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La Vida es Mejor en el Paraíso

For my second real weekend here in Chile, the USAC group took a field trip to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar which are located on the coast of Chile. It was about an hour and a half bus ride from Santiago through the mountains and vineyards. All of the students had the option to stay in Valparaíso or Viña del Mar for the weekend, so a couple of us stayed for just one night and others stayed for two nights. The group of students I was with decided to stay for only one night in Valparaíso.

Our first stop along the way was Dunas de Concón, which are sand dunes located on a cliff side right next to the Pacific Ocean. We enjoyed stunning views of the ocean and then climbed up the mountain side to reach what we thought was the top of the sand dune. Turns out there was no actual end to the sand dune, it stretched for miles. Climbing in sand was quite the workout for all of us, but gave way to stunning views of the ocean and waves in the distance. I thought going down the sand dune would be harder, but it actually wasn’t too bad.

Our next stop was the beach of course in Viña del Mar. We got to take a walking tour along some of the beaches and we all ate some pretty delicious churros along the way. It was lunch time, so we got to go separate ways to find a restaurant of our choice. A couple others and I went to a Peruvian restaurant which was REALLY good! Probably the best cuisine I’ve had here in Chile. I got raviolis that were filled with quinoa, spinach, and cheese and covered in a spinach sauce. Our waiter was very patient with us since we are gringas and he decided to give us free shots of “pisco sour” which is a very famous alcoholic beverage here. The name of the drink explains it all…very sour. For dessert, I shared a tres leches cake with a friend of mine and it was so big that neither of us could even finish it. But also, one of the most rico desserts I’ve had here.

Our next stop on our bus ride was to downtown Valparaíso. We did a walking tour through the small city and got to see all the creative street art. Valparaíso is a small, tourist town where you will find lots of people speaking in English, but it is also a large party destination for those who enjoy nightlife. It is very expressive because of the freedom of the street art and has a relaxing, bohemian vibe (you will see gypsies trying to talk to you). There were small vendors everywhere selling handmade, artisan jewelry and paintings for really good prices. There was even a little outdoor market in the central Plaza going on all weekend. It was such a cute town and I wanted to stay by the water forever.

Once we were let loose, we all went to find our hostels for the night. Our hostel was super cute and easy to find. When we walked into our room, there was a man already sleeping in one of the beds and he woke up to introduce himself to us. He goes “Hi, I’m Josh!” I took one look at him and recognized the Australian accent from the weekend before when we got lost in the Andes at Cajón del Maipo. I said “Hey, I know you! Didn’t you go to Cajón del Maipo last weekend?” He looked at me with a confused look and then finally recognized me when I said my name. What are the odds that we were staying in the same hostel, in the same room, in a different city an hour and a half away from Santiago?? It was such a cool experience. He apparently had missed his flight in Santiago a couple days before and decided to go to Valparaíso for a couple days to wait it out and relax. At least we weren’t sharing the hostel with some unknown person! We got dinner at an amazing restaurant called Tenta, and I ate fettucine covered in a yellow bell pepper sauce and chicken that was rolled and breaded. It was so delicious. I feel like I haven’t eaten much pasta here, so that dinner satisfied my Italian craving.

For our second day exploring Valparaíso, we got breakfast/lunch at a Panini cafe (great prices once again). There I got a chocolate chip muffin filled with nutella. I have become obsessed with the muffins here and my host mom buys me giant boxes of muffins for my desserts after dinner. We walked around the city a little bit more and took an elevator up to a higher point in the city so we had a good view of the ocean. Valparaíso was built on a hill so all of the streets are really steep and you have to take elevators to get to the top. It looks a lot like San Francisco. We stopped by the market and also took a 40 minute boat ride on the bay. It was a beautiful day with sun and no clouds! We got really lucky, because apparently it is always cloudy there and usually hard to see the ocean. When we finished our boat ride, we went to the beach to watch the sunset. We got there by bus, and let me tell you, the bus drivers here are crazy! Just like last weekend in the Andes, we felt very unsafe on the bus and some guy actually yelled at the bus driver to drive better around the turns. Once the sun set, we had to go back to the hostel to get our bags and head to the bus station to catch a bus back to Santiago.

