Before returning home to the U.S., IES Abroad staff warned my group to expect reverse culture shock. However, I was not concerned. I knew I would be sad to leave all my new friends I made in Chile and all my love for Chilean food and culture, but I figured that any yearning with Chile would be distracted by reuniting with my friends and family at home. I thought that I would quickly readjust to my regular life in the U.S. of speaking English, driving most days instead of using public transportation, and eating bland fruit.
However, when I landed in the U.S. the first culture shock was speaking English. By accident, I said “gracias” to the flight attendant as I was used to speaking Spanish in public. The Washington Reagan Airport, which I had flown in and out of over 20 times in my life suddenly felt strange to me. Usually, I feel a sense of ease walking out the gate at my home airport; I recognize many of the restaurants and walking to the baggage claim is like muscle memory. But this time I found myself having to use the signs to figure out how to exit the airport. The airport also felt much brighter than I remembered—the lights and vividly colored signs of the stores and restaurants were overwhelming.
Then, when I finally left the airport, waiting to be picked up by my family, I was surprised by larger car sizes and I remember staring in confusion at the outfit of a woman. I thought to myself “What in the world is she wearing?”. The patterns of the outfit were mismatched and the colors clashed: dotted blue pants with a yellow striped blouse. In Chile, I never had seen such a bold outfit.
As my eyes adjusted to the overwhelming colors of clothing and storefronts that I had missed in Chile for the past four months, similarly I had to get used to only speaking English. The following day after my return home I had to go to the post office for an errand. On my walk over, I remembered that I needed tape to send my package and I started translating in my head how I would ask the mail carrier for tape. But I could not remember the word for tape in Spanish. Before I started to stress about not knowing the right Spanish word for my future interaction, I realized that I would not have to speak in Spanish! Ironically, I also remembered that the word used in Chile for tape is actually “scotch,” which is an American tape brand.
One of the things I was most excited about returning to the U.S. was being able to use my native tongue. No longer would I have to be at a loss for words in Spanish or refrain from telling a joke or story because I didn’t have the patience to explain it in another language. But rather than enjoying the ability to constantly speak in English, I found myself missing Chilean phrases that I used to express myself, which did not have the same translation in English. After a semester abroad in Chile, I realize that all I experienced will always be a part of me.
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Hi! I'm Mira and I'm a Chemistry major at Grinnell College! love taking my dog on long walks and binging a good book. When traveling, I love going on runs to explore new places.