I got back to Viña Friday afternoon, and spent the next three days saying goodbye to the people in the programme who hadn’t yet left, having a really great night with my host family on Saturday and another wonderful day on Sunday. I said goodbye to some of the extended family that day, but we all hoped that it wasn’t a goodbye for good; more of a nos vemos, at some point in the future. The last day I said goodbye to Lukas – my younger host brother – Anabella – my host mother – and the three cats and two dogs – Atún, Ema, Cuchi, Bruma, and Punky. They’d all become my family. My Chilean family. Saying goodbye to them felt… surreal, especially as Joaquín was still driving me to the airport, so I wasn’t leaving them all at once. Saying goodbye to the house and all the people and animals living in it felt a little underwhelming at the time, but during the car ride to the airport I really started to realize that I wasn’t coming back. Not anytime soon at least (I do have plans to visit Peru and tour around Argentina at some point in the future and then hop into Chile for a quick visit). Saying goodbye to Joaquín, the person I’d become closest to during my time in Chile, was another depressing moment, which neither of us were particularly keen on prolonging. Of course we’d stay in touch, and I’d stay in touch with all of the family, but that knowledge never really seems to alleviate those in-the-moment feelings.
I met up with Kendall at the airport, who was taking the same flight back to Atlanta, and we talked a little bit about how we felt, as I think we both had this complicated mix of emotions that neither of really knew how to express. We both felt that 5 months in Chile was actually too short; too short to settle in, too short to see everything we wanted to see, too short for any number of reasons. Then again, I guess even a year would have been too short. Maybe even a lifetime wouldn’t have been sufficient.
On the other hand, we were both excited to see our families and the other people we hadn’t seen for some time, but maybe a little concerned as to whether we’d fall back into the swing of things quickly, or whether it would take some time to adjust. For me, it was more of the former; seeing my parents and the rest of my family again pretty much felt like a dose of normality, and though I could share my experiences in Chile with some of my family members who were willing to hear it, I didn’t really feel like anything had changed. I know some people describe their study-abroad experience as something monumental, something life-changing… but for me I think it reaffirmed quite a few things about myself that I wasn’t sure of before coming to Chile. I think I became more self-assured, more willing to open up and to share, and I’ve gained a greater appreciation of some of the impossibly stunning things this world contains. For all of that, I have to say an incredibly heartfelt thank you to my Chilean host family, for hosting me, feeing me a vide variety of delicious Chilean food, and for giving me the space and independence in the beginning that allowed me to feel comfortable in the house within the first few weeks, and to treat it like a home. They helped to make Viña del Mar feel like a home away from home, in many senses. I also feel as though the program directors, Pamela Martínez and Mark Sinclair deserve a mention, for knowing when to guide us and when to let us figure out our own way, and for always being there to chat if we had any questions or simply wanted to talk, which went a long way to making the program a success for me.
One other thought about my experience in Chile that remains after spending almost 6 weeks in Holland and having time to reflect and process a lot of my emotions, apart from that I was incredibly lucky and privileged to have had such a wonderful experience in many different ways, is this:
Nos vemos, Chile. Te lo juro.