We got to the bus station 10 minutes before the last bus left for the night, so we got really lucky. I definitely passed out on the bus ride because I was so tired from all the adventure during the day. I got back to my host home around 11pm that night and went straight to sleep. It was a wonderful weekend exploring a beautiful city. Valparaíso and Viña are definitely places I would come for vacation in the summer time (winter for the States) to enjoy the beach, the ocean, and the nightlife.

If You Didn’t Pee in the Wilderness, Did you Really Study Abroad?

My first weekend exploring Santiago was a whirlwind! I only have class Monday through Thursday, which means we get a three day weekend to do whatever we choose. On Friday, a couple friends and I decided to go to Cerro San Cristobal which is a hill in the middle of the city with a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top and a zoo! You take a funicular to the top of the mountain and then you have the option to climb the rest for amazing views of the city and to see the Virgin Mary. There is also a small church and an outdoor mass area built into the gardens. The statue of the Virgin Mary has a sanctuary inside of it reserved for silent prayer. It was beautiful. I wish we could have spent more time on the hill, but I will definitely be going back to get some souvenirs and enjoy the views once more before I leave.

After Cerro San Cristobal, we went to Sky Costañera which is the tallest building in Latin America, also attached to a giant mall. This building has a complete 360 view of Santiago. You take an elevator up 64 floors to the very top, which has two tiers. The first tier is the main floor and the second tier is called the sky deck. It has an open ceiling and glass windows. I could feel the cold air rushing in as well as some rain drops. The views were probably the best I have ever seen of any city. I didn’t realize how big of a city Santiago was until I saw it from above. The buildings stretch for miles and the Andes mountains envelop the city. Santiago houses more than 5 million people! A pretty big difference from Bilbao and Reno. We watched the sunset and once it got dark, a live musician started playing American songs on the sky deck and they were handing out free glasses of wine! It was such a cool experience. I didn’t want to leave that moment.

On Saturday, my friends and I decided to go to Cajón del Maipo, which is located in the Andes mountains and offers hiking trails, hot springs, horseback riding, river rafting, zip-lining and incredible views of the mountains. We were attempting to go to Embalse el Yeso which is a reservoir in the Andes mountains. We all took a bus that headed to Cajón del Maipo, but little did we know the bus ride would be about two hours. We paid the bus driver to take us to San Gabriel, which is where they told us Embalse el Yeso would be. When we arrived, the bus driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and said it was the last stop on the bus. We tried to ask him how to get to Embalse el Yeso, but he just took off without giving us a map or anything. So, at that point we were stuck in the mountains with no sense of direction and guess who had to pee. There was nothing in sight for miles so I just popped a squat behind a rock and hoped for the best. Another incident of me desperately having to pee in the middle of nowhere. I’m not shocked.

After my bathroom experience in the Andes, the Slovakian couple and Australian couple that were with us eventually pulled over a taxi driver and asked him how to get to Embalse el Yeso. The driver said it would take about four hours to drive there. We did not have that much time, considering it was already 1:30pm at the time. The driver gave us a map and we had to pull over the next taxi driver we saw to at least take us somewhere close that preferably had food.

Once we found a new taxi, he let us put all of our bags in the back of the car and he told us we could go to Baños Morales, which is a hot spring that was closest to us. He said it would be about a two hour drive to get there. Mind you, his car was a small five seater and there were seven of us. Of course, because I am so small I was the one laying on top of everyone in the back of the car up a sketchy road in the mountains. The driver stopped a couple of times so we could take photos of the waterfalls and wild horses which was nice (little did we know he would charge us extra for it at the end). The drive ended up being more like an hour than two hours which I was thankful for so my head was no longer smushed on the ceiling of his car. He dropped us off in a small dilapidated village and when we asked about where the hike started to get to Baños Morales, he said it would take at least another two hours to hike there. Every person we asked told us something different and by that time in the day, it just wasn’t going to be possible for us to see any attraction in the mountains.

Since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, we stopped at the pizza place in the village. Luckily, it had a proper bathroom which I was so happy to see. The food was great and our waitress helped us with finding the bus to take us back to Santiago. She was a true lifesaver. The bus came at 4pm and of course we hopped on with all our stuff once again. I stopped paying the bus drivers because they were only taking advantage of the tourists and didn’t make some people pay. I could tell they just really did not care about anything. Our bus driver on the way home made a couple of “personal” stops to get things for himself. It took us another three hours to make it back home to Santiago and we were exhausted. We spent pretty much the whole day traveling and not getting to see much in Cajón del Maipo. But it sure was a cool experience!! I get to say that I got lost in the Andes mountains and peed in the wilderness once again. Seems to be a trend for me when traveling to foreign countries.

