It’s been a whirlwind since coming back from Chile — when you study abroad, it’s almost as if you’re in a little capsule far far away from the rest of the world. When you return, you realize life has been moving just as steadily without you and you must race to catch up.
I was thrown back in the game immediately, back to my studies and responsibilities and my summer gigs. Life continues, and I haven’t yet given myself time to reflect on my experience, even though it’s only been a week.
I expected to come back with a totally changed perspective — which in some ways I did, some ways I didn’t. You always hear that study abroad is this magical life-fulfilling thing, where you’ll come back feeling like a new independent person. But to be frank, I feel just as I did before I left in many ways. What I can’t discount, however, is my renewed confidence in just managing new spaces and reaffirming my travel skills. I’m not a new woman, I’m not suddenly Chilean, and five months in Chile does not a Latina make me.
But it gave me such a valuable insight on the daily life of someone un-American. I learned about how Chileans see global issues, how they celebrate holidays, how they kiss hellos and goodbyes, and cover their sopaipillas with pebre. I didn’t always agree with everyone I met in a political sense, but there’s such a strong humanistic connection to be made anywhere you go in the world. Chile was no different. Most of all, I loved learning to read a new city. I could flip metro stations like pages in a worn book, lovingly walking the same path to my favorite neighborhoods and waving hello to familiar cashiers. In Mercado Vega, I rifled through stalks of celery and ordered oyster mushrooms like a pro, carefully navigating through haphazard puddles and toppled plastic carts. In the gorgeous downtown streets, I bartered for gloves and admired the architecture, all the while understanding the lasting effects of colonialism in the Chilean mind. I reread the same chapters over and over, scurrying through the ever-present food vendors on my way to class or the market or home. Home. I built a home, a new one. To be honest, home was never my host family’s house; rather, it was my barrio, my coffee shop, my go-to leather couch in the IES Abroad center.
There are things I wish I’d done differently — I wish I had the time to take courses at the local university. Taking IES Abroad-only classes can be an isolating experience in any country, because even though you can go out and meet people — which I did — your closest friends are always American. While I loved my time with the IES Abroad kids, in some ways I think I missed out on creating more genuine and lasting connections with local students. To be fair, though, five months is a short time to build friendships in any language native or otherwise.
Now as I write this in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I cherish my time in Chile even more. I have ten days here that I mostly spend working, as I’ve done in past trips internationally. But studying abroad was an unforgettable experience because I got to settle into that space like a sweater. I have no doubt that I will return one day.
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<p>Annie Cheng is a sophomore at Yale University studying political science and ethnic studies. She speaks 2.5 languages, listens to jazz and hip hop, and is currently residing in Santiago, Chile. Her passions include journalism, environmentalism, and supporting the arts. By the end of her studies, she hopes to confidently claim trilingualism.</p>