My life changed for the better the first time that I left the United States: my mind was opened to realities I hadn’t considered before, I was humbled by how much I didn’t understand about the world, but I was instantly ready and anxious to gain that understanding. I figure now is the best time to make such a reflection since the second leg of my South American adventure this May was back to where it all began. ¡Viva Chile!
If you’re one of those detail-oriented types, you’d notice that I went through Chilean customs 4 years to the day after I first left! How fun is that?
My first trip abroad was to Viña del Mar, Chile, as many of you know since that’s where Abi, Maddy, and I met. We had a blast roaming the relaxed beach town and actually spent only one day in the big city capital, Santiago. This time around, my entire stay was in Santiago, so I had a much different experience.
I’m not going to focus on the differences, though.
Instead, I’d like to highlight all of the lovely perks there are to having friends scattered throughout the world in order to encourage those who are nervous to take the plunge into international mingling and also to thank those friends of mine who have enriched my travels throughout the past 4 years.
1. You have somewhere to crash that doesn’t dent your budget and doesn’t keep you sleeping with one eye open at night. Two of the Chilean students, both conveniently named Javier, that helped with the Pitt program we did in Viña del Mar ended up being my hosts when I passed through Santiago. (One pictured above!) I’ll be forever grateful for having my own room with clean sheets and a friendly face nearby. Gracias a los dos!
2. Getting a sightseeing recommendation from a local friend is a lot easier to trust than a guide book. Since I was on my own while the chicos were at work, they threw a few ideas my way to keep me occupied. I had some beautiful walks through the city, people-watched while shopping, killed a few hours in the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), and (I’ll publicly admit this) did some work-related research in a Chilean Walmart. They obviously understand my interests!
3. You automatically have someone to hang out with (and make plans for you). I had some pretty lazy days (read: woke up at 11am) while I was in Santiago, but the Javiers had plenty of other things in mind for when they got home. I tried my first CrossFit class, got delicious Indian food, crashed a work party, strolled through the biggest park in Chile, and went out in the trendy Bellavista neighborhood.
4. You don’t feel so out-of-place even if you are alone for a stretch of time. Those times I was sitting on a bench outside stuffing my face with empanadas or lugging my gawky backpack through a residential neighborhood, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my gosh, everyone’s definitely staring at me. I look like SUCH a foreigner right now. Please don’t question me on what I’m doing,” which is what I’d normally do on my own. Knowing you have some friends who are “in” with the local culture can really put your mind at ease. If nothing else, you know you can tell them an awkward, hilarious story when you see them later in the day!
The main point I’m trying to make is that although it’s hard having to be apart from people who you’d like to spend more time with, knowing those people in far-away places is a privilege and absolutely indispensable when traveling. I couldn’t have had even half of the experiences that I’ve had without the wonderful humans I’ve met from all over the world.
So thank you to everyone that I’ve met so far… for opening your schedules and your doors to make me feel at home, for putting up with my language errors, and mostly, for being awesome people. Know that I’ll always return the favor!