Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Column I wrote for the Daily Lobo

Escribé este para el lobo. Puedes leer akah. Prefiero como yo lo edité.

Like an all-encompassing wave washing over your body and sweeping you off your feet, throwing you on your ass so hard that you feel nauseous -- that is how I would equate moving abroad. You get plunged into an instant identity crisis in every facet of your being. It’s terrible and wonderful at the same time, like too many similes in a paragraph.

If you come from the United States, there isn’t really anywhere in the world that hasn’t had some exposure to western culture. There are, of course, the outliers North Korea, the deep southern states and bits of Africa. But anywhere you go these days there always seems to be Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and that’s probably the most common perspective of what America is. Sometimes living abroad you feel like it might be the most honest depiction.

But in between that first day and that second to third month, the new and exciting of it all falls away, and the culture shock sets in. Going to a new ethnic restaurant is fun and just outside of your comfort zone for as long as you choose. But deciding to live there and not leave for six months to a year is a whole other story. The fun of not knowing what you’re eating turns to frustration, and always being on the outside of a joke becomes embarrassing. The clothes you think are cool seem even odder than at home.

And this is where the wave comes in: You get knocked down. You know nothing -- not the language, not the culture, not the food. And you’ve decided to live here for the next little chunk of life. It sucks.

Then a funny thing happens. It’s the most surreal feeling; you leave the town you’ve been in, and travel around the country. And when you get back in the bus station or airport tired and haggard you feel like you’ve come home. And like the ocean receding the horizon comes into view again. That wave that just knocked you on your ass doesn’t look like it ever could have. And you maybe don’t crave all the new food you’ve encountered, but maybe a dish or two.

I had been on a bus for nearly eight hours, which in Chile is laughably nothing, and I was super hot, and the one thing I craved more than anything was an ice cold Piscola. It’s a type of grape brandy made only in northern Chile/Southern Peru, mixed with a soft drink. But I remember the moment fondly because I wasn’t craving something from home in a time of hot stress, I was craving something from right now. From Chile.

And this is the Zen-like mantra that moving abroad forces you to accept. You know nothing, you are nothing, you cannot predict anything. You are golden once you’ve accepted this mind-set: strong like stone, smooth like water.

I am at about five months in, and about a month and a half ago I really started getting into the swing of things. Spanish is bueno, I have a good amount of friends, and I know where and when to do things. One of the downsides for studying abroad only a short time like six months is that once you get used to things, you move on.

I come back in early January and start school almost immediately, and while it will be nice to get back to normal, I am going to miss Chile.

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