Travel: Chilean Memories
When I was in college, I got it in my head that studying abroad for a semester was a part of the college experience that I simply could not skip out on. I truly don't know where this urge came from, because I knew very few people who studied abroad, nor am I one to go and do big, brave things. All I can offer as explanation is a love of travel, and a desire to really learn Spanish after having studied it from 9th grade - college. Complicating matters, my major (petroleum engineering) was not conducive at ALL to ducking out for a semester. The courses for my program were so specific (Enhanced Oil Recovery ... Production Operations ... anyone? Anyone?) and there aren't many other countries offering this degree, or even courses that OU would consider equivalent. As a result, the best option for me was to stay for a 5th year of college, study abroad the first semester, and get a math minor the second semester before starting my first full-time job the following summer. In hindsight, God bless my parents, who footed the bill for a completely unnecessary extra YEAR of college and didn't shake me violently at the idea of deferring gainful employment for a whimsical year of travel. I hope when my kids are inches from off of my payroll, I will also encourage them to go do brave, stretchy things at my expense. So, in case I haven't said it enough, thank you for always supporting me and my hair-brained ideas, mom and dad. This wasn't the first, and we all know it won't be the last.
As you can imagine, an entire semester living on a completely foreign continent in a different culture from my own endowed me with more stories than I can ever recount, but I will endeavor to document them over time. The 5 months I spent in Arica, Chile were some of the hardest and most rewarding ones of my entire life. I look back and can't believe I was brave enough to do it. I am a rule-follower through and through, and deviating from the path more traveled just really isn't in my nature. I left the cutest boyfriend (now husband) behind in Oklahoma and saw him exactly zero times over the semester. This was before Facetime or iPhones were a thing (#webcam), so I felt very far away from everyone I knew and loved. Surviving and even borderline thriving for that semester is, to this day, one of my proudest personal achievements.
As my hero Julie Andrews would say, "let's start at the very beginning... a very good place to start." The memory I'll share today is from the actual trip to South America. I should begin by saying that by sheer luck, I happened to know one other girl studying abroad in the same town. Emilie was a few years younger than me in my sorority, so we knew of each other, but after a semester in South America, we knew each other. Deeply. If you think our bond now could ever be broken, then you've never
biked up an erupting volcano with someone ... survived a school riot with someone ... survived an earthquake with someone ... eaten your body weight in avocados with someone ...only known one person on your continent before.
Without further ado, I give you Part 1 of my South American saga.
Part 1: The Trip to South America
Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.
I'm standing in line at the Atlanta airport trying very hard to feel as calm as I outwardly appear. It's just one semester- just 5 months away from the only continent I've ever lived in and every person I've ever known. It will fly by! It will be like I was never gone.
Except that 5 months really is a long time, isn't it? And I'll be one entire year older when I return, and come to think of it, I really don't know Spanish at all, do I? You would think my 8 years of classes in high school and college would soothe my nerves right now, but my hands are really starting to sweat and I'm suddenly aware that I'm white-knuckling my carry-ons. Also, I can't seem to stand still and my neck is breaking out in hives which I'm trying to scratch with my shoulder as to not lose my grip on one of the 6 bags I'm hoping they won't notice I'm trying to board the plane with.
Maybe I don't appear as calm as I'd thought.
I've been planning and filling out paperwork and applying for passports and flying to visit consulates for months now, so why it feels as if I'm standing in a dream is not at all clear to me. It's as if I've convinced myself that studying abroad is something that I'm required to do, and then actually left my boyfriend at college and had my mom drive me to the airport without saving time to realize that I'm not the kind of person who does this kind of thing.
"Flight 1243, direct to Lima, boarding group A now."
The line I'm in is starting to move, and the panic is really beginning to set in. What if my host family hates me? What if I don't have the paperwork needed to cross the border and I'm left, stranded, incapable of uttering a coherent word in Spanish? What if I fail every single one of my classes and I've ditched my poor boyfriend- and motherland, for that matter- for nothing? What if I catch some kind of infectious disease, and I'm never allowed back into the--
"Lindsey!" Emilie jolts my mind back into the airport, where several angry faces are glaring at me from behind. The line has moved on, and Group B is hungrily eyeing the gap I've let form. These people sure are anxious to get to Peru.
