This was my address. I can’t believe it’s been 135 days (19+ weeks). This has really been “La gran aventura de Esteban” / Steven’s Great Adventure! When I entered college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad twice — a summer in Spain and a semester in Latin America — and I am so happy that I accomplished my goal.
Everyone says that study abroad is a “life-changing” experience. It’s cliché, but it’s true. My experience in Valencia, Spain during Summer 2010 was fantastic, and I made four of my Top 10 best friends through this trip. I can’t remember a single moment of being truly unhappy while in Spain. Sure, I was stressed while writing some papers for school, but overall it was a probably the happiest 6.5 weeks of my life.
Chile, meanwhile, had its ups and downs. When you’re away from home for 19+ weeks, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have some peaks and valleys. My worst days were April 27 and June 6, and there were many other sub-par days scattered in the mix. Around June 6, I wrote my dad an e-mail saying that if I had the choice to do this all over again, I wouldn’t.
But my opinion has changed. Just like when I was in Spain, I made a handful of life-long friends. It’s not the quantity but rather the quality that matters. When my classes at the Universidad de Chile were overwhelming me, I always had two people who supported me: Susana Ramos and Helena Moreno. It was no coincidence that Susana and Helena lived with me. God put them there because I needed them, and I did everything I could to return the favor and support them, too. Susana, like me, is a “pájaro loco y feliz” / crazy but happy bird. She loves Madonna and also the song “Qué será de tí” by the Mexican singer Thalía. (El tema fue originalmente popularizado por el cantante brasileño Roberto Carlos, titulado Como vai você.) She dances around the house singing, and I love it. When Susana is happy, she is the epitome of unrestrained joy :)
Meanwhile, Helena was a fellow exchange student. We had a class together and were partners on a 3-person, semester-long group project. We ended up bonding over this class, taught by our beloved Papi Sánchez. Over the course of the semester, we created a list of 35+ “chistes internos” / inside jokes, my favorite of which was: “Tienes un cerebro enorme; va a explotar” / You have such a huge brain, it’s going to explode! Helena taught me how to cook a tortilla de patatas and inspired me to hit the gym and lose some weight. She traveled with me to Buenos Aires and Colonia. But best of all, Helena recently decided that I will be the Godfather to her first child. Helena’s getting engaged as soon as she returns to France this month, and she hopes to start a family within three years. We’re really hoping her first child is a girl because Helena and her fiancé Alex have already agreed on the name Ines. Knowing that I’m going to have a French-speaking Goddaughter, I decided to take my first-ever French class this fall so that I can communicate with her. FREN 109, here I come!
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that before little Ines comes our way, Susana, Helena, and I have already agreed to attend all three of our weddings. We are “hermanos” / siblings in every sense of the word, and as an only child it’s great to finally have two sisters :)
Now that my South American adventure is over, I am proud to present my cumulative travels to date. Because I’m Chilean, I say, “Soy patiperro!”
30 countries and 6 territories!
Haven’t been to the red ones!
Twelve things I missed about the USA:
- Staff members at the University of South Carolina. There were many moments here in Chile when I felt alone and helpless. In Chile, university is more of a required phase of your life than a part of your essence. There are no dormitories, there is very little staff to support you emotionally, there are no Division-I university sports teams comprised of your classmates, and there is little sense of family. But Carolina is my Family with a capital ‘F’, and I want to thank the staff members who have always been there for me ever since I arrived on campus for orientation in June 2009: Viki Fecas, Meredith McNiece, Dr. Carolyn Jones, Margaret Perkins, Jan Smoak, and Trish Jones.
- Central heating in the winter. Yes, Chile has OECD status, but the “Rule of Steven” is that a country is not First World unless >75% of the population has central heating.
- An oven that actually works. (Toaster ovens are great, but they just aren’t big enough for quiches, cakes, etc.)
- Other kitchen appliances (i.e. blenders, mini-choppers).
- A real vacuum.
- Dryers. (It kind of stinks when it takes multiple hours to dry all your clothes, socks, and towels in front of a space heater.)
- Shopping at Staples for my beloved office supplies, esp. 3-ring binders (instead of 2-ring binders).
- Cracker Barrel and other Southern foods. Sure, most Southern dishes are fried and fattening, but everything in moderation, right?
- Chipotle, Qdoba, and Panera.
- Grocery shopping at Publix. I can’t wait for a $4.99 roast beef and swiss sandwich!
- American football and the camaraderie of university sports that is unique to the USA!
- And of course, my family and friends! :)