On Sunday, my friend Emily and I went to a famous museum here called Museo de Bellas Artes. I am not much of an art person, but I always love seeing museums and learning more about the Chilean culture. It was pretty fascinating and also free like many of the other museums here! Afterwards, we headed to Plaza de Armas and got to see a cueca dance competition going on in the Plaza. Cueca is the typical dance of Chile and basically everyone knows how to do it here. It was a very relaxing Sunday night considering the crazy Saturday we had just had. My first weekend in Chile was a success and I couldn’t ask for anything more. This weekend, USAC is traveling to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar which is on the coast of Chile. More photos and adventures to come!

One World, Different Cultures

Upon arriving in Chile, I had a certain expectation that I would not experience culture shock since I have already traveled to a Spanish speaking country in the past. My expectations were wrong. My first week here in Chile was rocky, as I am fighting off a nasty cold that I seemed to have contracted probably from the planes and the cold, rainy, fall weather here in Santiago. I have been going along with my day and silently complaining about minuscule things. It actually hit me like a brick yesterday after I was complaining to my mom on Face Time about how dirty the streets are and how people are always in your face trying to sell you something. This is culture shock – when you feel disoriented and almost angry about how things aren’t done like they would be at home. I have noticed that most people from the United States feel entitled and that is the stereotype that Chileans have about us. That we are all rich, entitled white people. I want to disrupt this stereotype while I am here, because I know that all Americans do not fall into this category. Americans will no longer feel entitled if they travel to a foreign country, especially Chile. It makes you take a step back and appreciate the things you do have and the opportunities that are presented to you. The world is so much bigger than ourselves and the material things we own.

With that being said, below I will outline some of the key cultural differences that I have noticed in Chile, and how they differ from Spain.

Santiago, Chile:

  • They do not throw toilet paper or other items in the toilet and flush. There are waste baskets next to all the toilets and basically you wipe, and throw your paper in the waste basket to avoid clogging the toilet.
  • Chileans place a large emphasis on greetings. When meeting with someone or saying goodbye, you kiss once on the right cheek.
  • There are stray dogs everywhere. There is no law to prevent the dogs from being in the streets.
  • Cigarette smoking is common. As is having red or purple hair.
  • “Onces” is what they call tea time right before eating dinner. The meal schedule here is pretty similar to that in Spain.
  • Chileans wear their shoes in the house at all times. My host mom laughed at me when I walked around the house in my socks.
  • There are people who sell items such as clothes, food, and stuffed animals that are usually knock-off brands in the streets. They are called callejeros and it is illegal in Chile. They are EVERYWHERE.
  • Streets are generally dirty and and a little smelly.
  • Abortion is illegal here and so is recreational marijuana. Although I did see a callejero a couple of days ago selling weed and chocolate?
  • Everybody has a very good sense of fashion and they all wear scarves. It is Fall right now, so the weather has been a bit nippy. We are right next to the Andes mountains, and yesterday it snowed up there!
  • Chileans beat around the bush. They won’t give you a straight answer or confront issues right away. They also tend to run late and will never be on time to an event.
  • People do not understand the concept of personal space. They will get very close to you even if they don’t have to.
  • On the metro, people will sing and sell candy bars to make extra cash. It is not allowed for people to give them money, but it happens anyway.
  • Machismo is a social norm here. This means that it is normal for the woman to perform all of the house duties and provide food and cleaning for the husbands.
  • It is common for children in their 20’s and 30’s to live at home with their parents. My host parents have three grown children and two of them live in the house. One is married and has a 4 year old daughter who also lives in the house. One big family!
  • The Chilean Spanish accent is extremely fast. Sometimes, I cannot understand a word they say. They also use different slang than Spain Spanish.
  • Grape juice is green.

