Well, I’m on the plane. Ever since I first got the idea to study abroad, over a year ago, I have been dreaming of this moment. Now it’s finally here and I can’t believe it. The past month has been a whirlwind of uncertainty over when I could leave and stress over intense packing preparations. There was some confusion with my visa, and for a little while we were worried that I wouldn’t be able to leave until mid August, but everything worked out thanks to my mom’s insane efforts and endless phone calls to the Chilean consulate and to Sug, my Rotary counselor. After countless packing lists, shopping trips, and suitcase weigh-ins (It was nearly impossible to shave what I brought down to two 50 pound suitcases and a carry on backpack), the preparations were finally completed this morning. I guess I’ll have to wait until I unpack to see what all I forgot!
Saying goodbye to my friends and family this week has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It has been so weird to hang out with friends for a day during the summer and then when we say goodbye to know that it is not just goodbye until summer vacation ends but goodbye for a year. This morning, I had lots of visitors at my house. Kim, Ilana, Emily, Ana, Curly, Katie, and Mel all came over to say goodbye. I quickly realized how much I hate goodbyes. They are awkward, and they never feel like enough compared to all the emotions you have for a person and all of the wonderful experiences you’ve had together. I would rather simply let all the great moments we have had together speak for themselves. Those times when we sang at the top of our lungs in the car and laughed until we couldn’t breathe say “I love you and I’ll miss you” so much more clearly than any words ever could. But, closure was necessary, and so the awkward, teary goodbyes were unavoidable. This week has made me realize just how grateful I am to have such amazing friends whom I can completely be myself around and who love me so much. I am more nervous than I’d like to admit that they will all grow close without me next year, and that when I come back things won’t be the same and I will feel left out. However, I believe that we have a bond strong enough to last 10 months and 5,000 miles with no problem.
Saying goodbye to my parents was even harder. My mom has been crying all week over the fact that her only child is leaving for a whole year. My dad hasn’t cried, but I know that it is affecting him more than he lets on. We went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant (Ichibiri) last night, and they drove me to the airport this morning. My dad gave me advice during the car ride and warned me to be safe and keep my wits about me. I know that is how he demonstrates how much he loves me. My mom just hugged me, told me how proud she was of me, and we cried together. They went with me up to the security checkpoint, and then we all stood there, hugging and crying, while the people around us stared. It was a little awkward, but at that point I really didn’t care. I told them I loved them one last time, and I walked into the security line with makeup running down my face. I got some weird looks from people along the way. I still can’t really wrap my head around the prospect of not seeing them at all for almost a full year!
After I left my parents, it hit me that I was now totally alone. I have never flown alone before, and although I was completely confident that I could navigate the airport and find my flights, it was an odd feeling to be so totally in charge of myself. I got some coffee, sat down, and waited for my flight (I had about an hour and a half to kill since I was so prepared and got there early). I can’t really describe my emotions. I was so incredibly sad to be leaving my family and friends behind for so long, I felt completely alone, and I was nervous to take such a leap into the unknown. At the same time, I was so unbelievably excited to be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. I couldn’t stop thinking about every little new thing that I would experience. Even just going to the mall, walking around, or watching TV suddenly seemed new and exciting! I have been dreaming of this for so long, and now that dream is a reality. It’s actually starting. While I sat waiting for my plane, I alternated between being on the verge of tears, and feeling like jumping around and celebrating.
The first plane ride (3 hours from John Wayne to Dallas) was easy and painless. I sat in the window seat and the people next to me were very nice. I am not very talkative when I’m with my parents because I always just let them do the talking for me, but when I am alone I love to chat with people. I guess I’ll have plenty of opportunities for that now! My dad warned me that the Dallas airport can be very confusing, and when I got off the plane I realized that he was right. I didn’t have too many problems following the signs, but I had to take a tram to another terminal to get to my next gate. I arrived with about 2 hours to spare, so I went and got some dinner and some coffee (I know it sounds like I am becoming a coffee addict) and waited at my gate. I sent a message to my mom saying that I loved her and that I was safely in Dallas. I also sent messages to my host family saying that I couldn’t wait to see them in just 10 hours after 3 months of talking and waiting to actually meet! While I was waiting in the airport a guy noticed my Rotary blazer and asked me about it. He was from Chile and had a friend who studied abroad in Germany with Rotary a few years ago. I guess they were right, and that being a part of the Rotary program can make you friends in the most unlikely places. I then boarded the TEN HOUR flight to Chile. I was asked to sit in an emergency exit row. Is it weird that I was excited about this? The man next to me was from Chile and we had a long conversation in Spanish. I told him about what I was doing and he told me a lot about Chile and what to expect. I was shocked by how much I could understand and by how well he could understand my broken and unfinished sentences with almost every verb conjugated incorrectly. I am so excited to go to a place where everyone is so friendly and welcoming… and willing to humor my terrible Spanish and speak slowly enough for me to understand!
I am still sitting on the plane, getting ready to try to sleep. I arrive at 8:20 tomorrow morning, and I want to be able to do things with my host family tomorrow and not be too tired, so hopefully I can sleep now. For now, I am not missing my family too much; I am just incredibly excited for this experience to begin. I know these next few days are going to be a whirlwind of emotions and confusion, but I am ready. I can’t believe that this is actually happening. My dream is finally coming true.