How does one feel after spending four months in a foreign country?
Well I must say it's a strange feeling. Chile has felt like, for quite some time, like my 2nd home, like my second life. As I gradually adapt to become more and more Chilean in my ways, I become more in sync with the Chilean culture and become in essence Chilean, perhaps not in the blood, but a part of my heart will always be Chile.
It's not like every day I wake up with a bounce to my step and think, man oh man, look at me, I'm in a foreign country, a 12 hour plane ride from my parents, I can do whatever I like. I can eat cake for breakfast (well, actually, if there IS cake, breakfast is normally when it is eaten), I can party all night and sleep all day.
No, it's not like that. I have my responsibilities here too. For example, to be ready at the time we leave the house to go to school (7.40am). To inform my host mum of anything, if I'm going to be going out after school, if I have a party in the weekend, if I need to take lunch to school. As and AFS student, I have a responsibility to go to school and try to do what I can, also to stay in class and not bunk school, even if the teacher is one hour late, but normally some of my classmates stay too, so I'm not the lonely one.
I think I am less independant here than I am in New Zealand, I need to be very clear on the communication side of things, because miscommunications cause problems - for example, normally every Friday, my classs finish at 12.50pm, I go home for lunch, and return for band at 4.10pm. This Friday, because we have to recuperate classes because there was a very long strike, I have afternoon classes from 2.30pm till 5.30pm, so I have to lunch at school. I had told my host mum twice that I had afternoon classes on Friday. (But not that I had to have lunch at school). Because in the morning, there was no lunch as usual to take to school, I took some of my money to buy a lunch (don't like asking for these sorts of things, especially to take a lunch two minutes before we leave, even if I'm the one dishing some leftovers in a container, because it would cause a fluster.) So I was fine with taking some money to buy a lunch. At lunchtime I have lunch, do my afternoon classes, stay after school to talk with my friends, return home. Upon arriving home, my host mum asked me (kind of accusingly, to me), why I didn't tell her that I had to have lunch at school. I said that I did say I had classes in the afternoon this day - what happened, is she thought I was referring to my normal band practice in the afternoon, so thought I would be eating lunch at home as usual, with my host siblings and host dad (as she works). So that's the kind of communication error, when it's nobody's fault, but you learn from it to be more informative and clear.
The north trip of Chile was definitely a highlight of the month (and the year), but one of the sensations I think all us exchangers feel is a bit of a sense of limbo, especially the year students.
At the bus station, while waiting for our buses after the trip, there was a feeling of not wanting to return to our respective host cities, and wanting to return straight back to our home countries. It was a depressing situation, we had just said goodbye (and to some, goodbye forever) to the students, and the semester students which are leaving in July. And after any holiday, it's always a bit depressing to have to return to 'reality'. And then there's the waiting for the bus, with nothing to do in the bus terminal, tired, sad, dreaming of Wattie's spaghetti.
It stayed with me (and from what I have heard, most of the other exchangers) for a few days after returning. But once I got back into the rhythm of life, it goes away, the feeling of limbo alleviates. But it's normal to feel like this, every moment of an exchange is not meant to be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
There are times that I look forward to a lot, I'm lucky in the sense that I have friends at school, ad I like my somewhat crazy, misbehaved class (I know other exchange students who are lovely people but don't have a class they fit in), the first day back I had a lot of people asking how the trip went, big hugs from my friends and it was good to be back at school and see everyone. Then the next day, I kind of noticed the subtle changes that had happened, the main one being, girly things, like two of my friends are no longer friends with each other, and one of my better friends is now good friends with a girl who isn't all that nice, and that influences her. But that sort of thing is beyond my control, but it changes the dynamics of everyday life.
I guess one of the exciting 'language barrier' things is when you start to think in your host language. I have been thinking in a mix of Spanish and English for a while now, at first very very little Spanish, but it's slowly getting more and more. It's still only a little bit at the moment, but I'm noticing it. Mainly it happens when I am translating English from Spanish for something to say, and my thinking 'around' that changes to Spanish too. It's hard to function in two languages at the same time!
I keep thinking I've advanced in Spanish, after 3 months I thought I was quite good, but I keep getting better, and there's still a lot more to go. Like with English, I'm still learning that as well. I still don't talk as much as I do in English, which could just be the people who I'm with, or that the art of conversation in another language hasn't come to me yet. It does lead me to analyze what converstation anf friendship actually means. Friends are always talking to one another! How do they think of what to say all the time? How does their conversation keep flowing? Is it because they think similarly? It does lead of over-analyzing at times.
So down to one of the chilly aspects of Chile - I may be in the driest desert in the world, but that doesn't mean the hottest! Like all deserts, it does get cold at night. And also, as Copiapó is inland, we actually do experience a winter. And it's freezing! I can wear stockings, socks, pajama pants, trackpants, a tee shirt, a cardigan, a polar fleece and another jersey and still be cold. The mornings are really cold, the only time the temperature is more comfortable is about 3pm. There are no heaters in the classrooms either, nor in my house.
On that note, I'm going to snuggle down in my nice cosy bed which has about 3 blankets and a duvet, as it is rather late now!