A Life on the Move
Do you feel like a local living in Lima? I recently had this question posed to me in one of my IFSA-Butler university classes here in Perú. Without a doubt, the answer is a resounding no.
However, of my friends studying abroad with me in Lima, I think I am one of the best examples for someone who should feel like a local. One of the biggest surprises for me about study abroad has been the amount of effort it has taken to get my feet on the ground in Lima. I’ve learned that becoming a local in Lima, or any similar large city, is a process that takes time. Though it is impossible to get to know all of Lima in a semester (or even a full year), I have made every effort to explore the city. I’ve learned how to get use the crazy public transportation “system” to get around, and I know most of the major street names well enough that I feel like I won’t get lost. Occasionally, I’ve even been able to give accurate transportation directions to a Peruvian.
More importantly, after being here for three months, I feel like I am finally starting to build friendships with Peruvians that are based on more than novelty. Even though Spanish is not my first language, I am making friends with new people whose lives up to this point have been totally different from mine, and I one of my favorite parts of study abroad has been getting to know them. I’m proud of the friendships that I have built because I’ve really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to create them. Communication with many of my friends in the United States often revolves around inside jokes, sarcasm, slang and humor, and these are all among the most difficult parts of a second language to master. Despite this, I have new friends that I care about and respect, and I think they feel the same way about me.
In spite of all this, I still feel more akin to a tourist than a native Peruvian. This discrepancy is not because of my pale white skin that doesn’t tan, my blonde hair, my blue eyes and my inability to blend in on the street. Rather, it’s because I know there’s an end date to my time in Perú. Even though I’m finally starting to understand Lima and build relationships that are important to me, it is always in the back of my mind that it is all going to come to an end in six short weeks when I have to return to the United States. This affects my decision making and my judgment every day. Each important choice that I’ve made while in Perú has been decided only after considering that my time here is limited. I don’t think it’s possible to truly feel like a local when my Peruvian experience has been greatly impacted by my program end date.
It’s not just Lima though. I don’t think there’s anywhere on Earth where I would feel like a local right now. In the past year alone, I have lived in my hometown of Bloomington, Minn., on-campus in the Chicago suburbs and in Lima, and this fall, I will be moving yet again to Washington, D.C. for a journalism residency. Even though I love all of these places, I don’t have a true grasp on any of them anymore. With the exception of what my parents tell me and what I read on social media, I do not know what’s happening in my hometown or on campus at Northwestern. Even though I’ve lived in these places for years, I know nothing about the new restaurant that opened up last week or a major driving detour that’s happening this weekend, for example. As a 20-soemthing college student, my life right now is always on the move. Though I am enjoying seeing more of the world, I sometimes wonder if I ever will find exactly where I fit into everything. What will my permanent address be someday?