Travel to Chile

Essay by alextaylorHigh School, 11th gradeA+, February 2007

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I am currently an exchange student in Chile. Being on exchange is not easy, and it is not all fun. A complete shift of culture and a new language present diverse challenges daily. As a result, I am often forced to relearn even the most fundamental things, such as how to shower and when to get hungry. In Chile, through the adaptation process, I have learned much about myself and become conscious of how little I really comprehended of myself before I came here.

In her memoir My Invented Country, Isabel Allende writes, "In my case, [nostalgia is] not so much wanting to live in Chile as it is the desire to recapture the certainty I feel there." Like Allende, I find myself longing less for my home itself than for my comfortable preconceptions and prejudices, for my powers of prediction and perception in a society I know so well.

In the United States, I am rarely surprised. I know how my peers respond to different situations, how to ask for permission, what to expect to eat, when I can call someone and find him at home, and I have a comfortable (if untrue) grasp on how society works. In Chile, without this basic framework of information, I am off-balance, and sometimes uncomfortable and less certain of myself. However, another, less useful part of my framework in my own country is that I think I know what I am and am not capable of. I often unconsciously set limits for myself. Since coming to Chile, all ideas of my capabilities have become skewed, and I have learned to stop limiting myself.

If I've done away with my conception of my abilities, though, does this mean I've also lost my conception of who I am? On the contrary: out...