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The Most Important Things I Learned Studying Abroad

Liza prepares to return home.

A few nights ago, I walked into my house late after a long day. My host mom, who was up ironing, asked if I was hungry and as usual, my inclination was to say no; it was almost midnight and I was exhausted. But I had been thinking about how quickly my final weeks were passing, so instead I said yes knowing we would get a chance to catch up. Along with my host sister, we relocated to the kitchen. The two heated up some lasagne they had made earlier in the day and proceeded to sit down with tea to keep me company.

We fell into relaxed conversation about my time in the house for the past few months and how much had changed. Amongst the laughing and joking, something suddenly caught me off-guard; I was sitting in exactly the same place with the same people as my very first night in Valparaíso more than four months before.

After arriving in the house and doing some unpacking, my host sister and mother had pulled me away from the rest of the family, sat me down at the kitchen table and patiently waited for me to struggle through the language barrier over tea and bread. We had chatted about my family, theirs and why I had chosen to study in Chile. We’d laughed and smiled and sat for hours.

And there, at the very end of my experience, I was finding myself in the same position; sure it was summer now instead of winter and I was able to communicate fully, but I was in the same seat with the same company, looking out the same window over a view of the same scattered lights on Valparaíso’s hills. Simultaneously, it was as if no time and all the time in the world had passed.

I struggled to keep in tears at that moment; I think it was probably a combination of realizing I only had two weeks left, how much had changed since I’d arrived in Chile and thinking of leaving the city and life I’d grown to love. It hasn’t been perfect by any means and I still struggle with the relaxed pace of life and some of the cultural differences. But there’s also something about the place that’s rooted inside of me, and I can just sense it will be tough to leave—and even tougher once I’m back at home and affected in ways I can’t even imagine while here.

That’s the thing about being abroad or even having extended experiences back at home in environments different than your normal one. Without meaning to, you take them for granted, and you don’t realize just how much love you have for the people who you see everyday, for the places you pass and the routine you’ve settled into. It becomes normal and it takes these little moments at the end to fully realize that you’re not ready to let go. Because when it ends, it never quite happens again the same.

These realizations are what I’ve been struggling with this past week or so. I’ve done a lot of travelling and I’m no stranger to change, but it still hurts. There’s just something hard about the way that we adapt and develop deep relationships and love for where we are, and then inevitably have to leave it all behind.

My life here is fundamentally different from my one at home; from the way I spend my time, to who I spend it with, to my priorities. Though I’m so excited to be going home, there’s something paralyzing about it too. Leaving Valparaíso doesn’t just mean leaving the city, but it means leaving this experience and everything that I am while here.

There’s nothing to be done about this struggle except give it time. I know things will quickly adjust as I return to life at home. I’ve gone through change before and I’ll go through it again, and life will go on. Some changes that happened here and some of what I’ve gone through abroad will carry with me, and be absorbed into who I am as I move forward. And some won’t and will eventually be forgotten.

Fortunately and unfortunately, this is all part of the experience of travelling, of growing and of living. But I guess what I have learned, as cliché as it sounds, is that the only control I have over this whole ending process is to take full advantage of the moments I have left and to go live as completely as I possibly can. There’s a certain comfort in that, and knowing that when it does all come to an end, I’ll have nothing but a smile looking back on it.  

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Liza Bayless

Liza is originally from Denver, Colorado, and entering her junior year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut where she studies English and Government. At the moment, Liza is on exchange at the University of Playa Ancha in Valparaíso, Chile. Ever wonder what it’s like to study where some of the best wine grows? Read on.

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