amazing people outside of my home, both exchange students (bear down) and locals. Everyone in Viña del Mar is on a whole other level of chill. Things move slower, nights last longer, and time is not a stressor but rather a gift.
I love the food. I know I already mentioned this but I just feel like I need to really cement this in. Before I came here I was the pickiest person. The list of things I “didn’t like” (because I had never tried) included my now favorites of mayonnaise, salsa, guacamole, avocado, sushi, and tomatoes. This experience forced me to try everything. And I’m glad it did because I have a whole new appreciation for so many foods now.
c. A Boy. Falling in love with a person is one of the most incredible feelings in the world. Never in a million years did I plan on finding love like this abroad, but it happened (as much as I tried to make it not happen)(and I like really fought it). I found a boy that loves the street dogs here almost as much as I do, loves the beach a little bit more than I do, and most importantly, and miraculously,
loves me, exactly the way I am. I had decided abroad was going to be “me-time,” that I was going to focus on myself and growing as a person intellectually, emotionally, and culturally. But how unfair would it have been to my growth if I had kept myself from love? That’s my excuse for falling, anyways. Even with this unplanned development, I have learned so much about myself here. In addition, I’ve also been able to learn about this really amazing guy, who I’ve fallen for head over heels.
Besides these things, I also experienced many firsts, I experienced homesickness, I experienced true relaxation, I experienced being overwhelmed, both by the beauty here and by fear when I first arrived, and I experienced inner peace. Peace at knowing that everything happens for a reason, and peace at knowing that after my time abroad, I am going to go home completely changed and yet somehow exactly the same. I am so happy that I went on this journey, so blessed by all the friends I made, and so excited to see where I will journey in the future. Chao for now Chile, te amo mucho.