When you step off the airplane and into the airport of the country where you’ll spend the next four months of your life, you feel as though you have all the time in the world.
In barely one week from today, I’ll reach the half-way point of my time in Chile. And this scares the dickens out of me. Because for as much as I’ve already done, there’s so much more that I want to accomplish while I’m here.
Throughout the first two months I’ve experienced highs and lows. I’ve missed tall glasses of ice-cold milk (it’s not very common to drink milk here), blueberry French toast and my family. I’ve gone on adventures, been lost and confused, found my way with the help of kind people and even puked up an olive (don’t eat too many empanadas before getting in a car if you get motion sick). And I have no regrets for any of it, even the toughest of learning experiences that knocked me on my butt.
But there’s so much more that I have to say and do and see. So I have five challenges for myself for the rest of my time here:
- Be an example of positivity. I’ve realized how old it gets to be around people who complain and spew negativity, and sometimes when I’m in a downer mood I even get sick of my own negative thoughts. As I wrote in my previous blog about the “Pigeon Man,” you can spread the seed or feed pigeons, and I want to feed pigeons.
- Spend less time doing homework. Professors won’t like me for saying this, but most exchange students don’t study abroad for the actual school part. We study abroad to travel and meet new people and learn about a different culture. My classes here are challenging, but I can’t let them monopolize my time and risk missing out on real-life experiences. So from now on, sorry profs, half the effort is my new whole.
- Travel and get out more. This is tied to homework. Less time spent on homework means more time doing cool things.
- Improve my Spanish. I live with a host family, which has been awesome. But I still have a long ways to go before I’m completely fluent in Español. Every day I plan to take little steps to continue improving my grammar and vocabulary, whether it’s having a conversation with a native speaker or practicing on Duolingo.com.
- Step outside the comfort zone of my comfort zone. Studying in a different country is in itself a large step outside the cozy bubble of one’s home environment. But I want to go beyond that and do something that makes me uncomfortable every single day. Nothing becomes easier until you practice.
Above all, I want to go home without a single regret.
So today I took two huge steps in the direction of accomplishing these goals.
During one of my first weeks after arriving in Chile, I met two people at the racetrack here in Viña del Mar who know my bosses back in the States. They offered to give me a tour of the track in the morning if I’m ever interested. The sport of horse racing is one of my life passions, so of course I was interested. However I kept putting it off because I was scared of venturing into the unknown.
Last night when I got home from classes, I willed myself to pick up the phone and call the guy. This morning I spent two and a half hours at the track, talking to trainers and jockeys, watching horses gallop and getting an awesome behind the scenes tour.
I thought I would become flustered if I couldn’t remember how to say something in Spanish, or nervous of the stares I would get being the only woman on the backside (the people involved in racing here are predominantly male). But I surprised myself with the sense of calm I felt as I walked through the entrance this morning and searched for the guy I needed to meet up with. Once I took the first step, the rest was easy.
The other step is that tonight, I leave to spend the next six days in Patagonia, adventuring in Torres Del Paine National Park.
In one day alone I’ve managed to step out of my comfort zone, improve my Spanish and shift my focus from school to traveling. And that all makes me feel pretty darn positive.
(Top photo: Awesome mural in Valparaiso)