"Are you ok?" She looks concerned.
"Um... yes. Fine." Which is true, mostly. Minus the neck rash and mild hyperventilation.
"Can you BELIEVE that we're going? That we're going to be there tomorrow?" Emilie is atwitter with excitement, so much so that for a moment I think it might be enough to rub off on me. This is how she's been ever since we found out that we were both placed into the same study abroad program. We are sorority sisters and were friends before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our relationship is about to grow drastically closer, considering she'll be the only person I'll be able to speak to in greater than a 3rd grade level. This will come in handy, particularly when I need to say things they never covered in class, for example "I'm having terrible period cramps" or "I need a shot."
"I really can't believe it," I say, making a great effort to feign some excitement.
Somehow I manage to make it through the gate, down the ramp, and into a seat without being a) caught for violating the airline's carry-on policy (by a lot), b) crying, or c) turning and running. I probably would have chosen option c, except that I've never been to Atlanta before and would really not know what to do if I made it to the street lugging my body weight in bags.
Once we take off, things seem better and the flight goes remarkably well. I attribute this to the fact that my subconscious realizes it's too late to turn back now, whereas Emilie attributes it to the fact that she ordered me a tiny personal bottle of vodka which I drank immediately and then promptly fell asleep. In fact, I sleep so well that I don't even get to eat my Twizzlers, nor do I find the tiny bear wearing a sombrero that Mom hid in my bag until I am brushing my teeth in the Lima airport.
(EDIT: Emilie would like to clarify that I FLOSSED my teeth at the Lima airport. In her words: "who does that?!" In my defense: plaque is a real party foul no matter what continent you're on.)
After claiming our various luggage, boxes, and trunks, we are now making our way to customs. We slowly filter into a line of people pressing a button, at which point a light turns green and they walk out, completely disregarding the immigrations baggage check machines and employees. When we get to the front of the line, both thoroughly confused by the Peruvians' mysterious ways, I press the button, wait for it to turn green, and follow the line of people in front of me.
"That was ridicul--" I am cut short by the loudest, shrillest buzzing noise I have ever heard. As I turn around, I notice that Emilie isn't behind me anymore. She is standing at the light, now flashing red, suffering from complete paralysis.
"It isn't green! It's red! What do I do?"
"Uhhm..." I am at a complete loss as I desperately dig around in my bag for my electronic translator. Why couldn't this have happened to someone who knows how to say "What do I do when I lose 'Russian Roulette: Peruvian Baggage Style'" in Spanish?
Before I can get my it out of my purse, the baggage checkers have begun calmly taking Emilie's luggage toward the scanning machines and feeding them through. Apparently the Light of Death is just a random way to select whose baggage is searched, if you could call it that. They hardly even look at the monitors to see what kind of contraband Emilie is trying to smuggle in, although I suppose in their defense they were probably a bit distracted by the large airport security guard running toward me yelling who-knows-what (I didn't) when I started taking pictures of this very exciting ordeal. Apparently Lima's luggage-scanning operation is a matter of the utmost national security, but I have a scrapbook to make.
Having survived the luggage trauma, clearly it is time to eat. We made our way upstairs to the food court with all of our possessions (by no means an easy task, trust me).
"I am so hungry, I am going to eat at the first place I see," I vow as we turn the corner. "As long as it's American."
We come to a stop in the middle of the food court to survey our options.
"Wow!" I exclaim. There really are quite a few things to choose from. McDonald's... Papa John's (really? I never would have pegged Papa John's as international)... a very sketchy looking Chinese restaurant... another McDonald's that apparently serves only ice cream... and... "What's that on the end?"
I can't tell what food they serve, but they have a very cute native girl holding a steaming plate of food as their mascot:
As we draw closer, I squint to make out the name. "Manos Morenas. Let's see... that would mean... brown...uh..."
"Hands!" Emilie finished. We look at each other, up at the smiling little girl, and back at each other.
"Brown hands?" I look at her incredulously. "Is that... legal?"
"It is here, I guess," says Emilie, giggling as she makes her way toward Papa John's. "Welcome to South America!"
Stay tuned for more stories from my crazy semester abroad!
You can read about more of my travels here: