It’s a week after I returned from study abroad. I’ve finished unpacking my suitcases and feel like my travel home is a blur. But then I remember the 24-hour journey in which I managed to bring not only my backpack as a carry on, but also my sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping mat that somehow made it through multiple sets of security check points. I also remember the entire season of Girls I watched with jet-lagged curiosity on the flight instead of sleeping. And on the final leg, waiting around in those airport chairs eavesdropping on strangers who I can understand because they are shockingly speaking perfect English.
The airport pickup was made by my parents who arrived with much enthusiasm and a little cooler of snacks to share. The reunion felt strangely similar to when I am reunited with my family in between semesters away at school. All one can really offer another is love and snacks at this point.
Shortly after I got home, my mother and I went strawberry picking. I’ve never been so conscious of such an annual routine. Take note of the small good!
There are a few strange bits about being home.
The first time I got in my car and began driving, it was a feeling of pure exhilaration and luxury. I turned on the radio and felt like a million dollars.
I have a whole closet, dresser, and shelf full of clothes to wear now and am somehow feeling slightly nostalgic for my living-out-of-a-suitcase life. This is something I thought to be impossible beforehand. I donated multiple bags of clothing to the thrift store right away.
Being home is a bit strange because you want to share your experience perfectly so you feel a bit disappointed when people don’t ask you about it, but feel equally disappointed when they do ask and you struggle to define your experience in the 30 seconds available. There are just so may facets to include in the explanation. I believe this gets easier.
The face I make for reverse culture shock as a stranger at my own kitchen table. Modeled by university cat.
A few oddities worth mentioning:
My Facebook newsfeed is a mix of memes in both English and Spanish.
In a recent trip to town, my friend hands me his Jeep’s auxiliary cord. I put on Chilean reggae music and begin to tap the rhythm out on my thighs. He just laughs.
I feel even more strongly now post-Chile that our consumer markets are flooded with way too much stuff as I stand in front of the five shelves of peanut butter in the grocery store, reflecting on the choice between merely two types in Chile.
I wonder when I’ll find a liquor store that sells Pisco, the Chilean alcohol distilled from grapes.
I complain about the quality of avocados in Wisconsin as I open a smelly too-many-days-old one from our counter. I recall how avocados seemed immune to aging in Chile. I also feel a queasy sort of guilt for all the food miles we rack up with produce in the States.
Outside my window I hear the sound of summer frogs instead of the weekly marching band practice that sounded below my Valparaiso apartment. The cars that pass by do so in silence and I find myself grappling to define the feeling that something is missing. I realize I miss the lack of cars with open windows stuck in traffic constantly, stretched along the oceanfront and the narrow streets. Many Chileans like to leave room for their reggaeton beats to waft out.
A Chilean lesson: the meaning is always in the small details.
I visit the flea market on Sunday and it reminds me of Valparaiso’s. My mom motions to the meats for sale, wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap, labeled, and in buckets of ice. I think about the carts of raw fish in Chile with the juices running down the sides onto the sidewalk.
There are plenty of things here I appreciate, like setting my own mealtimes, free access to my large book collection, and the easily attained feeling of home. I missed being surrounded by forested area and seeing the deer graze in the yard. I’ve enjoyed planting the garden and weeding the kale again.
A few of my favorite things I enjoyed the first week home: green salad, libraries, and iced coffee.
But it’s quiet here and pretty stable. I miss the chaotic, random unfolding of events of a night in Valparaiso and I miss the constant opportunity for something to happen. I suppose I have been trying to find small ways to add adventure and challenge to my days here since my time away allows me to look at it all with fresh eyes.
When I first arrived home I was scared I had settled back in too easily. But as I’ve made present in the examples above, Chile is present in my thoughts and is becoming more and more frequent. I keep finding more reasons to appreciate the experience.
As for my future, my appetite for the pursuit of my goals in life seems to have grown. I’ve been devouring magazine articles and short stories, noting remarkable authors and different approaches to journalism. I’ve been thinking about new ideas to write about this fall for my school’s magazine and narrowing in on my internship options. Making goals to read more, write more, and tackle some more Spanish reading seems to have become a daily trend right after brewing my morning coffee. Each cup is a treat as I thank my garage-sale-bought Coffeemate and recall the trademark Nescafe packets of Chilean instant coffee.
I envision my life being a fuse of lines of writing, reading, non-profit work, magazine articles, and representing differences, while simultaneously embarking on my own quest. My world has grown. My world is changing. I step into my old location as a new blend of myselves, pre-Chile and post.
Ciao Chile!! This photo captures the finale of a steep climb that I made at the national park La Campana. Only a bit more steep and rocky than the challenge of studying abroad! (Hah!)