Bilbao, Spain

  • Toilet paper is okay to put in the toilet and flush.
  • When greeting someone in Spain, you kiss on both cheeks. It is not necessary to do so when saying goodbye.
  • No stray dogs. There were a TON of dogs in Spain, but they were all domesticated.
  • Cigarette smoking was also very common in Spain.
  • Instead of “onces,” the Basque culture has pinxtos which translate to “appetizers.” Pinxtos were a common lunch menu item.
  • It was okay to not wear shoes in the house.
  • In Bilbao, callejeros were not as common. I remember seeing them on one specific street and the police was always there to catch them. It is illegal in Spain as well.
  • The streets in Bilbao were always impeccably clean. They had garbage trucks and street cleaners running three times a day.
  • Abortions in Spain are legal under some circumstances. Like Chile, recreational marijuana is also illegal in Spain.
  • Great sense of fashion! I think that’s just a European thing though.
  • Spaniards also tend to beat around the bush. They will not give you a distinct “yes” or “no.” Running late is also common.
  • My personal space was invaded a lot in Spain, but I got used to it.
  • There were never people on the metro asking for money in Bilbao. I think Santiago has a fairly poor population which is why these types of actions are common. Bilbao/Getxo was a wealthier area.
  • From what I saw in Spain, machismo did not exist. I noticed the male playing a larger role in helping care for the wife and kids. The male was always the one pushing the stroller and carrying the bags.
  • In Spain, it is also common for children to live at home during their 20’s.
  • Spain Spanish is pretty basic, but in Bilbao there was a large Basque population meaning the accent was slightly different. Chilean Spanish is a whole language in itself. Everyday I am learning new vocabulary and trying to blend in as a local. I think there are more people in Chile that speak English than in Spain. Most everyone I have encountered speaks some English.
  • In both Chile and Spain, breakfast is small and sometimes nonexistent. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and lasts from 1-3pm. Dinner is then served around 8-9pm. My host mom in Spain and here in Chile both stay up until about midnight and wake up very late in the morning. They do not have a set schedule.

While Spain and Chile have a ton of similarities, they also have some key differences that have taken some getting used to on my part. Each day I learn something new, whether it be a new Spanish word, or a new cultural norm. My routine for each day starts with me waking up at 9am and making my breakfast. I usually make two fried eggs, yogurt, toast with butter or cheese, fruit (apple, orange, avocado), and of course, tea. I get ready for school and head to the metro around 11:30am to meet with some friends for lunch near the school. My commute to school takes about 45 minutes, which isn’t too bad. Very similar to my commute in Spain. My Advanced Spanish class starts at 1:30pm and ends at 4:20pm. Afterwards, we either find a snack to eat before walking around for our next adventure, or like yesterday we go to dance class from 6-8pm. Yesterday, we learned salsa and bachata! Probably the highlight of my trip so far. The days are long, but each day brings something new and this weekend I will be doing much more exploring if the weather permits. Looking forward to sharing more experiences with you all! Ciao!

A Rocky Start to a Long Awaited Journey

Well, I made it to Santiago!

After more than 48 hours of traveling, I am finally settled into my homestay in Chile and getting to know the city. My friend and I left Reno on a flight to Salt Lake City on May 23rd and made it safely and on time. We found our gate in Salt Lake and boarded the plane. We ended up sitting on the plane for about an hour and a half without moving. There was a maintenance issue with the plane and by the time it was fixed, the flight crew had “expired” and it was illegal to fly. We all got off the plane and they told us the flight would be delayed by two hours. At this point, we knew we were going to miss our connection in Atlanta to Santiago. My friend and I met two other USAC students on the plane in Salt Lake so we came up with a game plan to see what other flights we could get. We were calling Delta employees and looking for help desks in a panic because we weren’t sure if we would have to spend the night in Salt Lake and how to go about that. Finally, one of the Delta employees said we should just take the delayed flight to Atlanta and stay the night there. He said once we get off the plane, they would offer us a voucher for a hotel.

We made it to Atlanta around 11pm that night (missing our flight to Santiago by an hour and a half) and immediately went to find a help desk. The lines were unbelievably long because we were not the only ones who missed connecting flights. I headed to baggage service because in Salt Lake they made me check my carry-on bag. At that point, I had no luggage and all of my medication and important documents were in my carry-on. I requested for my carry-on to be brought up to baggage claim, but they said it would take up to four hours. In the meantime, we waited in line to get a hotel voucher and figure out how to get to the hotel. We ended up staying at a Motel 6 nearby and didn’t get there until 3am. Luckily, they gave us all a small toiletry pouch to last the night, since none of us had baggage or a change of clean clothes.

