Last updated: July 25. 2014 11:07AM - 86 Views
By Ashley Stickel Contributing columnist

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To my fellow world travelers, I have reached the point in every trip where I cannot believe I will be leaving soon. I have come to the point where I could choose to ignore my plans of leaving in 10 days. However, this is not possible. I must think about completing the hours for my internship. I must also begin putting my things in order and deciding whether or not going over on the weight of my bags is better than checking a third bag when flying home.

Two months ago, if someone had asked me how I would feel ten days before leaving, I probably would have said that I would be excited to get back home to my normal life. Now I find that I feel very bittersweet about returning to the United States. Traveling and living in a different country changes one’s perspective on life and I am terrified of returning home to a “normal” life.

I believe the reason for my bittersweet feelings is due to the relationships I have built here in Chile. Very soon, I will no longer be able to sit down and eat “once” (a small typical Chilean meal served around 8 p.m.) with my family after a long day. I will no longer be able to chat in person with my new Chilean friends as they teach me more about their language and culture. The way of life I struggled to adapt to at first will become something I long for when I am in the United States. Who knows, maybe I will even miss the “who is that gringa walking down the sidewalk” stare that I get about 20 times a day.

Over the last few weeks I have experienced Chile in a whole new way thanks to a Chilean friend that I met. We spend time discussing cultural differences and talking about how to say things in Spanish and English. He has challenged me to better my Spanish and do things I would have been afraid to do at home. He is just one example of how the relationships one makes abroad can impact the experience for the better.

Last weekend I took a visit to the countryside where my friend’s family is from. The town where they live is called “El Cobre.” It is a small and very quiet town. The contrast between El Cobre and Viña del Mar (the city where I am currently living) is acute. The night is so dark and quiet that one can almost feel as if they are the only person in the world. I was able to see the stars the first night and could not fathom their magnitude and beauty.

The next day I learned more about the culture of Chile in the countryside after touring the area on bike with my friend as my guide and later watching him play in a local soccer match. I noticed that the citizens of this town all knew each other and greeted each other warmly. In the countryside, neighbors care for neighbors and family lives nearby. This is a very characteristic description of a small town, but experiencing the tranquility and closeness of El Cobre was a retreat from the fast-paced city life of Viña del Mar.

To this day, I am still learning about the Chilean culture and way of life as well as experiencing new things. The students I teach, the friends I have made and my Chilean homestay family, continually teach me new things about Chile. The most invaluable thing that a traveler can do is take time to get to know the locals. The only people who can really show a traveler a country are the locals who live their daily lives there. I have had the extreme pleasure of experiencing this fact first-hand. I am so very thankful to have taken the opportunity to study abroad and live with a homestay family. My mind has been opened to a new way of life and a new way to relate to other human beings. My hope is that when I return home that I will bring a bit of Chile with me.

So many people told me going into this trip that it would change me forever. I thought this idea was very cliché and did not realize at the time, just how true it was. Now I know that my many experiences here in Chile have shaped my life and helped to form me into the person I will return to the U.S. to be. I came to Chile as a scared student simply hoping to get good grades at a foreign university and to better my Spanish. While I have accomplished both of these goals, I have also accomplished things I never thought I would. I now have a better idea of what I would like to do with my future and am considering living and teaching abroad for a time.

Living abroad for longer than a few months at a time was never a desire of mine before this trip. Now I do not want to limit myself. The possibilities are endless and living abroad has shown me that the best way to grow as a person is to challenge myself and do something extraordinary. My challenge for you today is to go out and do something extraordinary. Do something you never thought you could do. The passion you have for your dreams will carry you to your goal. Do not let fear hinder the strength of your passion.

The pursuit and realization of dreams brings a whole new understanding to the way we as humans live our lives.

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