Tales from Abroad: adventures in Chile

Traveling is about expanding yourself as a person and discovering what kind of person you want to be. Eye opening sights and people around the world can help to refocus personal energy and solidify and strengthen values. (credit: Emily Vokach-Brodsky/) Traveling is about expanding yourself as a person and discovering what kind of person you want to be. Eye opening sights and people around the world can help to refocus personal energy and solidify and strengthen values. (credit: Emily Vokach-Brodsky/)

When I turned nine years old, I made my first bucket list. I proudly told my mom, rattling off the random assortment of places I would inevitably visit: Africa, Italy, Spain, and that big waterfall in Canada. At that point, I don’t think she realized she was raising a daughter who would save every paycheck for future trips. Now, she uses the anecdote to justify my absences during winter and summer break when I should be at home and am instead “gallivanting around the globe” — her words, not mine.

The summer after my sophomore year of high school, my best friend, and I made a summer bucket list filled with exciting adventures for 15 year olds. We checked off activities like 3 a.m. trips to donut shops, beach bonfires, and sleeping under the stars. If you know me, you know I like lists. I make to-do lists, grocery lists, lists that categorize how and what I need to study when preparing for exams. I’ve always considered bucket lists a great way to establish my goals and capitalize on the opportunities presented to me. They can help turn potentially mundane summer days into a memorable day at the beach, for all my fellow Californians out there.

Before leaving for my semester abroad in Chile almost three months ago, I obviously made a pre-departure bucket list. It included a random assortment of things:

  1. Become fluent in Spanish
  2. Visit Patagonia
  3. Develop at least one new hobby (Climbing? Surfing? Chocolate making? All three?)
  4. Play soccer with locals

After dinner one night at my host family’s house, I had a long conversation with my host dad. He listened to me stumble my way through a conversation in Spanish about family dynamic, travel, and recent political history of Chile; I told him about my life and about my recent adventures. At the end of the conversation, he told me “estás buscando algo” meaning “you are looking for something.” I think he is right. More than looking for experiences to check off a bucket list, I’m looking for answers to big questions. I’m looking to be challenged. I’m looking for international experience that will inevitably change the way I think about and approach situations.

I realize how so incredibly lucky I am to have the opportunity to travel as much as I do. I come from a financially stable background and have the distinct privilege of being able to dedicate a majority of the money I make to my travel fund. Additionally, my amazing mother supports and encourages me each time I tell her about volunteering in Central America or visiting Europe instead of spending Christmas at home. To anyone who has the opportunity and is considering study abroad: Do it. Travel. Explore. Leave your bubble. Push the limits of your comfort zone. You don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to experience something new that challenges the way you think, but I truly believe that there is something so unique to being in a foreign, unknown place for an extended period of time as a young person. For me, Chile was the perfect place to spend my study abroad. I want conversations that address shortcomings of political figures and about how the world reacts to human rights abuses. I want to be surrounded by politically active young people who speak out, go on strike, and question authority.

Despite being one of those obnoxious list-lovers, it goes without saying that the moments that are completely unplanned and unexpected can be some of the best. Yesterday, I met up with a few friends for ice cream — at one of the world’s top 25 ice cream parlors. If that isn’t enough of a reason to visit Chile, what is? We sat in a plaza in silence; eating our ice cream and watching people pass by. A group of young travelers suddenly started playing in a giant drum circle and drew in a crowd. People were dancing and tapping their feet along to the beat. It was the epitome of Valparaíso in front of me: a city of music, passion, travel, accompanied by public buses and skateboarders in the background. On the way home that evening, I took a public bus, which quickly filled up with people. With loud music overhead, the bus driver took turns alarmingly fast, sending me careening into those around me. As I stood, squished in the aisle between an older man and some teenage boys, I looked down at the peaceful young family in front of me. The little baby boy was asleep in his dad’s arms, and his mom was drifting in and out of sleep, leaning on her partner’s shoulder. In this crazy world, they found peace. As the bus climbed Valparaíso’s hills, I stood there with a goofy smile on my face, happy that I chose to study in this country, during this semester, and happened to get on this bus.