I was very ready to come home from my study abroad experience. I had most certainly enjoyed my time in Chile, but I was anxious to see my friends and family and get back to my “normal” way of life.
At first, it seemed like slipping back into my old routine would happen without a hitch. There were of course a few shocking moments when I landed back on US soil, such as when all I heard everyone around me speaking exclusively in English. And everything looked so green. I was from a rural area, and coming back to a temperate summer in the US was very starkly different from the smoggy Santiago city that I’d left behind in the midst of winter.
The strangest moment, however, was when I got back on the University of Michigan campus towards the end of July. As I walked among the buildings and through the Diag, a very strange sensation came over me. I felt as though I was walking through a memory. Everything looked so familiar to me, yet I didn’t really feel like I was a part of it. They were paths I had walked in some distant past, things I had once known intimately but were now distanced from me in some respect. I’d had a class there, went to church there, went out to eat with friends there. But it felt like these memories almost didn’t belong to me anymore, or as though the details of them flitted just beyond my reach. I saw familiar faces walking around, people that I recognized but could not particularly identify. I felt so removed from this place where I had spent the last two and a half years of my academic life. The only word for it was “haunting.”
Upon reflection, I eventually realized that I could pretty cleanly split my life into four stages. These stages are defined by a significant change in the people I interact with or the location I am in, those aspects that we humans use to ground ourselves. The first was my elementary and middle school life, the second was my high school years, the third my college career. The fourth was my study abroad experience, those four and a half months I spent in Chile. However, there was a distinguishing factor between the past stages and my Chile stage. In the past, each stage had come to a complete stop before the next one began. But my college stage did not stop before my Chile one began; rather, I had to temporarily abandon it while I went abroad, and after that I had to return to college life.
This interruption made all the difference. It meant that I had to go back to the same place, but as a different person. I had drastically new experiences, new ways that I had grown as a person, and these contributed to a new lens through which I had to view the unchanged campus. I had to reconcile my old life with everything I’d learned abroad. When I told my Chilean friend about the jarring experience, he said, “That’s because you are now Chilean. At least in part.” And he was right. I carry part of my Chile with me, and that will affect how I see my life from now on.
For more information on the Santiago, Chile program, visit the CGIS website.