The past three weeks of my study abroad program have been spent traveling. We spent a week in Putre and then had one day back in Arica to unpack and re-pack all of our things before we headed to the south of Chile. Our first stop was Temuco area. Here we spent most of the out time in Maquewe, which is a town 20 minutes away from Temuco. Despite it’s proximity to a city, Maquewe has no cellphone service, most houses don’t have internet, and there is no store or plaza around. It’s a very rural, spread out town that consists essentially of houses, farms, a hospital, and a school. Each day, for me to get to the hospital for class it was a 25-30 minute walk on the “highway.” There are buses that go from Maquewe to Temuco but other than that there was no public transportation system. Here is where my feeling of loneliness started. The house I was staying at was one of the farthest houses from the hospital. While I was staying with one other girl from the program, I felt very separated from my friends and I missed the ability to leave my house to just walk around small shops near the plaza.
Things didn’t really get any better when we left Maquewe to do our small group study of one of the other small towns around Temuco. I was in a group of three other girls going to Chol-Chol. Within the group, I definitely felt like I was an outsider. Most of the conversation came back to sororities or other topics of conversation that I could not really join in on. It didn’t help that in the afternoons we got trapped in our hostel because of the pouring rain. Again we had no internet but there was no cellphone service. For the entire time that I was in Chol-Chol I still had a feeling of isolation. I was really looking forward to our time in Pucón and hoping that it would be better and in reality Pucón did end up being a better situation. Maybe it was because we traveled as a group to some waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. I was also just really excited to have a two days of free afternoons to explore and take a break from the constant class and lectures that we had the week before.
After our two day mini break in Pucón, we headed to Santiago. This is where my feeling of isolation hit me the hardest. During check in, I somehow ended up without a roommate. The second night in Santiago I had spent an hour in an Entel store trying to get my phone to work since I can’t receive phone calls. I was with a group of people from the program who were also trying to fix their phones. When we got back to the hotel, the other girls I was with rushed out to go to dinner with a friend who was studying in Santiago. It was getting kind of late at that point and I was trying to find someone who was still around the hotel and hadn’t eaten yet. I didn’t have much luck and the messages that I sent out to people weren’t getting responses. After about another hour I heard back from one group of people who were in the city eating. I headed out to try to join them. I got on the metro and then was using my phone to get me to the restaurant address when my phone suddenly lost all data. I couldn’t find my way to the restaurant so I had to call my friends to find me at a street corner and I sat there for about 20 minutes.
This was really the pinnacle of my loneliness. I was sitting in front of a bank on a dimly lit street corner in Santiago at 9:00 at night alone, just waiting for people to find me. During this time I really felt alone and forgotten. However, this feeling was about to finally lift starting the next day. The next night I asked one girl to let me know what her plans for the night were, instead of trying to make last minute plans and sulking in my room. She texted me around 8:30 and we went out to dinner with three other girls and then we walked around Santiago looking at different restaurants and cafes until midnight when we returned back to the hotel. The following day, a girl came to my room and told me that she had somewhere that she needed to show me. So we put on our running shoes and she took me to a park. I was a little confused why we were there until I saw the climbing holds on a building. She had run past this the other day and thought of me. I was so happy, not just to have found a climbing wall but also I was happy to know that she had thought of me. We hung around to watch people climb and then jogged back to the hotel.
That night was the birthday of a girl in the program and so we went out to dinner with her at a Mexican restaurant nearby the hotel before buying ice cream at a grocery store and working on homework in the hotel conference room. However, it wasn’t really until Saturday that the feeling of isolation completely lifted. Saturday was our one free day in Santiago so eight of us decided to take a bus to Valparaíso for the day. We took the bus in the morning and made the 10:00 am walking tour of the city where we got to see the former prison, many murals, a cemetery, and hear a lot of the history of Valparaíso. The tour ended around 1:00 and we found a lunch place right by the street fair. Our lunch was very disappointing – our soup was just fish broth, and my friend’s seafood bowl tasted like nothing. But the food we found at the street fair made up for that. After touring the fair and getting little gifts for friends back home, we headed out to explore more of the city’s famous murals and see the open air museum which is a collection of murals created in the 1990s.
By the end of the day, we were exhausted and ready to get back on the bus to Santiago. As I sat on the bus, I realized that I hadn’t smiled or laughed that much since we left Putre. I had probably laughed more that day than for the entire two weeks of traveling we had done before. It wasn’t that people hadn’t wanted me around or had forgotten about me, it was that I had let it get to my head. I let all the little moments, the little accidents, build up in my mind and turned them into a much more extreme situation that it was in reality. Before, I felt like I was being pushy asking if I could come along to dinner or on little adventures, but that day in Valparaíso made me realize that I needed to make the effort to be part of the group. I needed to ask if I could come because otherwise I wouldn’t do anything and that, above all, made me feel isolated and like an outsider. There was, in reality, no one stopping me from participating except myself.