It was about 2 weeks before I left and I was already ready to leave my second home in Santiago de Chile. I was anxious to see my family and friends and to be able to wake up under my own roof again. As much as I loved living with a host family for my 5 months abroad, I really missed my family. Quite honestly, it was the very first time I had felt truly homesick. Maybe I had felt this way because the idea of returning was becoming so real to me or because I had been too busy to think much about returning home that I never felt the urge to go back. At this point, I felt satisfied. So much so that I was ready to say goodbye to a city that had given me so many wonderful memories.
So, on my second to last day of my stay in Santiago, I went for a hike on the city’s second highest mountain, Cerro Manquehue, and it was truly the most emotional hike I’ve had. No tears, I promise, but it was just a reflective memory walk. I remember the day that I moved in a day earlier than everyone else and I remembered the emotions I was feeling so rawly that it felt that I was feeling them for the first time again. I remembered how overwhelmed I was moving from the airport to my hotel on my own speaking purely in Spanish without any help. I remembered how alone I felt that evening as well. The most alone I had felt in my life, but at the same time I remember feeling a sense of excitement and thrill for what I would be experiencing my following 5 months, and every moment of it was beyond what I expected. So, as an ode to my beautiful city, here is what I wrote for her.
A note for my beloved city:
Chao, Santiago de Chile. No puedo decir lo suficiente cuánto te voy a extrañar. Gracias por todas las experiencias que me has dado. Desde las horas pico horribles en el Metro, temblores y días lluviosos hasta los cerros hermosos que abrazan tu alrededor y tu hermoso paisaje que me bendice cada mañana con tu cordillera y amanecer. Te quiero y ya te echo de menos. La única cosa que te pido es que tus ciudadanos ayuden a limpiar todo el smog para que todos puedan ver tu belleza. Yo sé que ha sido una experiencia difícil a veces pero me ha enseñado mucho a travez de mis desafíos. Gracias también por haberme dado amistades fuertes en mis últimos meses en mi estadía. Aunque los meses al principio fueron muy arduos, a través de esa temporada me has enseñado a sentirme contento estando solo. Ahora, veo que hay algo hermoso en eso. Que nunca he estado solo, que siempre he tenido un compañero. Y ese compañero soy yo.
Goodbye, Santiago. I can’t say enough how much I will miss you. Thank you for all of the experiences that you have given me. From horrible rush hours in the Metro, tremors, and rainy days to your beautiful hills that embrace you along with your beautiful landscape that blesses me every morning with your mountain range and sunrise. I love you and I already miss you. The only thing I ask of you is that your citizens help to clear your smog so that everyone can see your beauty. I know that it has been a difficult experience at times but you have taught me a lot through my challenges. Thank you also for giving me strong friendships in the last months of my stay. Although the first months were tough, through this season you have taught me how to be content with being alone. Now, I see that there is something beautiful in this. That I have never been alone. That I have always had a companion and that companion is me. And for once, I got to know him really well.
One of my most impactful moments in Chile was during one of my shadowing shifts in a local hospital. I shadowed an OBGYN in a maternity clinic. Initially, I did not know what to expect but I must say that it was definitely a fast-paced experience. After we were shown around the clinic for a tour, we saw our first patient who was entering into labor. Walking in, I noticed blood on the floor in the corner by another bed and I asked the nurse about it. I was surprised that they had not cleaned it up yet, but he told me that it was an emergency and that patient was already being moved to another room to give birth. Right after asking, he left the room to find out if we could see the birth and within minutes he was back and excited to tell us that we had clearance to go to the birthing room. Breaking into a quick stride and light jog we were already quickly headed into the room where we met the mother and the father nervously gearing up for their life-changing moment.
I was nervous myself as I was uncomfortably close to the mother, who I did not know. I felt that it was a moment too precious to be shared with foreign strangers, but I was thankful that she allowed my classmate and I to observe. Once inside, we are given masks to protect our mouths and I already was breathing heavily as it was my first time wearing one and the room was getting exceptionally warm. It was a matter of minutes until she began and it felt like it all happened in just a few seconds but I was already seeing the newborn in the mother’s arms with her relieved and heart-filled smile. I look up to the father who had to step out a moment earlier to calm his nerves. His expression of relief was indescribable. It was a miracle. My face was a little damp from sweating and also from the tears that fell down my face. It was just absolutely beautiful how mothers can bring so much beauty into this world. It was at this moment that I started getting excited for when maybe I would see that beauty enter this world again and hoped that maybe that beauty would be my own child.
