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Past to Present: Experiences as a foreigner

Mendoza, Argentina: You knew me first when I was a scared homesick tongue-tied simultaneously let-it-be student. And you changed me.

Viña del Mar, Chile: You knew me first when I was an unstoppable, determined, don't-look-back, go with the flow, focused, unprepared English professor. And you changed me.

And here I am, hour 3 of the mountainous, breathtaking and nauseating traverse between Argentina and Chile. This is the conclusion of a 6-day visit home to Mendoza for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  I feel as if I'm traveling over the curvy (hence the nausea) path between my past and my present: The four years smushed into 7-12 hours (depending on how congested customs is). It wasn't easy for me to get here, on this bus. In fact, I was supposed to return 3 days ago. But many things can happen in a short time.

This time four short years ago I was right in the middle of my study abroad semester in Mendoza, Argentina, located 7 hours from Santiago, Chile. My program of 30 or so students was composed completely of people I hadn't met before. I was eating two meals daily with a traditional, Argentinean Jewish family who spoke a language that made me question everything I'd been taught in Spanish class up until that point.

I was tucked under the wing of my program, my host family and the title “student”, as well as the financial security of my family back in the U.S. It was monumental for me to find a home and friends in another culture and language, and I left with "muchas ganas" of returning to see all I had left unseen. As my host father said upon my departure: "siempre hay que irse sin hacer todo, para tener razónes de volver:" Always leave a place without doing everything, so you have a reason to return. And so I did. I've since returned three more times, first for the wedding of my host sister and then over holiday weekends from Chile.

Now, I'm 6 months into my 10 month (or longer) stay in Viña Del Mar, Chile as a part-time English professor at a professional and technical institute, DUOC UC. Unlike the cushions of study abroad, we were tossed into our lives and jobs here in Chile. I remember blindly making my way through my first exhausting month teaching, only being able to envision one or two classes ahead while searching for a home in a city I hadn't mapped out yet. The part-time job felt like a full-time commitment. Hectic yet exhilarating! It helped that Valparaiso and the sea are beautiful at all times of day, and Spanish is like a deep tissue massage of the ears.

A seasoned one semester in, DUOC life is less imposing and pre-class pep talks to myself are less frequent. My schedule is more manageable and planning is quicker, giving me time for attention to detail and to be creative. The students seem more agreeable and motivated, but I’m not sure yet if that’s true or if it’s just perception. Like second semester in the U.S., the weather is improving and holidays and summer are approaching, giving a nice lightness to the semester. I’m very grateful to have a second semester here. I’m better able to reflect and see how I’ve changed while still actively participating in the experience, which is something I didn't get to fully experience in Argentina. 

Unlike my past, my present is in constant change. The bus continues swerving around the bends of the cliffs and the peaks become snowier, blending into the grey sky. Below, the icy river runs back toward Mendoza. But soon, after a few more turns and a few more stamps on my passport, the river will suddenly change direction, to flow down toward whatever awaits in Viña.


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