After so much buildup, the day is finally here! I spent hours packing for my trip to Chile, calculating every minor detail. Which size toothpaste? How many clothes? What will the kids there like? Did I remember that one thing that I’ve never used in my life but should pack just in case? Is this going to be too heavy? I researched the area and tried with minimal results to improve my Spanish. I did as much as possible to ensure things back home will still be taken care of and I’ll have things relatively in order when I return. There were tearful goodbyes, anxiety attacks, and endless well wishes. I did it all, and successfully made it through my first flight.
As soon as I sat down in my seat, the man to my left started chatting. He was a nice surgeon in training at the University of Washington who was heading to Orange County for a friend’s wedding after being up all night doing a kidney transplant. After finding out I was heading to Chile for four months, he started sharing his own travel stories, and immediately made me feel like an inadequate adventurer. He had also taught English abroad..but in China…for 6 months. Additionally, he backpacked around Asia on his own, took a trip to South America just to explore, and plans on going into Doctors Without Borders once he is finished with school.
He encouraged me to extend my trip so that I had time to travel outside of the program and wished for me that nobody I would come in contact with would be able to speak English and that there would be no other Americans around me for the majority of my trip. Full immersion seemed to be the only way to go in his mind. I admire his courageous spirit, but I’m taking it one step at a time. He also shared with me the three phases of being abroad:
- Honeymoon Phase- Everything is exciting and fun. You don’t feel the need to have contact with anybody back home, and essentially feel like nothing can stop you.
- Hostility Phase- You start to despise parts of the culture which you do not understand and that are different than your own ways of living.
- Home- You begin to feel like the country you are in is your new home and fully settle in.
We will see if I go through these steps, but either way it was interesting to hear them so clearly defined.
I had been placed in a middle seat, so the fun didn’t stop with the first man. The man to my right contrasted sharply with the first, wearing a black leather jacket and dark sunglasses as compared to a white shirt and shorts. He didn’t say much throughout the flight (except for some story he told the flight attendant about having too much tequila so that he could get me orange juice) until the end. As we started descending, he asked me where I was going, I shared the basics, and then his stories started to pour out. He couldn’t have been more opposite in thinking from the first passenger about traveling and the world on a whole.
He told me that the three things he avoids when traveling are bugs, humidity, and poor people. Apparently in his mind everybody was out to get everybody else as well. He seemed convinced that I was either going to be kidnapped, sold into slavery, or murdered. He grilled me about what kind of insurance I had to protect myself and then strongly recommended that I buy the largest knife I could find as soon as I landed. Oh, he taught me a couple of threatening Spanish phrases to use too.
Anyway, who knew I would meet such interesting people in my first two hours after leaving Seattle? My next flight is delayed, so I’m taking the time to appreciate the fact that I will be meeting countless other people with their own stories to tell and will also be developing stories of my own to share. My next plane is approaching, and my fingers are crossed that I will be able to make my final flight to Santiago on time. Until then, I wanted to share a quote from the book that is keeping me company:
“We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.”
So that is what I will be trying to do over the next four months.. going with the flow and dealing with people, places, and things as they come.