Updated: Sep 28, 2022
When I think about college, I think about studying abroad. Well, for other people because that was definitely not an option for me. Leaving for college 45 minutes away from home and living on my own for the first time was scary enough, nevermind living in an entirely different country for a semester. I didn’t think twice about it. No matter how many times my mom encouraged me, it was a “No”, “No, thank you,” and “Are you crazy?” every time, until one day it wasn’t.
There’s this thing called a “gut feeling” that I grew up hearing about but never experienced before. I guess you could count the times I brought an umbrella to school the days the weather app said it wasn’t going to rain, but I never experienced it in a life-changing way.
My freshman year roommate went to Spain sophomore year and my other roommate went to Ireland her junior year. I ran into her one day on the way to class junior year and said, “Look at you going abroad, and now Sara’s abroad too!” She replied, “I know, right! You’re next!” I quickly laughed and went about my commute, but I think she took that laugh as a “Yeah, I’m definitely going and it’s going to be such a great time!” In reality, it meant, “You’re out of your mind!”
But shortly after that encounter, I found myself sitting in the study abroad office figuring out which country I should go to. I was scheduled to leave my first semester of senior year. Strangely enough, the nerves didn’t hit me all summer until I was finally dropped off at the airport. Coming from a girl who can’t live without Google Maps, it didn’t surprise me when I started crying my eyes out from not knowing where my gate was, but I managed to land in Santiago, Chile thirteen hours later.
As a Dominican-American, choosing Chile was an important decision for me because I wanted to be recognized. Being surrounded by Hispanic culture was nothing new to me, but rather felt like home. After three years of feeling invisible on my college campus, I took the chance to reconnect with my roots.
When arriving at orientation the following day, I was quickly reminded about the fact that I actually have to go to school still. Watching my old roommate on social media partying abroad almost every night seemed to cloud my judgment of what studying abroad really meant. But what was more surprising was the fact that I learned more about myself than I did about the history of Chile in my history class or about Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral in my poetry class.
During my trip, I contemplated whether having found a good group of people I could genuinely call my friends was luck or fate. Why was it easier to be friends with a group of strangers from different parts of the country than it was for me to be befriended by someone on my own college campus?
It might’ve been the way we all bonded over the idea of being so small compared to the nightsky when stargazing in the Atacama Desert. Or our admiration of the sunset as we sat on the beach together. Or walking through every color of the rainbow and sliding down slippery slopes in Valparaíso. Or sharing our pain after learning about the Chilean dictatorship and going through the start of political protests together.
What I know for sure is that after taking the biggest risk of my life, I was rewarded with everything that was meant for me. All the flights I took, all the people I met, all the food I ate, all the metro rides I took, all the smog I inhaled, all the Chilean words I learned, the concert I went to, the rabbit I lived with, the mom who hosted me, the mountains that surrounded me daily are now all apart of me. Listening to my gut feeling proved to be the best decision I’ve made in my life.
I knew I would cry when leaving home, but I didn’t expect to cry when returning. I was afraid of reverting back to the girl I was before having gone away for three months to live on her own without any family or friends around. All the bravery I had conjured up, all the courage it took for me to experience what I had just experienced was coming to an end. Being back on a campus that paid no mind to me was bound to make me feel small again. How could my hard work take up so much of my energy, but vanish as quickly as lightning?
What I didn’t realize was that I had the power to do it all over again. To this day, Chile has been one of, if not, my favorite life memories. Although I miss it dearly, I am lucky to have discovered a power within me that I never knew was there, and if I ever want something as bad as going abroad again, I now know I am capable of making it happen.