If you are reading this for departure/arrival advice, you’ve come to the wrong place! I’m still here in small town Lawrenceville, New Jersey, but I do think I have something valuable to offer. Right now i’m in a position that I think most go through before studying abroad or even making the final decision. For the past couple of weeks, I have been stuck in a strange limbo before my adventure to Valparaiso, Chile.
I am not set to leave until February 20th, still some away from the time I’m writing this. Obviously anxious and excited, I have spent this extra time attempting to prepare myself for something I am getting the feeling will take its own course anyway. Of course, it is good to prepare items you may not be able to get in your host country, such as hiking equipment, but there are certain mistakes you will definitely have to make on your own. But after all, isn’t that part of the whole experience? You absolutely SHOULD be a little scared when leaving your home, family and friends for an extended period of time – flying into a country where you probably, against all common misunderstandings, know very little about the way of life. I can read thousands of packing lists and travel guide books, but I cannot seem to shake the feeling that I have no idea what I’m getting into. Not only have I come to terms with this feeling, but I’ve come to love it! I mean, what is more thrilling than a path untouched?
There are definitely some challenges ahead for me – I’ve studied Italian all through high school and college. I’m going to Chile – where they speak a fast version of Spanish, full of slang (so I’ve heard). But as i’ve been told countless times, the best way to learn the language is to get out there! So I am, and I hope that by the end of my trip I’m at least proficient. This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home, by far. Instead of looking at February 20th as an impending scary date of departure, I’m trying to embrace my nervousness and just take it for what it is. At this point of awaiting my leave date, it has become a struggle not to over think EVERYTHING. I’m not afraid to admit that I have not only thought of every possible thing that could go wrong, but at times I have even questioned my decision. I guess what i’m trying to get at is that even though these feelings are undoubtedly overwhelming – they are natural, and they will subside. After each mini – freak out I usually end up laughing at myself and am constantly reminded what a gift it is to have this opportunity.
I suppose it’s proper to provide some concrete advice somewhere in this post. If you’re researching your host country or potential destination, the ISA website offers tons of details about the cities, and so does http://www.lonelyplanet.com. Another thing I’ve learned from my own travel experience – even if you are not fluent in the host language, do not assume that everyone speaks English! Learn little phrases that you’ll need everyday because the locals appreciate the effort, even if your “r’s” aren’t rolled perfectly. Don’t be afraid to try, it will get you past the brick wall many people hit when trying to master a language. Hug your family, start packing early, and make all your doctor’s appointments! But remember that you can only prepare so much. Keep the right attitude and expect things to happen that you certainly did not plan for. It seems simple, but an open mind can be the key to making this one of, if not THE best decision you ever make.