Nearly four months into my study abroad experience in Chile, I have adjusted to most of the cultural changes that come with moving to a new country.
I no longer get nervous before ordering food in Spanish at a restaurant, kissing strangers on the cheek to greet them doesn’t seem so weird anymore and I am completely comfortable with dropping the Oxford comma (OK, that one isn’t true).
I’ve become accustomed to this new world of mine, and I really like it — for many of the reasons I thought I would. Everything I once took for granted was wiped away, and I had to start over, finding my routine and a new comfort zone.
It was a little overwhelming at first – my head hurt the first week from trying to keep up with the new language – but, overall, I love the independence as much as I thought I would. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to plan my own vacations, buy my own supplies, and lead my own life.
This was all what I expected, and feared, about studying abroad. What I didn’t anticipate is a greater feeling of mental independence. Leaving my whole world in the United States has, in various ways, brought me closer to myself.
For one, I have much more time alone. My commute to school every morning is over an hour via bus and train — time I spend either listening to podcasts or in quiet reflection.
It’s funny that the loud, crowded Santiago metro is the closest experience I’ve had to meditation. I couldn’t say what I think about most of the time, but that simple experience of uninterrupted thought is one I haven’t had often.
I’ve also felt like I’ve needed to “find myself” with my new friends in Chile, to literally uncover my personality through the barriers of a second language. At this point, my Chilean friends know me by the qualities core to who I am – soft spoken, friendly, and funny, with a passion for Ultimate Frisbee – but it took effort to get there, which hadn’t happened to me to that extent before. As new people learned who I am, I did the same.
People often ask me, “How’s Chile? What’s your favorite part?” I answer with the default, “It’s great!” and list some of the amazing places I’ve visited. In truth, I have a feeling my favorite part of this trip is going much more abstract and internal than seeing the moai at Easter Island. This feeling of independence and simply being myself might be what will stick with me the longest.
It’s hard to say exactly how this will benefit me when I return. I know walking up to strangers to ask for help will be infinitely easier in English, and it could be hard to go back to having a roommate (not that our 15 years sharing a room weren’t great, Liam). But this trial period in independence has been a success, and I’ll want to have the same feeling when I can back home.
I can’t really say how the trip has affected me until it’s over, but I can say the new environment has changed my outlook in some ways. I traveled over 5,000 miles to a new hemisphere just to get to know better the one person I knew best: me. It was worth the trip.
(Jacob, the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children, is a junior at the University of Notre Dame who is spending the semester studying in Chile.)