Contenta En Casa

Hola todos! It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve been busy settling back in, unpacking my suitcase and my brain and readjusting to life in gringolandia. My Chilean fiesta with my family was a great hit, they really liked my sopaipillas and empanadas.

For the most part my reentry has gone smoothly. My bank account looking pretty sad, and I do miss my Chilean friends and host family. I also miss being surrounded by Spanish, but I hope to find an outlet for this by volunteering as a translator and by staying in contact with my Chilean friends.

I think I’m still working on understanding my experience. I want to somehow quantify it, put it into context, as if by understanding it I can keep from losing it. I learned a great deal, and I feel different, but I can’t exactly explain in what way. I also want to make sense of my semester abroad by using it to help others, I hope that this blog can be my first step towards that goal. But for now, it’s good to be home!

There and Back Again: An Abby’s Tale

Here I am, back in my hometown again. I landed at Logan airport yesterday around 2 after nearly 20 hours of travelling. My family was there to pick me up: my mom, my dad, my fiancée’s mom, and my fiancée Donny. Seeing them all again after so much time was unreal, I felt like I was in a dream. But that could have been the lack of sleep as well. Coming home was a whirl of emotions, but now that I’m settled back into my fiancée’s house with him it feels like I never left.

My journey home began Sunday at 4, when my host family (including Toutín the dog) and I all piled into the car to go to the airport. I checked my suitcase and we said a difficult goodbye. It was hard to leave them, they made my time there so wonderful and complete. They were always there to explain things to me, to be there for me in the good and the bad, always willing to listen and help. I hope I stay in contact with them all. They are all such wonderful smart people, and I hope the best for them all.

After navigating the airport and security successful, I was finally on board and ready for takeoff. It wasn’t until the plane began to taxi to the runway that I really cried. I had choked up saying goodbye to my family but at takeoff I finally cried, staring out of the window for one last look at this country that has been my home for five months, my pacha mama. I thought about my friends, the ones already flying away and those still on Chilean soil. I wondered if one of those little twinkling lights was my host family’s house, or Isa’s or Oscar’s or Macarena’s. I thought about the routines that I couldn’t pack into a suitcase, like buying an Inca Cola on the way home at the Big John or fajitas for lunch. I’ll miss family dinners and watching my host brothers play Call of Duty. I know they are going to grow up to be the best fathers ever from all the practice at explaining things! I’ll miss my host mom singing as she tidies, Toutin jumping up to meet me almost 4 feet up like a kangaroo. I’ll miss Saturdays with Oscar and Maca, I’ll miss being surrounded by Spanish. I have to come back, and I have to keep my Spanish up.

When we touched down on US soil in Atlanta, Georgia ten hours later I was smiling, smiling because I realized I was finally going to see my family and my fiancée after so much time away. They had supported me and been there for me for the whole experience, had sent advice and good wishes and sympathy and money when I needed it. I made it through customs and the second security check and then checked myself into the Delta Sky Lounge for some complementary snacks and tea and a nap, curled up in one of the big armchairs. The flight from Atlanta to Boston felt like it took two seconds, I read the Condorito comic that Oscar and Macarena got me on the way and was proud to understand most of the jokes.

The moment when I came out of the gate and saw my welcome committee waiting for me was unreal. There were kisses and hugs and tears but all very happy. Donny brought me roses!

We went for lunch in Boston, I had New England clam chowder in a bread bowl and it was divine. Finally after meeting up with many friends and family and neighbors I headed home with Donny to our house, were I took a much-needed nap and just allowed myself to feel at home. I never really appreciated how beautiful our little town is until now, and while everyone else complains I am glorying in the summer heat.

I still have much to share and I will keep posting, but for now Welcome Home to me!

