Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Se Acaba

So, I'm now back in the good ol' United States of America. I feel like I should recap a little bit, and tie some ends together, but it's really hard for two reasons:
1. It already feels like a different world and a different life
2. It's quite sad to throw my mind back to Chile because it forces me to acknowledge that it's something that's over, which reminds me of all of my friends that it will be very hard to ever see again..

So, in the interest of keeping things easier for me and more readable for you, I think I'm going to put out two more posts-- one summing up the happenings of my last month, and one relating the impacts of leaving and returning to the USA and trying to pull something more concrete out of the experiences of my year.

So, I'll start the facts and moments of my last month or so. I can't remember exactly what I did the first couple of weeks of my last month, but I mostly spent it going to school, hanging with friends, going to a couple of goodbye festivities for other exchange students, and trying simultaneously to deny and come to terms with the fact that my time in Chile was running out.

I did however manage to fit in two trips-- the first one was to Concepcion where I stayed with one of my host-mom's really good friends, in the house that my host-sister is also living in while she's in college in Concepcion. My hostess was incredibly kind and friendly, and took me out every day to get to know the area. I decided that if I were to come back to Chile to live, it would be in Concepcion. The city is fairly unremarkable but does have a nice vibe from being the home to a good number of universities. The surrounding area is gorgeous. Talcahuano, the port city just down the river is very cool-- brightly colored, funky, full of personality, industrial city, built all the way up a hillside that goes flat just a little bit before meeting the ocean. All up and down the coastline there are stunning beaches and rocky points, with cute little fishing towns scattered without. And then, if you head inland, it's forested and hilly, and actually looks a good bit like West Virginia. The main epicenter of the February 27th earthquake was quite close to Concepcion and there was some startling damage, but while some bigger buildings fell in Concepcion that what I'd seen, I'd say that downtown Curico was damaged a lot more than downtown Concepcion. However, the coastal towns were absolutely ravaged by tidal waves. I saw plenty of torn-up fishing boats resting casually a good many meters from the ocean, and a couple of towns where one half of the cove was completely destroyed (the little differences in geography made a big difference with respect to the power of the waves that arrived).

After a week there I went back to Curico, had my official Rotary farewell, relaxed a couple of days, then kicked off my week of minimal sleep by waking up at 4 AM in order to meet with friends at 5 AM for the Chile-Honduras World Cup match at 7:30 AM. Chile won. It was fun.

That afternoon, I set off for Santiago, to take care of some final matters. I bought some gifts to take home,
went skiing at El Colorado,
watched the USA-Slovenia World Cup game at a true Gringo bar, checked a few more sights-to-see of Santiago off my list, and participated in some more farewell activities for other exchange students.

That Saturday, I returned to Curico, just in time to get ready for my goodbye party that night. Emily and Liz (my fellow gringo-curicano Rotary Exchange Students at Liceo Zapallar) and I rented a space, paid for a DJ, and threw a pretty slammin' party. Lots of people, lots of dancing, and lots of fun (until the end when the sadness hit me, and a couple of dramas erupted, but it was a triumphant success regardless).
I spent most of Sunday packing, then had a farewell dinner with my family that night.

Monday I went to school to watch the Chile-Switzerland game and say goodbye to all of my classmates. Chile won the game which was great and put everyone in a good mood.
The goodbyes were hard. I had only been in my school for a few months, but I still had made some very close friends. However, because I haven't known many of them for very long, I feel like I barely had time to realize who all the cool kids were and how awesome they were. As hard as it was to leave behind my really close friends, it was almost harder to leave behind the people who I could tell would have become my really close friends if only I'd been able to spend more time with them. Still, the day went well-- I gave gifts to several of my Chilean friends, and a number of them had gifts and/or cards for me. Instead of classes in the afternoon, my class had a farewell barbecue for Emily and I, which was nice. In the evening I went and chilled at my friend Kuko's house, where I said my goodbyes to Kuko, Kaña, and Jesus, my three very close friends from my first school.

Tuesday I woke up, did the last of my packing, and journeyed to the airport. At 2:30 I set off with my host-mom, and 4 hours, 1 taxi, and 2 buses later, we arrived at the airport. Some friends from Santiago came to the airport to say goodbye, as well as some classmates who surprised us (I was flying with Liz and Anna).
After procrastinating the departure as long as possible, I passed through the gates, and was the very last person to board the plane. Liz and I read all of the messages our classmates had written us and told us to read on the plane, which was sweet and sad, and fortunately not quite as emotional as I'd expected (my capacity for sadness from the farewells ran out the moment the airplane wheels lifted off, and I was no longer on Chilean soil.) I arrived in Atlanta, spent forever going through customs, said goodbye to Liz and Anna, then rushed through the 3 terminals (the train was closed) to get to my flight, once again, in the nick of time. At that point, Chile already started to feel like dream and the people began to feel like memories, but after a rough moment, I managed to focus on the excitement of going home and leave the immense sadness from leaving in the recesses of my mind. I slept almost all of the flight to Pittsburgh, and woke up just as we touched down. I had arrived, and was once again walking on familiar American soil.