Today marks my last day in Putre. I took the bus, La Paloma, to Arica for the last time. As I approach the last week of my time here in Chile and finish tackling my Independent Study Project (ISP) paper, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on my time here.
Most prominently, I have grown significantly in my own self-awareness and my own shortcomings in knowledge. My time in Chile has shown me how little I know about my own understanding of the U.S. and the programs available to help our citizens. I have realized my lack of understanding of just how the U.S. health insurance system works. Beyond that, I have had the ability to truly think about my personal prejudices. I’ve always considered myself open minded and tolerant but that was challenged during my time here. One of the best examples of this was after talking with a Machi (the traditional healer of the Mapuche people) in Makewe. On the bus back to our houses, I had a conversation with another girl in my study abroad program. The conversation was about how we could not personally believe that some form of traditional medicine would work to help cure cancer or other chronic, often deadly, illnesses. It was a moment when I realized just how much I believe in conventional medicine. I am open to believing that medicinal plants can help with colds, cases of flu, muscle aches, headaches, and altitude sickness, but I am not able to convince myself that the same types of remedies could work for what are traditionally thought of as grave or chronic illnesses. How is it possible to believe that something might work for minor health problems but not major ones?
Additionally, being in Chile has opened me up to handling uncomfortable situations much better than I previous had. There were very few people that I met in Chile who did not ask me about the current U.S. government and political climate. I have never talked so much politics in my life as I have here in Chile. I learned to be able to have an open dialogue about the political climate in the U.S.
Also, last week I was at lunch with my host family in Putre and a pastor of an Evangelical church in Putre (my host mom is also a pastor of an Evangelical church in Putre). It was the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. The other pastor who was having lunch with us was talking about gay pride flags being put up at municipalities across Chile and even rumored to have been flying in front of the Moneda (Chile’s equivalent to the White House). It took me until he asked me if I was okay with someone being able to legally change their name and gender to fit their identity to realize that he was talking about the flags as a negative action. He proceeded to explain to me that he was not homophobic because he did not have an issue with the gay people (as the Bible says you should not have fights with others) but that he and the church were against the actions of gay people. He used the example of going to a park with his son and seeing two men kissing as violating nature. Personally, I find it hard to comprehend how someone can separate a person from something that they include as part of their identity. Furthermore, how someone can be convinced that they are not saying homophobic statements when stating that they disagree with and disapprove of homosexual acts with such a strong disdain. I tried to explain in this conversation that it is part of their identity and that it is a right everyone has to be able to love who they love without fear of discrimination or violence. It is also the right of each person to be able to publicly display this love in actions such as kissing, hand holding, hugging, etc without fear of retaliation. Whether or not my ideas got through, I do not know. But I do know that had I been confronted with this type of conversation previously, I would have become too angry to be able to hold a rational conversation.
Probably the most obvious ways that I have grown as a person are in my Spanish language abilities. When I first arrived in Chile, I was overwhelmed when spoken to in Spanish. I could not understand half of the words said to me and with the infinite number of Chileanismos that exist it was even harder to comprehend what was going on around me. I am now able to communicate the vast majority of the thoughts that I have (although not always successfully) and I am more comfortable with the idea that I might fail to communicate what it is I am trying to get across. When I arrived, I often refrained from engaging in more challenging conversation topics because I might not be able to express myself adequately. Now, the majority of my conversations are political, deeply personal, or full of words that I don’t understand but it doesn’t matter because I am willing to ask instead of just pretend like I know what’s going on.
And lastly, nothing helps improve your flexibility like vague directions and non-existent guidance. While the majority of the time I have been in Chile I have felt babied by my study abroad program, there was the occasional moment when we were given a task with minimal explanation of what we were doing or how we were to accomplish it. The most extreme of these situations was the Estudio de Pueblos. Essentially, my program drove me and some fellow students to the bus station in Temuco and set us loose to go to a town we had been assigned to learn about over two days. After two days, we were to take a bus back to Temuco where we would take another bus back to Makewe. There wasn’t much in the way of tips, guidance, or preparation. We were told about a day and a half beforehand what this project was and what it entailed. This starkly contrasted what I had come to expect from SIT after a month and a half of closely planned programs. This was, however, a little more of what I had been wanting from studying abroad. We got another opportunity to be completely in control of our schedules during this past month of ISP research.
Overall, I have grown as a person but mostly I have grown to understand myself more. I have learned what I do not fully comprehend and I have realized that sometimes I need to dig a little deeper than the first answer given.