Life in Another Language
It’s late Friday morning and 30 seconds after walking into what I thought was my Spanish literature class I realize I’ve made a mistake. I quickly pick up my backpack and walk out of the room, closing the door against the snickers of the class I’ve briefly invaded.
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting on a rock in front of a waterfall, eating a muffin and laughing with three other girls from the program as we take a break from hiking in Parque Aguas de Ramon. The sun has just come out, appearing from the smoggy city we’ve emerged from thanks to a clueless taxi driver who gave us the runaround and claimed not to know where we wanted to be taken to.
It’s early Tuesday morning and I’m returning from a run. While waiting to cross the street a stream of cars pass, along with a garbage truck with two men hanging off the back. One shouts, “Hey baby!” as the truck passes me, and I continue to stare blankly ahead. In the same spot a few days before, a man had boldly walked into the oncoming traffic in order to stop the rush hour traffic to allow an ambulance to weave it’s way across the street.
It’s late Sunday morning and I’m having lunch with my host dad while we watch the news, catching up on Chilean athletes at the Olympics, the Pokemon Go fever that is sweeping Santiago (and the rest of Chile I assume), and the recent time change since Chile has just started Daylight Savings Time.
Naturally, the last few weeks have brought smiles and setbacks, friends and frustration, diversion and disappointment. As someone who values having a strict routine and dependable schedule, it’s been hard to have so many moments when I must depend on others. However, I think it’s been good for me to learn to be flexible; life is notorious for not playing out how I thought it would, bringing good and bad surprises. While attempting to prepare for my time here I came across the concept of the honeymoon stage: basically, the first few weeks of a study abroad program are romanticized, with differences between one’s previous culture and one’s new culture seeming exciting, with endless possibilities to explore a new world. Once this stage ends, elements of life that were once new and enticing produce anxiety. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I woke up about a week ago convinced that my honeymoon phase had ended. Reflecting back on this day, I can only attribute this decision to my feelings regarding communication. Constantly speaking in Spanish has been one of the easiest and one of the hardest parts of my time thus far. I spent all of last year working as a Spanish TA at my college, which definitely helped my confidence and ability to ad lib. At the same time, I feel like I have much less of a personality when speaking in Spanish; I’m able to communicate, but lose the nuances that come with word usage, tone, body language, and other elements of speech I don’t give a second thought to in English. That being said, I’m sure those abilities will improve over the next five months; I’ve been spending a lot of time people watching to try and supplement my preliminary thoughts about how to better communicate. Instead of approaching the language barriers that come with using Spanish I’ve been trying to consider them to be language hurdles. To me, a barrier seems a lot more difficult to overcome than a hurdle, so I’m hoping a change in mindset will allow me to more easily traverse the variety of problems that pop up, like waiting hours to register for one class or learning not to trust Google Maps’ knowledge of the Santiago micro (bus) system.
With the end of my honeymoon phase, a lot of questions have been brought about. Most have to do with school and figuring out how to register for classes, print assigned readings, study for quizzes, how to work with unfamiliar vocab…the list goes on! The difficulties encountered in the last few weeks may have ended my honeymoon phase, but they’ve also brought me closer to reality; I have alternating thoughts of “I’m going to be here for five entire months” and “I’m only going to be here for five months”. They’ve taught me the importance of asking for help when I need it, which is often, and have shown me that my host family, the IFSA-Butler team here in Chile, my friends, and my family are much wiser and more supportive than I could have imagined. In short, I’ve already learned a lot, and while I have a lot of learning still to do, I’m excited for the days (and months) ahead.