Yesterday morning, the Chilean consulate in Washington stamped my visa. Three days from now, I will step off the plane at Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. Today, however, I have only one goal: to find one tin of the best seasoning known to man.
I step out of my apartment building into the cold. Although the sun is out this afternoon, the temperature still hasn’t risen above freezing. I check my phone and see that the mercury in Santiago is up over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Am I packing too many coats? I love wearing coats and jackets, but maybe ten of them is too many.
My head has been filled with this self-doubt and second guessing lately, mostly about my own ability to communicate with Chilean locals. My hair is getting a bit shaggier than usual. Will I be able to explain the haircut I want to a Chilean barber? Maybe I can just show a picture of the style I like.
At the deli a couple blocks up 39th street, I don’t find what I’m looking for, but I’m a bit hungry, so I grab some Utz Kettle Chips. They tell me that the minimum purchase for a card is $5.00, so I throw in some Ritz Crackers and a pack of Trident spearmint gum.
Will I be able to get these things abroad? My girlfriend always makes fun of my loyalty to certain brands, but their familiarity comforts me. Though, I think, stepping outside of your comfort zone seems like the whole reason to study abroad in the first place.
I head toward St. Paul street, passing the plinth where the confederate monument was torn down a few years ago, the Indian restaurant where they serve a great vanilla milkshake and the bookstore where all the college students wait for the bus to take them downtown.
How different will my host city be? Can I grow to be familiar with its local history, its cultural complexity, its education system and its public transportation?
I strike out again at the two small markets and the pharmacy across the street, but I grab some asparagus for my father to cook with our fish tonight. On the metal bench outside, loud sirens reach my ears, despite the music blasting through my headphones. I return home, catching the elevator up past the 13th floor, where my grandparents live, to the floor directly above it. The TV is turned to CNN, where they are still talking about the most recent presidential debate.
My parents keep sending me emails with links to articles about the social unrest and political development in Chile’s capital. Understandably, they fear for my safety. On the other hand, they and I are struck by the unique opportunity I have to see the country in a state of transformation.
I put the asparagus in the fridge, then peek into the kitchen pantry. That’s where I see it. On the shelf next to the bread crumbs and mason jars, a rectangular yellow aluminum tin and six ounces of powdered goodness. The perfect gift for my new host mother.
The journey I am taking will be uncertain, uncomfortable, unfamiliar and difficult. But I know, no matter how far I go, I’ll be taking a little taste of my hometown with me.
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<p>I am a student of journalism and geography at the University of Maryland, College Park. Although I was born in Chicago, I grew up in the city of Baltimore. When I'm not studying, I work as a whitewater raft guide in the Appalachian mountains. I love adventure, romantic comedies, snow, bell-bottoms, maps, mystery novels and my cat, Sebastian (he is 15 years old and I have him on a diet right now because he is very fat).</p>