As of today, I have been back in the States for a year. I thought that now would be a good time to reflect on how this year has been, and what I could have done differently.
I should start off by saying that it was hard. Coming home from a place where you invested every ounce of your emotional, physical and spiritual energy for an entire year, proved to be a process that took months, like eight months. It was eight months before I could speak on video chat with my host family without crying. It was eight months before I could start messaging daily with my best friend in Chile without feeling a knot in my stomach. It took eight months before I stopped googling flights back to Chile on a weekly basis and was able to accept that my return to my host country would happen in its own time. Eight months is a long time, but it taught me so much. Even after getting over the initial hump, I am still hit daily by thoughts of, "I did that, I really did that. I can't believe that was real." I learned that the growth you experience throughout a year abroad only seems to multiply when you return home. It is as if your senses are heightened to trying new things, adapting and acquiring new skills.
I look back on this year that I have been home with great pride of all that I have been able to accomplish. This year I committed myself to a part time job that helped me strengthen my communication skills, sense of leadership, and brought a great group of co-workers into my life. I graduated high school and applied to college, and next month I will be beginning a new chapter of my life at Appalachian State University. I grew emotionally as a person, and feel more confident when I am referred to as an adult. I am confident that all of the leaps that I have been able to make this year, and all of the weight that they have carried, were made possible by my year in Chile, which gave me a platform to try new, challenging things, and throw my complete self into it.
I look at my life now as divided into two sections: pre-Chile and post-Chile. I am glad that I took this first year post Chile to be at home and re-define myself before beginning college. I am also grateful because as I write this, with the countdown to college move in on, I am not panicking, and I am not fearful. My transition to Chilean life, and then my transition back to American, has prepared me to take this next big step in my life. I won’t be afraid to grieve that loss of what I once had. I won’t be afraid to ask for help when I need it. I will stand up to challenge and not back down. I will not push those I love away. I will take advantage of all the new and amazing things that come my way. I owe this all to Chile. Had I not experienced a year abroad, I would likely just be beginning to figure these things out.
This year was messy, but it needed to be so for me to grow as much as I did. If I could give advice to anyone returning from a year abroad I would say: Don’t be afraid to take some time, however long you need, to grieve, cope, adjust. I threw myself right into work and school and allowed myself little time to really feel all of the post exchange emotions. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and be honest about what you want from relationships you built while abroad. Let those in your host country (or home!) know how you are feeling and form lines of communication that work for where you are in your readjustment process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Most importantly, reflect often. You will be surprised at how often you experiences abroad merge into your life. If it takes eight months, it takes eight months, but it will be worth it, because it is a necessary extension of the study abroad experience.
I am thankful that I have not had to tackle these things alone. Thankful for my mom for always being there, and understanding. Thankful to my host parents for being patient as I figured out how to grieve, and always being there to text or chat. Thankful for my best friend Jechu for helping me learn how be a long distance friend, and make it work. Thankful for my former Chilean teacher, and close friend Mauro, for still being part of my life (and sending memes!). Thankful to my job at Cheesecakes by Alex, for giving me a place to land once I came home, and a space to use all that I learned in Chile to help me grow as a professional. Thankful for my friend Emma, who I met in Chile, for being not only a pen pal, but a soul sister. I am eternally grateful to Maria Paz, my Chilean coordinator (and now close friend!), for always being there and still being my ultimate role model for growth and learning.
July 9th will always be a day etched in my memory. It’s like New Year’s for me. Happy New Year, Josie. This one is going to be awesome