My Pluscuamperfectos: Si Hubiera… “If I Had…”

So one of the tenses a Spanish student will learn is called the Pluscuamperfecto which is as complicated as it sounds. The structure of this tense usually requires that the user use the past perfect tense in the first clause (I would have…) followed by a conditional perfect tense in the second clause (If I would have…). In Spanish if one wanted to say that they would have gotten an A if they had studied it would be said like so: “Si hubiera estudiado yo habría sacado una A”. But why am I even writing about this? Well, sometimes this sentence structure is used with sentiments of regret, when reminiscing and thinking about other possible outcomes. As it has been the last few weeks for me in Santiago, Chile, I have been having many thoughts in this tense. Si hubiera sabido cuánto me costaría para vivir en Chile habría ahorrado bastante más dinero. Si hubiera tenido más tiempo… Yo habría recorrido más si… Pucha, también habría conocido más chilenos si… And my thoughts continue.

I’ll explain what I am thinking. So I have written down a list of things I wish I had known or done during my time here in Santiago. I also wrote this for those who are hoping to study abroad in the future so that they would not share my same regrets at the end of their program, so I have written some advice for each one.

  • Study hard but make sure you leave time to explore. Study abroad is what it sounds like. Yes, you will study. But you are also abroad, so take advantage of it! If I had focused a little less on my studies, I would have had more time to travel. Nonetheless, I am more than satisfied with the amount of traveling I was able to do.
  • Spend more time with people your age, get to know the youth culture, learn what is in, and find a group of friends that live and know the area. If I had taken more courses at the local university, I would have met more Chileans of my age. I would have been able to practice my Spanish with them more.
  • Be wise with your money but don’t hold on to it to the point you miss out on priceless experiences. If I had worried less about how much everything costed, I would have focused on what I truly wanted to see and do and go ahead and do it. Stretching your dollar abroad is taxing and stressful.
  • Spanish-majors, try to spend less time with your American peers, especially the ones who only speak English. If you are going to, hablar en español, really. It will not only help you but those around you who want to practice. Fortunately, I was able to meet a group of Paraguayan foreign exchange students that I am proud to call some of my closest friends during my time in Chile. I was not able to see them all the time but it was extremely invaluable to be able to spend time with people who spoke the language and talked about the same age group things. But at the same time, be balanced. I am also guilty of speaking in English with my American friends. Overall, if I had spent more time with Chileans and less with my American classmates, I would have improved my Spanish even more.
  • And on learning the language, I wish I had not put so much pressure on myself to become fluent. Any linguist will tell its student that it is impossible to become fluent during a study abroad semester even in language immersion for 5 consecutive months. Instead, I recommend focusing on your weaknesses, the technical errors that need to be addressed and learning a few words a day writing out their different applications. Take your time. Breath. Tranquilo.
  • Do what you are passionate about, what you would do at your hometown or university. If I had done more extracurriculars, I would have been more integrated into the community.
  • Journal. I wished I had journaled more. If I had, I would have documented more of the emotional journey I’ve had while being here. Write down the strong emotions that you experience during your time abroad. Sadness, excitement, inspiration, loneliness, everything. In the moment, you might be so joyous that you don’t even have the time or reason to stop and write it down or so depressed that you can’t even muster the energy to pick up a pencil, but let me tell you in hindsight those emotional moments teach you many things. For me, my excitement taught me how much I loved pediatrics and maternity when I shadowed at my local hospital. My loneliness also taught me how to entertain myself and develop my spiritual life. My frustrations taught me patience and control.
  • Ask questions. I wish I had done this more. Ask without shame and do not be satisfied with just one answer. Learn about everything you can. If you do not know about it, don’t just nod your way off until the topic goes away. Ask about it. Go on the internet and then go back and ask informed questions.

Though I have many pluscuamperfectos, “what if”s and “if only”s, I have many more “I’ve done”s.

So these are some of the many pluscuamperfectos that have been occurring in my mind. As the day of my flight back to the United States has been approaching, I have been tempted to do everything I haven’t done yet but I have not. I have decided that I would leave Chile, having done what I could, and what I couldn’t do or just didn’t do, I am confident, will be done in the future. The experiences that I was simply unaware of or refused to take advantage of I know will be available in other opportunities in the States, even in my hometown and college.

I have decided that I would leave Chile, having done what I could, and what I couldn’t do or just didn’t do, I am confident, will be done in the future.

Though I have many pluscuamperfectos, “what if”‘s, “if only”‘s, I have many more “I’ve done”‘s. I have been able to see almost all of Chile’s geography from its driest desert in the north to its beautiful marshes in the south. I have been able to co-write a public health article that is on its way to being published. I have made many strong friendships that I believe will last a lifetime even across borders. I have been able to improve my Spanish to point of functional fluency. I am making less errors and am more conscious of them when I make them. Though my phone was stolen in the beginning of my program, I have been able to film many short projects with borrowed equipment and will be submitting one for a film festival. And this only scratches the surface. I can continue to even list off more of my regrets, but I can say with confidence that I am truly satisfied with my time here in Chile.

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