1. You really can’t be afraid to make mistakes.
I know how cliché that sounds, but I’m mostly referring to the aspect of speaking another language. When I first arrived in Chile I was so set on pronouncing everything perfectly, making sure the tense was right, etc. It took away from being able to express myself because I didn’t want to be wrong and sound like a stupid American. But then I realized something – I’ve met many of people who don’t speak English super well, but I didn’t stop to think about that, or correct them. It really doesn’t matter as much as you feel like it does. Once I stopped being so attentive to mistakes, everything came more naturally, and I was understood regardless of if I was correct.
2. You have to realize that the closer you get to people, the harder it will be to leave – but at the same time, that shouldn’t discourage you from forming relationships.
In this day and age it is so awesome because we have so many (free) ways to stay connected, because of the internet. The one relationship I do not regret not forming was a romantic one – it’s not like I met anyone I was interested in, but if I had I’m not sure I would have allowed myself to fall into it. I have a couple of friends from the trip who have met and become involved with people and extended their stay in Chile, continue to talk daily, make plans to visit – which is awesome. I just think that if my heart was breaking after leaving my host family, theirs must have been shattered.
3. Everything becomes more natural with time.
At the end of my time in Chile, I felt like I had been living there a couple of years rather than a couple months. I knew the city like the back of my hand, knew the public transportation system, learned the Chilean slang, and could get by with my Spanish. When I first arrived all of these things were so foreign and I didn’t think I would ever adjust fully. I never expected to have more culture shock being back in the U.S. and readjusting than I did when arriving in Chile. For the first few days at home, I keep speaking Spanish to people on the flights and in airports. I actually just asked the flight attendant “Can I use the baño?” Like what? That’s not even one language. It’s Spanglish.
4. Languages are complicated.
Chilean Spanish is terrible – like I think they literally just make up their own partial language. The good news about that is that now Spanish from other countries will be MUCH easier to follow. Chileans are just different because they drop the “S” off all words (ex: graciaaa instead of gracias), which doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it really makes everything run together. They also use the expression “po,” which actually has no real meaning. But they throw it in at the end of words or sentences as a filler word. They also use it a lot like “sipo” (si). “yeahpo” (yeah), and “nopo” (no). Those are obviously easier to understand, but it’s just a weird habit they have and takes getting used to. They also have different words for certain things. For example, “carrete” is a party, more like a college party, and “fiesta” is like a family gathering or party. Guagua (pronounced wawa) is baby. “Cachai” is like “entiendes” or “do you understand?” Just certain things like that.
5. Men in the U.S. (or at least in central Minnesota) are actually much more respectful.
Literally every time I went out in Chile, even in sweats and no makeup, I got cat calls, whistles, honks, etc. It just gets really old after a while. It almost made me feel like I was sending off some weird American vibe, but really they do it to everyone.
6. The whole concept of time is different.
People just kind of show up when they please, which drove me absolutely insane as I am a super punctual and schedule-oriented person. Even our professors would just wander in like 20 minutes past class times. This is just normal for a lot of countries outside the U.S.
7. You should appreciate college classes in the U.S.
This was a big one for me at least, but then again I go to a small, private school so maybe that has something to do with it. Either way, I am used to very interactive classes, kind of like high school, but my classes here were very lecture based. I have a hard time with lecture in English, so having it in Spanish was really a struggle because I couldn’t understand and write everything down quickly enough. I really missed being engaged in class.
8. Don’t let physical shape or money keep you from doing something.
For example, climbing a volcano or hiking 40 miles in 4 days. I’m in decent shape and still there were times I literally thought I was going to keel over and die – but looking back, those activities are some of my favorite memories because I had to overcome my mental state to get there, so I was more proud of myself for completing them. As for money…just do it. Deal with the consequences when you are home.
9. Make a list of what you want to do over the semester or you will forget.
I’m already regretting not trying surfing for example – I definitely had the time, and it wasn’t too expensive, but I was probably watching Netflix instead. Just make the most of the time you have, or you’ll be on a plane back four months later thinking “I wish I had…”
10. PACK LIGHTLY.
I am literally the worst with this concept, and I never learn. As I was lugging two bags to check, a carryon, a backpack, and a pillow through the overly crowded airport on the way home, I realized I probably didn’t wear half of the clothes I brought with me. This always happens to me on trips, yet I keep doing it. This is an easier-said-than-done thing. But one thing to keep in mind is that you will probably be coming back with a good amount more than you came with – gifts and whatnot. I actually only checked one bag on the way there and packed a duffel in that bag so I could check two on the way home. That way I allowed myself the extra space.
11. Just be.
Seriously. Just sit somewhere beautiful and take it all in – without a phone, without talking, without a companion. I’m a person who is always rushing to the next thing, so I had to stop and remind myself occasionally that whatever I was doing was probably a once in a lifetime thing and therefore I needed to really soak it in. I found myself doing this at the ocean quite often, especially when the sun was setting. Like here is this big body of water, and somewhere out there it is also touching the U.S., yet I feel like I am in a completely different world. Maybe it’s just being from Minnesota and only having 10,000 lakes and no ocean, but I just loved everything about being there – the smell especially. Take advantage of the things you won’t have when you return home.