We had to check out of the hotel at 11am, so we weren’t able to get as much sleep as we wanted. We got woken up by the sound of a lady banging on our door saying “Housekeeping!!” Not the most pleasant thing in the world. After we checked out, we got breakfast at a place called Waffle House which I guess is a typical fast food chain in Atlanta. We then got an Uber to Walmart so we could buy some clean underwear. Yes, this is a true story. After, we hung out at a bar until we had to head to the airport. That morning, I had received a call from Delta saying my luggage was in the baggage service office and ready to be picked up. We got to the airport at 3pm and when I went to the office to claim my carry-on, they had already sent it back out. I was livid. Every Delta employee I talked to did not seem to care that I had medication in that bag that I needed to take. The service I received was absolutely horrible. This was already a stressful situation for me and having my carry-on with me on my flight to Santiago would have relieved some of that stress.

We ate dinner at the airport because the lady who gave us the hotel the previous night also gave each of us $15 meal vouchers. Our flight wasn’t until 10:30pm so we had time to kill. Our flight to Santiago finally left around 11pm on May 24th and we arrived in Santiago at 8am on May 25th, about a nine hour flight. Once we landed, we all headed to baggage claim to get our luggage. Luckily, all of our bags showed up and none went missing! I was so happy to be reunited with my bags and I didn’t want to let them go. Ever. We somehow managed to get a van to take all 5 of us USAC students to the school in Santiago. We arrived in the middle of orientation with all of our luggage and it was slightly embarrassing, but I was glad we didn’t miss much.

After orientation, we did a walking tour of the city. We stopped at Plaza de Armas where the government building, La Moneda, is located. There was a parade going on for Día de Patrimonio which celebrates national heritages in the country. We also visited Cerro Santa Lucía which is a hill in the middle of the city that you can climb and get beautiful panoramas of Chile’s tall buildings. The USAC group ate lunch at Bar Cuento Corto and we attended a welcome BBQ put on by Chilean students who help international students get acquainted to life in Chile. I got to practice my Spanish with the local chileanos and made a few friends too!

After being in the same clothes for three days, without a proper shower and toothbrush, I am very excited to finally be settled into my life here in Chile and I look forward to what it will bring me. My host family is already very kind and are adamant on making any accommodations necessary for me. I have already seen an improvement in my Spanish and I hope to learn more about Chilean culture while I am here. I only have four weeks here, which now seems so short. The flight to get here seemed like it would never end, but now that I am here time is flying by. I feel as though I will not have enough time to do everything I want, but that just means I need to savor every moment. I know how this goes. I’ll get back home to Reno and immediately want to come back to Chile. Tomorrow is my first day of class. I am taking Advanced Spanish and also a Latin American dance class on Wednesday nights. Wish me luck! In my next post, I’ll go over some of the cultural differences I’ve noticed here so far and how they compare to Spain. Ciao!

Life Doesn’t Always Give You Lemons

Well, it has been way too long since my last blog post, and quite a lot has happened in the past year or so. As I return to blogging and improving my website, I came across a common theme in my head that I wanted to address this time around – life doesn’t always give you lemons.

Today, I finished my last final for the Spring 2019 semester. When I was leaving campus, I couldn’t help but admire all the beautiful green trees, the rare silence, and the rain clouds in the sky. I thought back to the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester and remember being so excited to be back in school and couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me. Unfortunately, this past year has been one of the hardest on me personally. Each year of college brings about its own challenges, and this year’s challenges were probably the most difficult. In November, my father had shoulder replacement surgery the week before Thanksgiving. Following the surgery, he began to experience pain on the left side of his abdomen and had trouble breathing. The day after Thanksgiving, my mom ended up taking him to the hospital. After a couple of x-rays and scans, the doctors determined that he had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in his left lung. This was heartbreaking news to my family and I, because this is something that can actually kill you if left untreated. Thankfully, we got him to the hospital in time and he was back home within a couple days. Regardless, it was a scare.