As I blogged in one of my first blogs, “It’s Hard to Immerse And Why It’s Okay” I talked about my difficulty finding friends of my age that I could relate to other than my IES classmates. Though I was taking classes at a local university, I only really made acquaintances which was fine and to be expected. I was always told that making friends among local students can be sometimes difficult as friend groups are pretty much set while Chileans are known to be somewhat timid when talking with new people. Though I heard this many times, I didn’t think it would really be a problem and still to this day I still think the problem was with me. I was a little scared, to be honest. I have always put unrealistic expectations on myself to speak very good Spanish and I was nervous about being teased because of my American accent. Silly, right? But luckily, regardless of this fear I ended up meeting a great group of friends that I have stayed in touch with even after my program ended. I met two of them, Araceli and Verónica, in a volunteering meeting at the local university where I took my Religion course and they were super friendly and asked everyone around them for their names introducing themselves saying they were from Paraguay. Right before I left this meeting, we ended up exchanging numbers to stay in touch about campus events that were coming up. At the moment, I didn’t think much of it since I had met many students from class and ended up forgetting their names or never hearing from them, but it was within weeks that I began to spend a lot of time with them, and eventually I began feeling like I was a part of something. They would often invite me and some of my friends to school functions and places around the city to explore. I would always thank them profusely for extending their invitations because it really meant a lot to me and even more so when they began teaching me about their culture.
“Eventually I began feeling like I was a part of something”.
I learned a lot about their country’s second language, Guarani, which is just as official as Spanish and originates from its indigenous population. In Paraguay, these cultures are not separate but are one, as its blood flows mixed with the two. My friends Ara and Vero, who are Psychology majors, would often tell me that Guarani is important to connect with their patients. Sometimes when addressing a patient in Spanish, he or she can be closed and not as open to communicate; but as one speaks in Guarani, one can communicate more emotion and raw sentiment. It really allows for a deeper interaction. I also found Guarani to even be part of my communication with them as they taught me many words like purrete which means cool or maena which means triste or sad, or my favorite one, mopio, which we would always say after someone said something unbelievable or that was a lie. I still will never forget the first time I used it. One day I was invited to their apartment that they rented out along with other Paraguayan exchange students and they burst out laughing. At first I felt that my fear of being teased of language had been realized but they were actually laughing with me, so excited that I had been learning Guarani. At this moment, one of my friends, Sayra had clapped in glee saying that I had already become Paraguayan.
A parting gift given to me about a few weeks before I left for the United States to remind me that I will always have a home or many in Paraguay.
If I ever felt like I had found friends before, I felt like I had found something greater, like a second family. I truly felt home. It was where we would all vent to each other, share our dreams, bake our own pizzas, dance and watch movies until we were always reminded of the homework that was due the next day or the test we had to study for. Like all my family reunions that scheduled for a time, we would always gather at least an hour late and leave hours after we say it’s time to go. We loved food, we loved to dance, we loved to eat, and we loved to talk. To be honest, their apartment was something that of a symbol for me: that whenever I felt I needed a friend, it would be there on Calle Paraguay. To this day, I think it so ironic that the very street they lived on is named after their country, but it made it easy to find and I never had to look hard to find it. It was truly a home a way from home. It was my Paraguay in Chile.
I’ve never been prouder than when I saw Chile make it all the way to the finals of the Russian Confederation’s Cup. It was a Sunday morning full of excitement as all of the streets were full of vendors selling merchandise for the game. The game was scheduled at noon so I thought that I would make it to church right before the game so made sure I caught the earliest bus headed towards Quinta Normal about 10 minutes away from my church. To be honest, I did not expect anyone to be at the service but it was the most full that I had ever seen it and everyone were dressed in red and white with team-wear. I was not able to stay for the sermon but only the worship and prayer which prayed over not only the game but also the primary elections which were taking place that very day.
