I’m back in the US now (and have been for a little over a week).
I was repeatedly warned about “reverse culture shock” and about how difficult it would be to reenter my life in the US after being gone for so long, but I honestly feel in a bizarre way like I never even left. Living in Peru feels like a dream. Some of this might be because my life is pretty relaxed right now because it’s winter break, but the transition feels very natural. Everything in the US is much more familiar than I expected it to be after being out of the country for five months, which I guess is how it should be considering I’ve lived here for almost my entire life. I’m kind of worried that Peru feels so much like a dream that I might forget it like one, but I think that at the very least, the way I grew as a person in Peru will be with me forever.
As far as my Spanish speaking abilities, I would say that I am “conversationally fluent”; that is, I can get around, order food, and talk to people on the street pretty effortlessly in Spanish, but sometimes I run into circumstances that make Spanish hard again: a new situation that requires vocabulary I’m not familiar with (How do you say “rake” while gardening? How do you say “fret” while teaching guitar?), a really involved philosophical conversation that requires long and complex sentences, or a person that’s hard to understand. I was kind of expecting to be fluent after this, but I think that would be almost impossible after just 5 months. I had a headache and was really tired for the first two or three weeks of the program from the mental strain of thinking in Spanish all the time, so at least that’s gone. I spoke a good amount of English during the past 5 months as well as Spanish, and maybe it would have been possible to improve a little more, but I am pretty comfortable with the level of Spanish that I achieved. I also think that Spanish abilities are heavily dependent on mindset. If I went one or two days without speaking much English, I found my Spanish to be better, but I would lose that quickly as soon as I started to think in English again. Then the next time I went a long time without speaking English, my Spanish would be a little better than the last time.
It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend studying abroad in Peru with IFSA. Our program director did a great job helping us see the many different parts of Peruvian society, and Peru is an interesting and geographically diverse place. I really want to travel abroad more now. More than anything, studying abroad in Peru taught me that I can make my home anywhere, and the value of new and different experiences. And that Chile sucks.