For better or for worse, the first few weeks of an extended abroad experience are a time of extremes. One moment you’ve got a handle on things, prepared to conquer whatever challenge is thrown your way. The next, you’re ready to huddle up under the covers, wishing that Netflix would take pity on us all by allowing overseas binge watching.
As the marker has come and gone signifying the end of my own first two weeks, I’m actually left confused by the feeling of stability.
It’s a right of passage to make it through that time though—the embarrassments, the excitements, the frustrations. They’re all part of eventually making your experience what it is, and what allow you to learn and grow.
Here are some of the moments that you can expect to experience during this rollercoaster of an introduction to abroad life:
You’ll make huge mistakes that will make you feel way out of your league (especially if you’re studying abroad somewhere non-English speaking).
Late one night, I set out with some friends to grab street “completos;” delicious, though somewhat suspect, hotdogs topped with tomatoes and avocado. When I went in for the first bite, I noticed something was off. Only bread. Next bite. . .same thing. Later, I learned that the slang word for hotdog also ends in –esa (not far off from the “mayonesa” I had asked them to hold). It appears that I ordered a hotdog without the hotdog. Needless to say, this was devastating.
Something will click and all the sudden you’ll realize you look and act just like a native.
After a week or two of struggling with the public bus system, I was able to successfully hail the one I needed to get to my university. I dished out the correct change and took a seat, holding my backpack snugly in front of me in the Chilean way. I looked around, noticed no one was staring or giggling and I thought smugly to myself, “I’ve totally got this down.”
…and that will last for a few hours before you realize that you are so far from being a native.
Later that day, newly confident from my earlier experience, I jumped on a bus I hadn’t taken previously, pretty certain it would pass close by my home. It took an unexpected sharp turn, but I thought to myself that logically, it must make a big loop and eventually come back, so I stayed put. It didn’t and I was the last one on the bus in the high, somewhat sketchy hills of town at 10 pm. Somehow I made it back home after hopping a few other buses—though about an hour later than intended. It turns out I am not an expert on the bus system and I will now patiently wait for the familiar ones.
You’ll realize you’re right where you should be.
My university is known for being especially politically active (if not, at times, quite anarchistic), and I was invited to join in with a massive student march for free education by my classmates. While holding a hand-painted sign, shouting a newly learned university chant and walking alongside 4,000 other professors and students from around the city, I realized that I was experiencing Chile in exactly the way I had hoped for.
You’ll have some “firsts.”
Well, along with the upsides of the political activity came the downsides. While walking to my university one day, I stumbled upon a war zone; big fires and a crowd of police holding shields, backed up by tank-like vehicles headed towards the main building. Turns out a group of students were holding a sit-in and had been throwing sizable rocks at the police and lighting tires on fire. Suddenly it became hard to breathe and a piercing sensation overcame my nose and throat. Well, that was my first (and hopefully last) time getting tear-gassed. (It was an exciting week—I also experienced my first earthquake, with a pretty impressive magnitude of 6.4.)
You’ll miss some things about home and wonder how you’ll make it through the semester.
As soon as I showed up in Valparaíso, I began to crave everything that Chile doesn’t have. Breakfast burritos. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Indian food. All things spicy. They’re just nowhere to be found, and it’s tough.
…and you’ll also feel totally at home.
I’ve settled into a routine spending each night sitting in the living room with my host family, chatting about politics, literature, Grey’s Anatomy. We poke fun at each other, cook together, and relax in front of the television swapping stories. It’s different in ways, but most of the time, it seems that there’s certain universality to the human experience.Add this article to your reading list