A few hours ago (from the time I’m writing this), a volcano erupted in southern Chile. Ash covered the sky, a red alert was issued, a nearby town was evacuated. Unusual, but not something to which I’d typically pay much attention. I say “typically” because this time I’m all ears. And for good reason – in just a couple months I will call that country home.

There are all sorts of volcanic metaphors I’m tempted to use to connect my semester in Santiago with the eruption. I could say the trip is going to be a beautiful disruption in my life. Life as I know it is about to explode. But that is just a flowery (or, more accurately, fiery) description of my very simple feelings about going abroad:

related article

Why I stay in the Catholic Church

1. I’m excited.
2. I’m scared.

By scared, I mean marginally terrified. I’m going to be living with a family I don’t know, in a place I’ve never been, communicating solely in a language in which I am far from fluent.

People say it’s good to leave your comfort zone, but I’m getting launched from my comfort zone. My comfort zone isn’t even going to be visible with the Hubble telescope. 

At the same time, I know it will be fantastic. I can’t wait to get to know a world that is completely different than mine. New friends, new food, new culture, new landscape – everything that scares me now is probably what I’ll appreciate most come December.

Looking back at my life, almost all of the highlights, from sports teams to summer camp, began with a feeling of discomfort. There’s nothing unhealthy about being uncomfortable. It is a natural part of entering a new situation.

I signed up for a service-focused class called “Poverty and Development” in Chile, with one class and four hours of service every week. In an informational meeting, we discussed why such a class is a worthwhile experience. One of the main points we came up with was the creation of personal relationships. Service once a week for a few months might not make an enormous impact directly, but the bonds formed with the people we will be working with make it very valuable.

Connecting with new people is one of the main reasons I’m excited. Spending an extended period of time in another country with 12 random students, living with a family of strangers, helping teach English to impoverished children – all of these experiences offer the opportunity to get to know people I’ve never met.

Coming from the glacier-flattened lands of Wisconsin, I have always wanted to hike in the towering mountains of distant parts of the country and world. But I’m equally excited to build relationships with people from the ground up, as I know I’ll remember my interactions with people even more than the mountain ranges.

Chile is so outside of what I’m used to that it’s hard to even picture myself there. For now, I am going to try to appreciate the parts of my life that I take for granted, that I’m bound to miss in fall — familiar music, fluid conversation, people that know me well. Then, I’ll dive into something completely new, with a Frisbee in one hand and my camera in the other. I don’t know any better than you what I’ll say when I re-emerge. Let’s just hope my stories don’t include too many volcanic eruptions.

(Jacob, the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children just completed his sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame.)