The best way to describe my study abroad experience is with a question that was running through my head the entire time: What am I doing here?
What am I doing here? I asked myself as I tried to maneuver around the gigantic city of Santiago, Chile. The first time I walked out of my host family’s apartment on my own, I was so confident of where I was going. The bus stop was just around the corner, right? But when I called my host sister to confirm that I was at the correct intersection, she informed me that I had turned the wrong way the moment I stepped out of the apartment. Who had let me come here on my own? I obviously couldn’t handle all this.
What am I doing here? I asked myself on the first day of classes, when I realized that I would have to work much harder than I was used to in order to maintain the grades I was shooting for. How was I supposed to read these Chilean plays when the Chilean students themselves were struggling with them? What advisor decided it was a good idea to let me go through with the crazy idea of taking a philosophy class in Spanish? This was all some big mistake.
What am I doing here? I asked myself as I explained to my host family that I would be coming home late because some Chilean friends had asked me to hang out after classes. How did I end up in this situation, me, the shy introvert who had a hard time making new friends? What was I doing here, sitting in the university courtyard with two Chileans who I had met purely by chance but shared a lot of my interests?
What am I doing here? I asked as I jumped off a cliff at the edge of the Andes, strapped to a paraglider with an excited guide who introduced me to the art of flying. The view was spectacular, and I found myself having a mutually intelligible conversation in Spanish with him as he steered us over treetops.
What am I doing here? I asked when I found myself sitting at a Chilean friend’s beach house, along with several other international students from around the world, all there to celebrate my 21st birthday. They prepared everything for the event, complete with a phone call from my family, a birthday crown, and Tangled napkins. They took me under their wings and cared for me more than I ever felt I deserved. How did this happen to me?
What am I doing here? I asked as I stared up at the night sky in the middle of the Atacama Desert, clear and unpolluted and filled with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I felt so small, in the most freeing, scary, and beautiful way possible. How did I make it to this place, to this moment in time? It is times like these that reinforce my belief in a higher being, when I’m seeing the scope of myself aligned with the scope of the universe. And I realize: there’s beauty in not know what you’re doing.
For more information on the Santiago, Chile program, visit the CGIS website.