Well now I've been back from Chile for just over two weeks. It's strange coming back . . .
My last few days (well weeks, or I could say months) were by far was the time of my life. When you've mastered the language, the culture and the customs, living as an exchange student in another country is simply brilliant. I can't describe it. Not a day passed when I didn't do anything. Basically the days of December and January passed like this: wake up (late...), have something to eat, help out in the house (clean up etc), have lunch, clean up, go out, arrive back to have supper (or not arrive back, it depends what it is that I'm doing), go out again, arrive back home late. Being back in NZ and not being able to go out like I did in Chile is hard. But then again, it's a cultural thing. While in NZ dinner is the main meal of the day, in Chile it's lunch, so after the main family meal everyone is pretty much free to do what they like (as long as it's ok with my family, of course. But going out was never a problem if I advised where I was going to go, who with and what times.) The convenience of having taxis and buses pass outside my home made going out easy.
The hardest thing about being back is definitely missing the life you had in your host country. I miss like crazy my host family, who welcomed me into Chile with open arms (I still remember clearly my first day - as soon as we arrived home, we started to look for my host sister's missing pet turtle). I miss my friends, I miss the other exchangers, I miss Copiapó, I miss speaking spanish, I miss Chilean school.
So in January we had an AFS farewell for the 4 exchangers leaving Copiapó. They gave us a special present. Hoodies with the Chilean national flower and the names of our host family members embroidered on it. Which was kind of funny, since us AFSers had also ordered hoodies with our nicknames and the emblem of Chile on it to be done.
I had a farewell party. Some of my best friends (the ones who could make it and had permission) came to my beach house, along with all of my host siblings, and my host brother's girlfriend and her cousin. Then suddenly we were more - friends from school, friend's of a friends - we went to the actual beach to party, to be with Giulia and her friends, but it seemed like a lot more people had heard about a party, and it could get dangerous, so we returned back to my beach house.
On my last night my family did a special supper for me. My other host sister made a powerpoint about my year in Chile, which was nice and sad. On my last day, we all woke up after little sleep to go to the bus station to say goodbye to the German. After, Krista and Giulia came back to my house, to have breakfast with my host family and me. My younger host sister gave me a present, a necklace of a one peso coin from Chile. My host mum gave me my Christmas present, a book with the song lyrics of songs from Latin America, which she had compiled herself, and three CDs with all the songs on. Lots of memories.
Terminal Tur-Bus Copiapó is a place of many memories. Arriving to Copiapó and getting off the bus, there were a million posibilites ahead of me. How my school would be, how my family would be, how my friends would be, how my year and my life would be. I was a bundle of nerves. As the year passed I returned to the bus terminal to go to an AFS orientation, the AFS north Chile tour and a short term exchange to Punta Arenas. Each time there was posibility and adventure. Arriving back was like arriving back home. But the last time I was at the bus terminal I hated it. When would be the next time I'd get back? Who knows. In the car going to the bus terminal I recieved a phone call from the Brazilian. 'Anita, I'm not going' she said. 'What? You have to go' I replied. 'I can't go, I don't want to leave.' She said. All through my last few days in Copiapó I had managed to only shed a few tears. At her words, the reality of what was about to happen hit me. My eyes watered up, but I was unable to cry. We arrived at the bus terminal, and my friends were there to see me off. Hugs, giving of presents and taking photos. Suddenly my host mum said, 'Anita, the bus is leaving!' That was when the tears started flowly, as if they were going to flood the dry river Copiapó has. The bus that I had to go on was pulling out. I had to get on, yes or yes. The Brazilian and the Italian weren't on either. We were all unprepared to do the inevitable, which was actually leave for good. My host family went to the door of the bus and I hugged everyone - or did I? My memory is hazy. We borded the bus.... climbed upstairs. Me, Ananda and Giulia. Dumped our bags on the seats and stood there, hugging and crying. We couldn't believe it was over for good. Then it was to the airport. The other exchangers were arriving all through the day, and when the other NZer arrived, it was funny to see we were both wearing Chilean football tees, and stripy pants. The first group to leave were the Italians, which means Adios to Giulia. (At the airport with us was another AFS from Copiapó, Krista from Finland, who is in Chile for another semester. She also was in Santiago on holiday, and her and her host sister came to see us off.) We cryed when Giulia left. Then Ananda left... then much later, it was my turn to leave. I rang all members of my host family to say goodbye. Tears came. Then saying goodbye to Krista and her host sister...... it was the hardest goodbye I had ever said. She was the last person who I was close with in Chile who I had to say goodbye to. Saying goodbye is horrible.... I don't like airports or bus terminals.
Luckily on the flight to NZ I slept a lot. I was so tired, in the last 3 days I think I had slept about 8 hours. It was shock arriving to Auckland airport. I was home . . . did I want to be? After waiting a few hours at the airport to wait for the flight to NP, I boarded my plane. During the flight I shed a few tears. Now I was really home and I wanted to be in Chile. But when I could see a group of people standing in th airport, and it was a big group, it wasn't so bad. My family and friends were all there. It was an emotional moment and more tears were shed. My exchange year was over.
It feels strange to be back. Things have changed, and at the same time they haven't. It's like waking up from a dream and everyone is a year older. I feel older and . . . more confident. Living in a different country and not knowing how to speak the language, the culture and customs, then mastering that, makes one feel like there's nothing they can't do. It's like a self confidence boost, and also a new way of looking at the world. An understanding of why things are the way they are, and not looking at how they should change. I've never felt more open minded. Also, to be an exchange student, it's important to be open minded, perseverant, accepting and adaptable. I can't express that more. But doing an exchange extends and enriches those qualities. Being back you can see that - even if you'd rather stay in your host country. Chileans are extremely patriotic, but when they asked me if I liked Copiapó, and I replied with a yes, why looked at me strangely and asked why. My answer was always, because it's Chile. Although they may not like where they live, they love their country. I was lucky; I loved both.