These past five months have been truly incredible. The month of December has been particularly amazing without having school to worry about and I feel as though I really enjoyed the last weeks that I had in Chile. Below are some of the things I have been up to which includes the last program dinner, seeing Sinsajo (Mocking Jay) at the movies, shoveling poop for an animal humane society, traveling to Patagonia to see penguins, beautiful sights and animals, sand boarding at the dunes, a last beach day, visiting the botanic gardens, last visits to the elementary school I volunteered at throughout the semester, my last bible study and of course my last day with my host family. Although a lot has happened these past couple of weeks I want to take this last opportunity to reflect upon what this time abroad has meant to me as a whole.
When I started the semester I didn’t have many expectations. My main goals were to improve my Spanish and be an active participant in familial, academic and community groups. At first the language barrier was a lot more overwhelming than I expected. My previous Spanish experiences were limited to a few hours a week I spent working on Spanish classes and the sporadic conversations I’d have with my grandmother and other family members. However, to have my world in Spanish is something very distinct. At times I solely felt like a sponge—absorbing everything that came my way. I’d have to think a lot before I began to talk so I ended up mostly listening in classes and at dinnertime at home. Sometimes I would feel so exhausted just going a whole day with listening and look forward to when I could Skype or FaceTime in English so that I could dissect my thoughts in English and of course communicate more clearly what I was thinking. However, the danger in that is some sort of an “escape mode” where I could get through a day listening to lectures and conversations but not really be an active participant with what was going on around me. While it’s good to have an outlet to speak English I found it most fulfilling when I created a balance between staying in touch at home and building a sense of community and belonging in Chile.
In terms of building community here as you probably noticed my best friend Karrin and I have spent quite a bit of time together and I have also been blessed with a lovely bible study leader Claudia. At school in Claremont I’m used to always being surrounded by a lot of people but this semester I haven’t really clicked with the bigger groups. This was also something that I felt very discouraged about in the beginning but after some prayer I felt as though God was teaching me a lot about living a life of sufficiency. That is, it’s not about how many friends you have or even how well you speak a language when it comes to building relationships. Rather, it’s about making the most out of the relationships that God gives you and to rely on Him for the rest. I have definitely enjoyed the company that God has given me. When I think about Chile I cannot think about it without Karrin. We explored everywhere together and could literally talk for hours on end about any topic. I’m so grateful to have had someone to explore this new place with and enjoy so many new experiences with. I also was very grateful to have Cluadia as a bible study leader who was always there to talk to me and be there for me right up to the very last bible study and going away lunch <3
I started off this semester after having spent two months in Singapore and just four short days at home in between Asia and Latin America. In a lot of ways coming to Chile was like going to Singapore in terms of having to start over, build a social network, and, experience a new culture and figure out who I was supposed to be in it. That’s the funny thing about going abroad is that you go in knowing that you are going to learn so much about the other culture but what we so often forget is what you’re going to do with all the newfound information and what you are going to give back to it as well.
One of my main contributions was the work that I did at the elementary school. I grew so attached to the students and I really hope that they learned a little something about English. My job was basically to come up with interactive activities to learn English so as the final project of the semester we made a music video to the song “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars. It started out as a project just to learn a pop English song but one night as I was falling asleep I had this vision of the students taking it up another level singing and acting out the messages about friendship in the song. Using this link you can find the final product of our efforts as well as a short description of the project and outcomes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYfiswt46Jk
The last contribution was of course being a part of the family. Sometimes it would just be my host grandmother and I sitting at the table and we would have very long conversations about life and her experiences in which I was able to really appreciate all of the hard work that she has put into her family and how strong, independent and powerful her loving nature really is. I would often wander upstairs to see Cata as well and talk to her about family, love and religion and of course play with her kids. One afternoon I actually got to watch the baby Leo and rocking her to sleep was one of my favorite things that I loved about that day. To look down into my arms at this beautiful helpless creature and think that I could help her even if it was just for a little bit protecting her from the business of the world to just rest was so beautiful. Overall, in this household I learned a lot about the importance of family and what it means to pitch in when needed, listen and talk among each other and generally love and appreciate each person as they are.
As for what I am going to take away for myself is a deeper understanding of who I am. Each time I introduced myself people always stumbled upon repeating my first name and never my last, which is interesting because the exact opposite happens in the U.S. In the U.S. I always found that it was a fun and prideful way to pronounce my last name properly for people but my first name, something so second nature to me, was something very strange to explain to people how to say. However in the midst of clarification and correction of my first name, I realized that it was an opportunity to share bit of where I come from. However what I learned through this is that there’s a lot more to who I am than a name or where I come from. While culture greatly shapes who a person is what is more important above all is what makes us unique in it. I feel proud of myself, of my name, all of it, and the person I am regardless of how I seem on the surface.
So here I am at the end of my adventures. Although I was inspired to go abroad to work and study I was unsurprisingly most inspired by the people that I met. After being home less than a week I hardly feel as though I’ve been gone for seven months yet I have this sense of awareness and comfort with who I am and where I’m going that I have never really had before. And that is that no matter where I am or who I am with that I will always have the support of people that I love and in turn I hope to pour the love that I have on all those that I interact with. Hope to run into you all soon and share some adventures, experiences and love 😉