So, after the prayer I quickly left so that I could beat the traffic before 30 minutes before noon to make it back to my host family’s home and help prepare lunch before the game. On my return with a newly bought jersey and team scarf from the streets, I found the house unrecognizably reorganized as my host dad was cleaning frantically around the house. The TV was blaring with the pre-game interviews and analysis while I heard chanting and screaming outside. Everyone was ready and excited for the match. And within 30 minutes, it all began. All was clean and all food was set. Not a movement was made. Everyone was glued in front of the TV. Every minute was more painful than the next, giving all who watch much anxiety with every silly mistake that the Chilean team made against their young Germany opposers. Unfortunately, it all ended in a loss. It was not a shoot out like Chile’s prior match but it ended with dirty and rough play by Germany. I was crushed. I honestly wanted to cry. Never have I ever been so emotionally invested in a game. I truly felt like I was a part of it, that I would be able to witness a country that I had grown to love so much make and write its own history.
As mentioned in my first blog, I had been planning on filming a documentary for months and had many difficulties such as lack of money for equipment (tripod, camera and lenses) and losing my iPhone 7 that had taken the majority of my shots. Despite these set backs, I was able to produce something that really captured the emotions and experience I had abroad. Thanks to the help of a classmate who helped co-direct and write the documentary, Kyle Arnold, we were able to submit it for the IES Abroad film festival. The message that it carries is simple:
We always talk about the glamour of study abroad, but once abroad we find out that it is only a façade; about how often times, on the Instagram post, it looks as if we are having the times of our lives, but really behind the camera is a lonely traveler much more lost than clear about what he or she is doing. We are left to our own thoughts as we constantly question our own selves. Why am I even here? Will this help me decide my major? What will I do after? These questions eat at us and often go unanswered even as we return abroad; however, there is some solace in that. While we believe we are alone, we have never been alone. It is solitude that joins and accompanies us in our most isolated moments. I hope you who are reading this and are hoping to study abroad or are already studying abroad know that it is okay to be alone, because when you are abroad this solitude is the greatest teacher of your time away from all that is familiar to you.
This video was inspired by the solitude that I often felt during my study abroad program. From the first day of my stay in Santiago, I really felt that I was leaving a lot home: people that I loved and everything familiar to me. But it wasn’t that I missed home that made this solitude, it was that I struggled to find a home a way from home in Santiago. Immersing myself into the culture and finding Chilean friends was always a difficulty because everyone seemed to have their own schedule and meeting up in the city often times hours across it was always a barrier to making strong friendships. At first, I saw this struggle negatively but as time went on, I began to embrace this solitude and take advantage of it. So I used it to get to know my own self and really challenge myself. In this solitude I discovered many things that I would not have about myself if I had had the distractions of those who are very dear and familiar to me. I needed to be uncomfortable and I needed to grow.
Saturday morning started like any other would in the driest desert in the world. Yes, I was in the Atacama Desert of San Pedro. It was as if the desert had a thirst so severe that could never be quenched even by its recent heavy rains. Its travelers feel the same as water is hard to come by if you aren’t in its main pueblo, San Pedro de Atacama. If the aridness wasn’t enough to make you fatigued from thirst, its high altitude would sure make you winded and short of breath as it made me on my ill-advised biking exodus on that eventful Saturday. So let’s begin my journey at 7:00 am when I woke up that morning.
7:00am – Alarm blares loudly on top of the night stand below me by the lower lower bunk in my two bunk bed hostel. Disoriented and unable to see, I stumble down my bunk and turn off my the alarm jamming my finger all over the screen until I diffuse its annoying ring. Remembering what I had woken up so early for, I quickly get ready and quietly walk out the hostel room so as to not wake up my friends sleeping. Still moving at a slow pace, I was not dressed until 7:30 am and I was out the door by around 7:50 am with my bike that was rented out until 1:00 pm that day. So, the idea was that I would be finished with my biking route at Catarpe park by 11:00 am with time to arrive back at the pueblo and return the bike and make it back for my next tour to Valle de la Luna. So according to the map, it would take me about about 3 hours to visit Pukara de Quitor and about 2 hours to visit Petrogupos 8 km north from the entrance. But my time estimations were completely wrong. I was barely able to get back on time.
Tambo de Catarpe
Capilla San Isidro
So I started biking that morning, heading for Catarpe park and the very first thing I was greeted by were a flock of sheep following a man on a horse.
