The barriers we face while traveling in foreign countries are humbling. They challenge us, frustrate us and confuse us, but ultimately they force us to grow. Of all the things I´ll appreciate when I get home, understanding what´s going on around me will be the most refreshing. People will be speaking my first language, I´ll know what to expect when I walk into a business (or if it will be open in the first place on a Monday at 2pm), I´ll know the customs of driving down the street or exactly what to look for when I enter the grocery store. I won´t have to sit and think for minutes before asking a complicated question, I won´t need to pull out my dictionary and conjugate verbs in multiple tenses in my head before opening my mouth. I will (mostly) understand when people speak and I will be (mostly) understood when I speak. I´ll not only understand the culture and its implications, but I will be a part of it, inherently. When I´m dealing with official business, I´ll know exactly where to go (the DMV on Fulton Street, the Post Office on Geary Blvd, etc.), I won´t have to ask multiple people where to go for what I´m trying to do, half understand their vague directions then ask someone else at every block, only to arrive at the destination to find out I need to go somewhere else for what I´m trying to do.
All of these little frustrations I´ve felt in the last months while traveling, and especially in the last 6 weeks while we had our car and even more so in this last week trying to sell the car- they´ve been stressful, funny, ridiculous, and downright maddening. But they´ve been positive, too. I have a significantly higher sense of empathy for immigrants, something that will help me in my Social Work practice in the future. It´s difficult to imagine the stress caused by being in a new country and trying to navigate the systems in a second language, all the while separated from your community, without having experienced it for yourself. On top of that, I´ve learned a lot about the Chilean business culture, widened my Spanish vocabulary, learned how crazy it is to drive in Peru, learned to appreciate pedestrian rights in Chile (Chilean drivers are very respectful), and have remembered to practice patience. I´m incredibly blessed to be traveling and learning, having these experiences. It´s been a productive, if at times stressful, adventure.
Now that we´ve sold our car to a lovely Chilean family, our wallets are full(ish) again and we´re ready to take the first bus out of Chile, through Peru and up to Ecuador. I have three weeks left on this incredible journey and I plan to spend it near a jungle, on a beach, hopefully volunteering my time to a local organization, avoiding government agencies and complicated situations as much as possible.
*Regardless of these little frustrations, I´m infinately grateful for the health, safety and opportunity that myself and many of my friends and family have. My heart goes out to all those affected by the recent events in Boston, as well as the people coping with hunger, poverty, oppression and violence around the world every day. This blurb is just meant to share a bit of my experiences.