Immediately following this incident, I began to experience minor stomach issues. It escalated and turned into severe abdominal pain, blood in my stool, and weight loss. I had multiple doctors appointments throughout December and tests taken to see if I was allergic to any food I may have been eating. Everything came back negative, and my overall condition began to worsen. At the beginning of January, I had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy done to check my colon and my esophagus for any abnormalities. When I woke up from the procedure, the doctor came to tell me that he found ulcers covering my entire colon. He diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis.

My world turned upside down. I was told I had to stay on a strict diet, I had to take pills for the rest of my life, and reduce my stress levels. Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition, also considered an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine. More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with this disease every year. It is much more common than you think. At the time of my colonoscopy, I was considered to be in a flare-up. After starting the medication, I began to improve after only two weeks, just in time for Spring semester to start (not to mention I also took a Wintermester class amidst all this chaos). I was in remission and I felt great! I had forgotten about all the pain I felt and that I was even diagnosed. Sure enough, in the beginning of April I began to show symptoms again. This time it felt different; I experienced chills, a fever, and extreme dehydration. I quickly made an appointment with my GI to try and get a handle on this. I ended up taking a steroid for about four weeks to clear up my inflammation which was the fastest solution. Bad news: steroids have a plethora of side effects. The first week I took the steroids, I experienced every one of the side effects I was warned about. I had a lingering headache, my body ached in a different spot every day, I felt weak and thin from losing weight, and my mood was all over the place. After two weeks, I started to notice improvement and couldn’t wait to be off the steroid.

The tricky thing about Ulcerative Colitis is that it can come back at any time, or it could also stay away for a very long time. We don’t know the exact cause of the disease, but in my case genes and stress play a large factor. My uncle was diagnosed with this disease when he was my age and still suffers from it to this day. It is different for everybody. My fear in all this is the unknown. I tend to stress about small things and get overwhelmed by schoolwork very easily. This semester was hard for me to focus on my health, while also staying on top of school, work and my social life. I have to thank my family (especially my mom) and my boyfriend for being my confidants throughout all of this. My mom has always been there to take me to every doctors appointment, to give me Pedialyte if I’m feeling dehydrated, sleep next to me when I’m feeling sick, and even to drive me to my classes when I physically can’t. She is a real WonderWoman. My only goal for this semester was to get my health under control because next week I am heading to Santiago, Chile to study abroad once again!

As soon as I got back from my study abroad in Spain last summer, I immediately started searching for new places to travel to. In September, I applied to study in Santiago, Chile for the summer of 2019. I planned this trip way before I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, which made it hard to make a final decision on if I should even go or not. My second flare-up was very unexpected and gave me a wake-up call. There is a chance this may happen to me abroad, but I just cannot get myself to give up on the idea of traveling and experiencing a new place. Another example of me being way too hard on myself and pushing through it. I refuse to let my condition debilitate me into no longer pursuing the things I want to do.

On Sunday, I will be heading down to Silicon Valley with some Business Student Council members to tour companies, and then on Thursday, I will be flying down to Chile for four weeks. I will definitely be doing a blog post about my trip to Silicon Valley and what I learned, and you can definitely count on me doing a weekly blog post in Chile. I am excited for these adventures and a bit apprehensive, but hey, I’m gonna live my life to the fullest. God will protect me and guide me every step of the way.

As I look back at this past year, I can honestly say that you will not always get what you want in life. Things won’t always go your way. I didn’t ask to be diagnosed with this debilitating disease, but I did and that is something I still have to come to terms with. I have to learn from these lessons and realize that life is a roller coaster. The advice I would give to those who are struggling is that the best thing you can do is roll with the punches. This is not just a philosophy to follow in your personal life, but also in the workplace. Be the bigger person, take care of yourself first and know your limits.

Post-Study Abroad Feels

Every second of the day, I am wishing I was back in Bilbao, surrounded by all the wonderful friends I made, sitting on the beach, practicing my Spanish with locals, and having not a care in the world. There is no way I could sum up my study abroad experience in a few, short words. It was an enlightening experience that allowed me to mature in ways I never thought were possible and see the world differently. As the days fly by, it’s easy to start forgetting the small details. The ones you always hoped you would remember, but just can’t because they were all memories you enjoyed in the moment. I look through videos and pictures every single day, just to jog my memory a little bit. It always brings a smile to my face.