He greeted me with a nod and I biked in front of them. And so I continued for a brief 30 minutes until I found a fork in the road. At the fork, there were signs to head to either “el Tunel” (tunnel) or towards the chapel. So caught in between heading towards the tunnel towards the Wide Rock or Piedra de Anchos and headed towards the Saint Isidro chapel (Capilla San Isidro). And so there, my real journey began. After I followed that path, I ran into what looked like a red chasm. My curiosity peaked as I though this was the tunnel but I would later find out that it was not. At this point, the soil began to turn powdery and I was surrounded by tall red walls. Suddenly, I heard galloping noises in the distance and I scurried off my bike to find the source of the noise to encounter 4 horsemen. After taking a brief snack break, I jumped back on my rented bike to catch up with them but just as I began continuing my journey the steepness of the path began to dramatically increase making the biking unreasonably difficult so I decided that I would go on foot until I found the tunnel. Given how exhausted I was, I decided to leave my bike and lock it to the rock as I was not sure if I would encounter more steep trekking. After clearing the long dark tunnel, I see a large opening that took me about 2 hours to clear and finally find the Wide Rock which was just as underwhelming as it sounds. Disappointed by this landmark, I continued walking north until I found another opening that allowed me to see a freeway in the distance with moving dots distorted by the sun. Around me, I also found destroyed Chilean PDI police cars that seemed to have been blown up. Although wanting to continue, I decided to head back as I had a scheduled a tour to make it to. After returning to the Wide Rock the opening looked completely different and in a matter of minutes I was lost.
After frantically looking for the path I took, I found a man striding speedily in the distance with a hiking stick. He had been moving so fast that I thought that he had been going at a biking speed. Afraid that I would get lost without his help, I ran has fast as I could to catch up with him. He stops as I he hears me yell for his attention and looks shocked to find another traveler on his path. He welcomed me with a hearty handshake and invited me to walk with him. As we begin walking he begins to tell me his life story, beginning with telling me that his name was Hugo and that he was lost as well. He was on his way to Alaska from the south of Argentina as a year journey and sabbatical from his life as a video-gamer in Spain. He said he was tired of his life as a gamer and wanted to pursue adventure and take advantage of his youth. He had a cheap budget that consisted of spending a few dollars a day on yogurt, water, and ham and cheese sandwiches and was hoping to make it last for the entire trip towards Alaska. I told him about my reasoning for being in San Pedro and explained that I was studying abroad and that I wanted to go on one last trip. And so, we continued talking for the next few hours until we began to find ourselves even more lost.
Certain that we could find the way back to the tunnel, we were even more lost within an hour so we tried several times to climb up higher points to scope out any other travelers. Luckily, we found something in the distance on a high path. Shouting loud for help, it stopped moving. Jumping down from where we saw it, we ran up to whom we found out to be be a traveling woman. It was my hostel host. I could not have been so relieved and surprised. Calling out my name before I could make out her identity she asked if I was lost. I answered with little breath, yes and that I needed to take Hugo to the tunnel and she just pointed to her right as the tunnel was sitting right below us. And that is how I was saved from desertion in the desert.
As I blogged in a previous post, I was part of a health-studies clinical observation program as a part of the IES Abroad program. In this program, we have a Medical Spanish course that meets 3 times a week, a biweekly public health seminar course and a weekly field placement.
My field placement was under Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s School of Nursing. Initially, I wanted to sign up for public health placement for health education but due to limited spots, I did not get the placement. Luckily, the clinical observations placement that I was put in was much better than I expected. Rather than only shadowing nurses and doctors, we were able to assess several health systems ranging from substance abuse rehabilitation homes to visiting indigenous Mapuche machi (Mapuche healer). It definitely sparked an interest in both medicine and public health for me as it allowed me to even co-write an article on alternative and complementary medicine implementation in Chile’s healthcare system. But if I were to state some of my most impactful experiences of the program, I would say that witnessing my first birth, visiting a Mapuche ruca and a woman’s abuse rehabilitation home, along with watching 4 surgeries in one day were some at the top of the list. To those who are interested in medicine and are hoping to study abroad, I would highly recommend doing this program as it will also give you tools to serve patients in Spanish and gain a global perspective on medicine. Below, I have some miscellaneous videos and photos from the program. For privacy purposes not many could be taken during my experience.