While I am still living in Chile for a few more weeks, attempting to write a blog post about how I’ve changed over the course of this semester feels a bit like jumping the gun. I find it a bit of a struggle to ask myself “Am I the same Natalie?” How exactly does change manifest?
It manifests in your thought patterns. It manifests in your fear. It manifests mostly when you feel the most vulnerable.
But self-recognition is due.
It’s true that I am now comfortable with being uncomfortable (or at least aware of how to make it through a rough patch). I have acquired a new level of being a good listener while trying to comprehend Chilean Spanish. The level of independence I thought I possessed before studying abroad has been surpassed over and over again with independent travels and basic independent living I’ve experienced in Chile.
In a way I feel like I’ve learned lessons that are ingrained in us at a young age, but it maybe takes an experience removed from your normal life to really grasp these lessons. The first one I can think of is that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. A support system of family members, a sense of comfort and safety, a food cabinet full of familiarity, whatever it may be. Studying abroad has made me realize all of the effort put into creating your reality. When you’re forced to recreate your reality, it really demands you to examine how you’ve been living and how you would like to live in the future. It requires you to examine what action or event led to whatever you’re feeling. You are truly independent in understanding your own emotions, and confronting your emotions won’t happen unless you take the initiative to decide to do something about it.
The second lesson I’ve come to understand is that the small details are important. How you greet someone, how you walk, the amount of effort you put into a conversation, all of these things are visible to the people around you and contribute to how others perceive you as a person. Even if you are unsure about the circumstances or feel unstable, the best thing you can do for yourself and others is to focus on small details and small comforts you can give to other people. Like greeting others with a smile and a kiss on the cheek. Asking questions about their lives. Expressing interest in others.
The biggest struggle I’ve experienced is a sense of shyness that I feel takes over my mental capacity at times. However I’ve realized that while being shy is a problem, a larger problem is how a shy attitude might make the other people in the situation feel. They could feel like they aren’t interesting to you, that you are a bit egotistical, that you are unhappy in being here, a whole string of things. So even though you think you will find comfort in your quiet, I found it to be much more uncomfortable. I did not want to run the risk of being perceived as a snobbish person. In my silence I found myself feeling detached from the situation and culture, and detached from the growth of taking risk. But even in this I learned something about my behavior and the direct way it affects those around me, even when I’m not thinking about it, maybe more so then.
One thing I want to be sure is clear is the level of self awareness you feel while studying abroad. It’s like you have two pairs of eyes, one looking out on the world and one looking at you in the world. By possessing this extra set you can drive yourself crazy with self criticism, but you can also use it to understand the culture around you in more fine detail. You can use it to examine the diversity of the humans around you and appreciate the strangeness of human life. There is an infinite number of ways to be a human and an infinite number of ways to find success. Your objective is to find what kind of human you are at your best and set intentions to get there.
I think sometimes in the United States we have a rather immobile, static way of looking at success. But in Chile, success could be selling your homemade empanadas on the street everyday. Success can be pursuing art and painting murals on the street of Valparaiso. The most important part is that you listen to yourself closely to know your own ideas of success and of course, to recognize your achievements as you go. Change happens every day if you let it accompany you. If you are awake and attentive with intentions and open mindedness, positive change is always a potential.