Studying abroad in another country is like stepping into a cold shower. It is shocking, uncomfortable, and incredibly different, but it forces you to adapt. During my year in Chile, I am maturing, learning more than I ever thought possible in one year, and becoming independent. I don’t know if I’ve reached adulthood yet, but this year is pushing me a lot closer.
I was first introduced to the idea of study abroad through a book called The Global Student, which is a collection of testimonies from former exchange students about how the experience completely transformed the course of their lives. The idea immediately consumed me. I am bold, and am constantly searching for ways to take advantage of every opportunity I am presented with. I was ready to get out of my perfect bubble of suburbia, to get off the beaten track, and to spend my senior year learning things that I could never learn in a classroom, or even in the US. I’ve never been comfortable with sitting back and doing what everyone else is doing. My resolve was tested time and time again during the process of planning my trip. My friends doubted that I would follow through with such a drastic decision, and they failed to support me, but I pushed through on my own. My school counselors said it would be nearly impossible to handle all the classes I would need to graduate a year early on top of my already busy schedule, but I stayed cool under pressure and finished high school in three years with straight As. I also faced inner challenges. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would be alone and isolated. Sure people would care about me, but I would be leaving everyone who truly loves me behind in California. I knew that an abundance of embarrassing moments awaited me. My confidence would have to be intrinsic instead of being verified by my achievements, because it was inevitable that there would be many more failures than successes living in a foreign country with foreign customs and language. I would have to prepare myself to watch my friends grow closer to each other and close the gap where I used to be. After the initial excitement wore off, the magnitude of what I was planning to do really set in, but I never looked back.
I have been in Chile now for a little over two months, and I have never been so sure that I made the right decision about anything before. Obviously there have been failures, tears, and a never ending supply of embarrassing and hilarious stories to write in my blog, but I have already been permanently changed for the better. I’ve learned how to be my own person, and am now comfortable even when I am outside my comfort zone. I know that I can choose whichever path I want, and I will be successful even if I have to walk it alone. I have developed a more well-rounded vision of the world, and also of how the world views the United States. Absorbing the political and cultural perspectives of my family and friends here has completely opened my mind to new ways of thinking and new ideas of what’s acceptable in a society and what isn’t. I have also become an ambassador to the people here, teaching them more about US culture and doing my best to break the ugly stereotypes. I know I still have a lot more learning to do in the eight months of my exchange that remain. By the time I return to the US, the person I am now will be unrecognizable to me. My dad once told me that through studying books, a person can only expand their knowledge in two dimensions. To learn and grow three dimensionally, a person has only one option—travel.