The last day

I’m struggling right now to put things into words. This is weird for me, usually on this blog as soon as I sit down to write my thoughts finally form a coherent picture. I can tell you about my last full day here at least, which was the best last full day I could ever have hoped to have. Thinking back on it, it included everything I was hoping to achieve/experience this semester: Chilean food, oral fluency, cultural understanding, and two fantastic friends.

I met up today with Macarena, Oscar, and his little brother Enzo at the metro station. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, mild and sunny with a warm breeze. We stopped by a supermarket where I bought some chancaca to bring back to the states (You can’t have a Chilean fiesta without sopaipillas pesadas!) and then we walked over to Macarena’s house. I met her mom there, a very sweet woman which whom I enjoyed talking. I had leche asada for the first time, which was a lot like flan and delicious! We took pictures after we ate and talked for a while, and then we walked to a Chinese food restaurant for lunch. That was also delicious, for those of you who are wondering it was pretty much exactly like Chinese food in the states although I couldn’t find crab rangoon on the menu. All the more reason to eat too much when I come home!

We ate way too much, but we laughed and talked and took pictures and had a great time. When we were all finally stuffed to the bursting point we took the metro to another supermarket so I could look for an extra special gift I want to get for my dad. I’m not going to say what it is because I know he is one of my most avid readers (Thanks Dad!). Afterward we hopped on a micro to Oscar’s house. There we dropped off our stuff and went to go find his mom, who was in a community meeting. Being mature 20-something-year-old adults, we played on the playground in the plaza while we waited. When his mom was done, we walked to the local neighborhood shop to pick up supplies for once (like a small early supper), talking all the way.His mom is also a delightful woman, I very much enjoy talking to her. She is very smart and also loving, she made me feel very welcome and comfortable in her home.

Back at his house, we had an once of tea, queque (pound cake) with manjar (a bit like dulce de leche), and sandwiches with avocado, ham and cheese. I need to eat more avocado when I get back to the states, here they put it on almost everything and it makes everything-bread, sandwiches, fajitas, salads-at least 243% more delicious, but I could be underestimating my figures.

After once, Oscar’s mom showed us family pictures from Oscar and Enzo’s childhood. It was really fun, I liked seeing the similarities between his childhood and mine even though we grew up on opposite sides of the globe. Also when they come to visit in the states if they eat at my parents’ house with me,  as I’m sure they will, my mom will probably do the same exact thing (Maybe when I get back I should hide certain albums…). Afterwards I showed off my awesome* dance skills when we played the Micheal Jackson Experience game for Playstation Move. (*awesome in this context is hilariously terrible). We talked, we looked at funny pictures on the internet, we discussed amusement park rides and we laughed.

Finally the dreaded hour came. Macarena and Oscar and his mom all walked me to the metro. I hope I expressed my feelings well enough, I wanted them all to understand my gratitude for all the help and support and my happiness for their friendship and my sadness for having to leave and my hope that we will meet again in February when they come to visit. I seem to be having a lot of conflicting emotions these days. I didn’t want them to see me cry, I wanted to end on a hopeful and happy note so I scanned my Bip! card and headed for the platform, trying to keep myself together. As I crossed the skybridge over the street I looked down, hoping to catch one last glimpse of them, and saw them all below looking up at me and waving. I don’t know why that made me so happy about seeing them there waving at me but either way the rising tide of emotion inside me finally burst its banks and I rode the metro and micro home for the last time through a haze of tears.

Back home in my room, pulling on my pajamas plugging in my estufa for the last time, I let myself really cry about leaving for the first time. I had cried a little when I said goodbye to our program director Isa, and had lumps in my throat that I controlled when I said goodbye to my program friends, but finally I was able to let it all out. Even now in a state of calm, trying to explain the whirlwind of emotion behind those tears is a challenge and I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived abroad for a significant amount of time will understand. I’m going to leave that explanation for another post, for now I want to focus on why I was glad that I broke the rules of the metro (the metro is like baseball, there’s no crying in either of them).

Leaving my two closest Chilean friends was incredibly hard, especially because I feel like our friendship had only just begun. I feel so much gratitude toward them for all of their help and for making me feel so welcome and relaxed in their country and culture. It shows in my Spanish; because I feel so relaxed and accepted with them speaking and understanding is so much easier. Besides all of that, they are just two really fun and nice people and we have lots in common to talk about.

All of this far outweighs the pain of having to leave them to go home. If I had never met them, I would still be just as sad but with the pain of regret from never making friends. Therefore my lesson to anyone going abroad is this: MAKE FRIENDS. Talk to people in your classes. Add them on Facebook. Get lunch together, share life stories, watch dumb videos on YouTube, smile, and relax. I don’t mean you should try to force a friendship, that’s impossible. But if you and someone else click, put in the effort to get the friendship going and the rest will fall into place naturally and effortlessly.

Anyway, it’s not really goodbye. Even if they weren’t coming to visit I would still stay in contact with Oscar and Macarena on Facebook. Complain all you want about globalization and the interwebs and all that but I love that even when we are literally a world away I can always send them silly pictures with a click of a mouse. Also I love how bilingual my newsfeed is now (sorry for all the Spanish statuses, Facebook friends!)

In terms of this blog, I still have lots to say so I’ll be posting until I run out of things to say. Stay tuned!

 

Thoughts on living with a host family

This evening my host family and I went out to eat, both to celebrate my host mom’s boyfriend’s birthday and to celebrate the semester I’ve spent with them. We went to a local Brazilian buffet style restaurant, it was delicious and fun especially when the waiters and the family sang happy birthday in Portuguese, Spanish, and English and brought us a complementary bottle of champagne. We all made toasts, they wished me luck and I thanked them for having me in their home for the semester. They even bought me a present, a cookbook of international recipes. I said, “Great! So I can learn to burn things other than scrambled eggs!” (I used to predictably burn my scrambled eggs in the morning, filling the upstairs with smoke) and they all laughed. We had a great time and then came home for some tea and lemon meringue pie.
As unreal as it seems, I do need to start accepting that my time here is fast drawing to a close. It’s strange to think I won’t be seeing my host family every day, playing PS3 with Seba and Benja or talking with Cami and Gloria. I’ll even miss Toutín, the little white dog.
If you are planning on studying abroad, especially for a language immersion experience, I highly recommend choosing a program with a host family or home-stay component. I could cite endless studies  that demonstrate the benefits of living with a host family to language learning but I think the cultural aspect is also vital; the only way to truly understand another culture is to involve yourself in it as much as possible.

If I were to attempt to describe what it is like to live with a host family, I would have to say it is a progression. At the beginning it can be awkward, but towards the end I would say it feels a lot like being at your childhood best friend’s house: you feel very relaxed and comfortable just like it were your own house, just a little better behaved. Every host family is different and unique, all come with their own culture and habits and dynamics. Some of my program buddies live with a single older woman or widow, some live with young families with children, and everything in between. So here are four general pieces of advise to help make your home stay experience as wonderful and fantastic as possible.

1. Communication, communication, communication.


Ask questions. Ask for clarification. Tell them where you are going and when you will be back. Tell them your favorite foods and your least favorites and your allergies. Ask them about routines. Ask them what you should call them. Tell them about your day. Ask them about their days. Tell jokes. Tell stories. LISTEN to their jokes and stories.

2. Make like a chameleon and blend.


Think of it as when you are at your best friend’s house: adapt to the house rules as if you were just another son or daughter. If your mom asks you to keep your room clean, do so (I failed miserably at this). Find a chore niche and help out where you can: I would wash the dishes left in the sink at night on my way to bed and wash the dog every few weeks. Eat with the family, share with them. Try to spend as little time as possible with your door shut, when it wasn’t too noisy I liked to do my homework in the dining room so I would still be present in the flow of things.

