Do you remember that feeling before you get on a roller-coaster? You’ve been waiting in line long enough to be both excited and anxious; but suddenly, you wonder if it’s too late to turn back. You think, “What did I get myself into? Can I actually do this?” But some part of you believes that you can and makes you get on.
I’ve felt that way on many days in Valparaíso, Chile. It wasn’t just when I climbed a very shaky set of stairs to zip-line through Cajón del Maipo, but after many failed conversations, many moments when I thought that I would never understand the rapid Spanish I heard every day, and many times that I thought I would never feel at home abroad. This is the truth about studying abroad- it isn’t all Instagram pictures of pleasant experiences. There can be many discouraging days but after each one you grow wiser, stronger, and more self-aware.
For me, the most discouraging moment was when another classmate asked me if I needed anything explained in English because she clearly thought that I was lost in class. As I thought over what she said and all the difficulties that I had had just that week communicating with my host family and professors, I reminded myself why I came to Chile. Since the first dinner with my host family, I wanted more than anything to connect with them and converse freely. I craved the ability to understand them and express myself fully, and I wasn’t going to be able to do that if I gave up after one bad day.
I knew that I had to keep pushing myself. I had to put on a smile and wear a can-do attitude day after day, even if it meant faking some confidence. Truthfully, learning a new language and overcoming culture shock depends on your attitude. I am constantly inspired by my classmate Emma and her positivity. In fact, I have watched her speaking ability blossom simply because she never stops trying, no matter how many words trip her up in a conversation.
Like so many others abroad, I struggle with self-doubt. It was very difficult at first to enter into a conversation knowing that I was inevitably going to make a million mistakes. But language acquisition requires constant trial and error. Forcing myself to face my fear of failure has taught me how important it is to recognize negative self-talk and celebrate every small daily achievement- whether it was successfully asking for directions or having a full conversation. I’ve learned to laugh off my mistakes and thank people who correct me. There will be many bumps along the road, but each is a chance to learn more. I am grateful for the opportunity to try (and try and try and try) every day in Chile. Positivity and humility are essential skills to achieve any goal, and I will carry them far beyond Valparaíso.
Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.