In my finals week in Chile, I didn’t feel ready to come back. It was towards the beginning of my stay there that I missed family and friends from back home the most, and throughout the entire stay I thought about them, but it was in the final weeks that I realized that it may be a long time until I see my Chilean friends again. Over the five months, I formed really strong friendships with the locals, and it was hurting me knowing it may be a while until I see them again. While I did miss friends and family from back home, I always knew that in just under half a year I’d see them all again: there was a fixed date for when I knew I’d see them — I didn’t have that for my Chilean friends.
I also knew I was going to miss living in such a sunny, warmer city next to the ocean. The city felt so alive — there were a lot of people my age, so my activities to do, and it was so easy to get from place to place using public transportation. While I do think the Columbus Metropolitan area has some excellent characteristics, I did not look forward to experiencing a rapid change to much colder weather.
Surprisingly, I actually seem to have adapted just fine to the cold. I do, though, greatly miss the public transportation and the ocean. But more than anything, I miss the friends that I met there. Fortunately, my mom made the great suggestion that I offer my friends and host family the opportunity to stay in my home for free anytime that they visit the U.S., which hopefully will decrease the amount of time until I next see some of them. I do know some won’t be able to come though, so I know for sure I’ll return to visit Chile some day and visit my friends.
Nonetheless, I cannot deny that I am really happy to see my family and friends from Ohio again. Many expected me to feel much more relaxed now that I’m back, given the civil unrest that occurred in Chile while I was there. That’s not really the case though. I realized while I was there that despite the seriousness of the situation and the fact that people died, the homicide rate in the U.S. is still notably higher than that of Chile, and while the situation is undeniably alarming, the death count is not nearly great enough to change that fact. Aside from the macro-scale, a more direct comparison between Valparaíso and Columbus shows that Columbus also has the higher homicide rate between the two. The life expectancy is also higher in Chile than the U.S. I was quite a bit more likely to get robbed while in the Valparaíso region, but I was also quite a bit less likely to get shot or stabbed. I never heard of any mass shootings while in Chile. I certainly never heard of any school shootings nor hear of any past instances of one.
While there, I saw news of buildings looted and destroyed, police/military officers killing protesters through excessive force, and protesters starting fires started that killed people. Now that I’m back, I see a lot more news of shootings. The situations are different, but do I feel safer? Not really. I’m actually almost certainly more likely to die prematurely now that I have to drive a car instead of being able to ride a bus (I live in the Columbus Metropolitan area, but currently outside of the city, so no public buses until I move inside the city after graduation).
I’m not paranoid and living in fear though. Instead, I hope to use what I’ve learned for the better. I always thought good public transportation required massive infrastructure changes, but living in Viña del Mar, Valparaíso Region, I realized that just having more buses makes a world of difference. I want to share this knowledge, as car crashes kill tens of thousands of people in the U.S. each year and buses are not only much safer, but also much better for the environment and more accessible to people of lower incomes.
I have one more semester of college, so I’m currently looking for jobs as a software developer after I graduate. Until then, I’ll be thinking of who I can share my experience with so that they can have a similar experience. I’ve never met any American math or science major that has studied a semester abroad in a university taught in a different language, but I’d highly recommend it, because it gives you the opportunity to improve your language skills, communication skills, and learn a new culture and place, all while still improving your knowledge about your major. It also gives you the opportunity to form a lot of new, strong relationships.
I’m grateful to be able to see my family and friends from Ohio again, I look forward to seeing my Chilean friends and host family again some day, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned to better my own community, and am so thankful the Gilman Scholarship gave me the opportunity to experience all of this.