Saying goodbye to Chile was much more difficult than I every imagined it would be. When I started out this journey, I assumed I would live in a different country, improve my Spanish, tour around the sights to see, make a positive impact on the kids at school, and then leave and return back to my normal life. I wish it were that simple.
When I first came to Chile, I didn't feel like I was in a different country. I have many ski school friends in Santiago and they know my life in Tahoe and all speak English, so I felt oddly at home. But when I moved down South, I knew no one and hardly anyone speaks English...the challenges began.
I had a hard time adjusting to Chilean culture: everyone is always late and they never move out of the way on the sidewalks. It rained almost every day and the kids never study. It takes forever for change to come about and things are not very "productive" by North American standards. I couldn't really communicate with anybody. These were the challenges I had to overcome and I had never felt so homesick before in my life. I waited for my mom to log on to Skype and for my dad to pick up the long distance calls. I was counting down the days....
...then something changed. I became busy with my schedule and was committed fully to my basketball team. I was judging singing competitions and taking weekend trips to nearby beautiful cities. The weather started to change and it only rained 3-4 days a week. My students and I finally started to understand each other and I was taking field trips with them and having BBQs with the teachers. I met a special Chilean man who made me feel a part of his family and taught me how to dance salsa. Suddenly my life was Chilean and even my Spanish was progressing and I wanted to put the brakes on the days that started to pass by so quickly. It was a total 180 and I dreaded the day of departure.
Chileans are a special breed of people. At first they seem lazy and a little rough around the edges, but when you get to know them they are honest, funny and hard working people. When you step over the threshold of anyone's house, you are instantly family, "una hijita" (a little daughter). They would happily give you the shirts of their backs without asking for a thing in return. They love you with food and will gladly give whatever is in their house to you without asking for anything in return. One teacher gave me a tour of her house, pulled a matching pair of earrings and necklace out of her closet and told me to give it to my mom as a gift. She doesn't even know my mom!!! I feel that in our country, people are friendly and always give you a helping hand, but we also expect things to be just and fair and for each individual to be able to take care of himself. Chileans are one big family and they love you and open their home to you as if you really were a daughter. I think the part that really got me was that I let myself be loved by these Chileans. I finally let myself go into their culture. It's incredible and difficult to explain, but for this, my heart became bound to the people in Puerto Montt and I never had such a hard time saying goodbye to a place. And the people there had a hard time saying goodbye to me too.
A desperdida is a farewell party, and I had a solid week of them booked before leaving. I had one on Thursday night with the other volunteers, Friday night with the teachers, Saturday night with my friends, Sunday afternoon with another group of teachers, Monday morning with the school, and Tuesday night with my basketball team. My bus left Wednesday.
I received so many wonderful gifts and the hardest part was leaving the school. Half of the students were there in the cafeteria to say farewell. I was shocked! They had a slideshow presentation, a few speeches, 2 students sang a song for me and 2 couples danced the cueca for me because they know I love it. I cried. Then we had cake for breakfast. It was difficult for me to walk out the door without one last photo or one last adios. One student didn't let me go, and these are high schoolers, not little kids! I had no idea what kind of impact I was making at this school, but at the farewell I realized how special my time here was, for both the students and for myself.
So thank you CHILE for totally rocking my world. I have never experienced such emotion in my travels before. This was the greatest challenge but most rewarding experience of my life. Thank you to you too for reading and supporting my journey.