The first week or so being back home in Reno, I felt relaxed and at ease. I no longer had to strategically pack my bag so it was under 50 pounds or worry about catching a flight. I was able to look back on my experience and think to myself, wow, did this really happen? I was in a state of true happiness, which is something I have always prayed for. I headed back to work, shared some of my experiences with my coworkers, and all of sudden, life fell back into place. It was almost like I never left. Coming from a constantly changing dynamic to one that stayed the same while I was away made me a little upset. I would be lying if I said I didn’t suffer from a mild form of depression after coming home. Or maybe just a severe case of reverse culture shock. Food that I loved before, no longer had that amazing taste. Clothes that I used to think were cute, are no longer in my closet. My tastes and interests have changed.

I get pretty sad when I come across people I haven’t seen in a while, and they don’t really care to hear about my experience. It was so awesome that I can’t help but talk about it all the time. Why wouldn’t anybody be as excited as I was? And the truth is, because they didn’t experience it themselves. That’s the cool thing about studying abroad. It is something special to you, and only you. Very few people get this type of opportunity in their lifetime, so I consider myself very lucky.

My friend and coworker, Sarah, studied abroad in Costa Rica this summer as well, and she is probably the closest I can get to reminiscing. We both had similar experiences and we talk about it all the time at work, even if it bugs our other coworkers. We were talking last week, and she said something that really stuck out to me. “It felt like a dream.” She couldn’t have said it any better. Sometimes I wonder if that was really me. It felt like I was a different person, in someone else’s body, perusing around Spain, by myself, and not being afraid to put myself out there. And honestly, I miss that part of me. I was truly outside of my comfort zone, and that’s how I want to be all the time. I no longer want to sit in complacency and wonder how life is going to turn out for me. I want to live in the moment, and live outside my comfort zone, because that’s where the most growth takes place.

I remember the exact day I left for Spain. I was in San Francisco with my parents because that’s where my group flight left from. We went to a Giant’s game the night before with some family friends and they wished me luck on my trip. About 4 hours before I had to hop on the plane, I had an anxiety attack. Suddenly I could no longer breathe. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was going into the unknown, without my parents by my side and I was scared out of mind. I began to text all of my friends back home, asking if I was crazy to be freaking out so much. My parents tried to calm me down at the hotel, telling me that this was my DREAM since middle school. I had to go. It was my chance to learn and figure it out for myself. Saying goodbye to my parents was the hardest thing I had to do. I was crying hysterically and couldn’t stop. As I tried to pull myself together and be strong, I noticed a girl not too far from me hugging her parents too. She kept telling them “I’ll be fine, I’ll be home before you know it!” I had a strange feeling this girl was going to the same place I was.

Sure enough, as I stood in line for security, she turned around and waved to me, noticing that I was wearing a USAC t-shirt. It gave me a sense of relief knowing that there was someone right here in front of me going through the same thing. I met her at the gate, and we started talking. She is also from Reno, and little did we know, we had mutual friends. She became one of my good friends abroad, and honestly a true homie. Every time we went out in Bilbao, we always talked about that first time we met in the airport, scared out of our minds about what we were getting into. It’s people like her that made my study abroad experience a memorable one. Never did I think that I could miss such a fun group of people as much as I do right now.

The best way I can describe traveling, is an itch you can’t seem to scratch. Once you go, you never want to stop. I am already planning my next study abroad adventure for either this coming Winter or next Summer. It’s kind of hard not to, when you work for USAC, lol. I am hoping to continue growing as a person and learning more about different cultures, especially Spanish cultures. I now only have three semesters left before I can graduate with my bachelor’s degree, and it’s a little overwhelming; but, I am excited to see where life takes me. Thank you all for following along on my summer journey and for your endless support. If you have any questions, or would like to get together and talk more about study abroad, I would be more than happy to!

 

Home Means Nevada

I am now sitting safely on my couch at home after quite a long journey. My last few days in London, I had this sudden urge to be home, in my own bed. I was ready to come home and be reunited with my family and friends. Even though my luggage did not make it on my flight, and had to be delivered to my house a day later, the trip home wasn’t too bad. I was extremely exhausted. I felt like I had just pulled an all-nighter, which is possibly true due to the nine hour time change. I remember approaching Reno and seeing Manogue High School’s football field from the air. I smiled and knew I was home.