3. R.E.S.P.E.C.T! FIND OUT WHAT IS MEANS TO ME!
Be the host student you would like to have. Don’t be a pig, don’t spend a billion hours in the shower, don’t leave the lights on when you leave or the milk out on the counter or track mud through the living room. But also listen, be open minded and nonjudgmental. Remember, you are here to learn new things not lecture people about your same old things.

4. Enjoy this time.
For US students who often live on campus or in an apartment close by, living with “parents” can seem like a loss of independence, and in a way it is. You need to follow the house rules, tell them where you are going and when you will be back, call ahead if you are bringing a friend, etc. But also for many of us it will be the last time our dinner is homemade for us every night, the last time our laundry is lovingly washed, ironed, and folded for us, the last time someone will be worried if you don’t come home on time. With the right dynamic, your relationship with your host family can be very meaningful and special. My host family has been there for me in my good days and bad, they’ve laughed with me and listened when I needed to cry, they’ve explained and shared things with me. I hope to stay in touch with them through the years and if I ever find myself back in Chile, as I am planning to do, I will most definitely be coming to visit!

Never a dull moment

So today as I went about my normal Friday routine of traveling to and from school on the Metro I had two interesting experiences. The first was when I came around a bend in the hall to the red line and Captain Jack Sparrow was walking the other way. I wanted to ask him to take a picture with me, but he seemed in a hurry. Maybe they were having a sale on rum at the liquor store. Tee hee.

The second experience was when I was coming home. I hopped on the red line and promptly realized I had taken it in the wrong direction, so I got off at the next stop to cross over and take it the right way while feeling a little foolish. A woman approached me as I was heading for the stairs and asked me for directions to another station at the end of the yellow line. I gave her directions, describing how she needed to change lines at the Los Heroes station and follow the yellow signs. She thanked me and went on her way. On the outside I was totally cool as a cucumber, but on the inside I was like

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Not only could I effectively and easily understand and answer her question, I looked like I knew what I was doing enough for her to ask me! Woot!

I was bumming about missing the Fourth of July celebrations yesterday because it’s a big celebration in my family, I missed spending time with them while eating tremendous amounts of barbequed food and baked goods and sweating under the July sun (I have no sympathy for you people. It is cold in Chile and they don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive! Protip: Bring warm clothes and learn to layer).

Still, since I can now count the days I have left on my fingers I am trying my best to take advantage of the time that I have left here. In this upcoming week I’ll be running around like a nutcase trying to visit last minute Santiago attractions, say goodbye to friends, buy souvenirs, finish my last assignments, and pack. Wow. Pack. I hadn’t thought of that before I wrote it just now. Now I have visions of my little room as bare as when I arrived and me hauling my big black suitcase out. Nope. Can’t think about that right now.

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It’s not that I’m not excited to be home. I do feel like I’ve enjoyed my time here in Chile but now I’m ready to be back in my culture, in my country, in my language, in my home, with my family. I just know that I am about to get back onto that culture shock roller coaster, and last time it made me a little nauseous at times. (Remember when I talked about reverse culture shock? If not check it out here).

Another thing we’ve been warned about is that people are not going to understand when I try to explain this crazy, wonderful, deep, changing, strange experience. Until you spend an extended period of time immersed in another culture and/or language, and I mean living/breathing/existing it as close to 24/7 as possible, you won’t be able to understand and I won’t be able to explain it. I’d really like to continue this experience by helping study abroad students in my university. I know now what it’s like to have no social capital and no idea what’s going on and no one to explain it to you. My Chilean friends, especially my friend Oscar, have been an enormous help this semester with everything from teaching me slang to warning me about cancelled classes. I think helping others in the same situation as I was will help me to make sense of this whole crazy semester and help keep the memory alive.

wheel of morality

So, Wheel of Morality lessons of the day: Captain Jack sometimes has to take the metro, I pass as a local now, I’m trying not to freak out, and be a friend to the foreign kid. That’s all for tonight, chau amigos!