Getting off the plane, I basically ran to the escalators to be reunited with my family. I was videotaping them, and my mom was videotaping me. My dad had flowers in his hand and my brother had balloons for me, and I just fell into their arms and cried. My mom and I were in a crying embrace for quite some time. My mom is my best friend. Last summer, she was in New York for about a month while I was in Reno. I remember it being so hard to be away from my mom because there were things I wanted to tell her in the moment, and she wasn’t there. This time, it was me that was gone for over a month and I could tell it was hard for her. While I missed my mom terribly, I was so proud of myself for making the decision to study abroad and doing it on my own. It was a learning experience that I can take with me everywhere I go.

My mom had turkey dinner and brownies ready for me when I got home, which was basically heaven. Of course, I had to spend time handing out all the souvenirs I got and emptying out my carry-on. My dog, Jasmine, was a little confused that I was home. She sniffed me at first and took a while to warm up. I forgot how tiny she really is! It felt so nice to just hug and squeeze her. My sleeping schedule actually hasn’t been horrible. The first two nights I was waking up around 2:30am, but last night I slept through the entire night. I was really scared for the jet lag, but it seems to be okay right now.

Last night, my family and I went to the Aces game for the Fourth of July. I made sure to be home for this holiday because it’s one of my favorites and also my parent’s 32nd anniversary. I was not going to miss this! It’s cool to think that I’ve been exploring all these other countries, and I still get to come home to celebrate the birthday of the United States and our freedoms. I feel so lucky to be with my family today and everyday.

Another thing I was scared about coming back home, was reverse culture shock. I can say I was definitely excited to have a dryer for my clothes, hot water in my shower, and food in the cupboard. But I still miss my morning cafe con leche, tortilla de patatas, and pinxtos. I feel very annoying to my family because I keep saying “When I was in Spain…” but that’s all I know right now. That was my life for the past six weeks and it was absolutely amazing. How can I not talk about it? Sitting here at home, everything seems kind of surreal. Did I actually just spend six weeks in a foreign country, by myself? It hasn’t really hit me yet.

So what did I learn from my time abroad? I am so much more open-minded and aware of what’s going on around me now. I was truly content with life when I was living in Spain. I had no worries, no cares, I just went with the flow and did what I wanted to do without an agenda. It was the absolute best feeling. I feel so in tune with myself and my aspirations for life. I find myself complaining less and just making do with what I have. I feel more grown up and sophisticated. Traveling has a certain effect on people. It gives you a new perspective that most people may never get, nor are willing to get. If you are debating whether or not to study abroad, do it!! You will not regret it. Even though it may seem scary and concerning at times, it is completely worth it in the end. Spain has a HUGE piece of my heart and always will. Someday I would like to go back and explore Southern Spain and the Northeast coast, hopefully with my family so we can also hit Italy.

I would like to also thank the people who played a big role in my study abroad adventure.

  • USAC, of course! Thank you to my coworkers who encouraged me to study abroad, and gave me only the best advice. Can’t wait to see you all next week and share my stories!
  • Ibon, María, Mane and all the USAC staff in Bilbao. Thank you all for organizing a wonderful excursion to France and San Sebastián, and always being there to answer any questions we may have had. You guys rock!
  • My host mom. Gracias por permitiéndome quedarme en tu casa, cocinando me comidas, y haciendo mi ropa sucia. Gracias por hablando español conmigo y ayudándome. Tú eres la leche.
  • My parents and siblings. Thank you for being open-minded and trusting that USAC would take good care of me. And also for helping me financially.
  • All of my previous Spanish teachers, Mrs. Kahl, Mrs. Kazemi, Mrs. O’Neill, Señorita Harris, and Profesora Leonard. Thank you guys for being apart of my Spanish journey, and inspiring me to continue using my Spanish abroad.
  • All the friends I made while in Spain. Thank you for bringing me out of my shell and allowing me to have fun. You guys really made this experience a memorable one.
  • Jim McClenahan. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to join your Global Business program in London. I couldn’t have done it without your help!
  • God. All Glory to Him. I would not have been able to do this without His hand guiding me along the way. All the Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s really helped in times of homesickness.
  • Those of you reading this blog. Thank you for following along on my journey of a lifetime. Your support means the most to me and I feel so lucky that I get to look back on this blog years from now and remember these moments. I love you all!

Hasta luego!