Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Final Goodbye

It’s been over a year now that I’ve been back in Canada and it’s hard to realize how fast the year flew by!  June 13 struck my 1-year back mark and my exchange seems like a lifetime away now.  My rebound year really took me through the ringer at some points as I hated the fact that I had to be in Canada again.  But by January things finally started to turn around for me.  I knew I had to let go of the past and move on to enjoy what was ahead in my future.  I made some changes and promises to myself that have improved my outlook on my life and I can finally say that I am extremely content in my Canadian life again.

I barely find myself telling people about my exchange anymore, only if conversation about travelling comes up then I’m able to share some of my experiences.  I decided that after my first semester I needed to really put my priorities back in order.  I hadn’t done as well in school as I had hoped to and I finally came to the conclusion that I was not going back to Chile anytime soon.  I focused my attention back onto school, family, friends, and being active again.  A few goals later I managed to get through my second semester of university with a higer average and even managed to make it onto my university cheerleading team for next year!  Life was finally turning around for me and I knew that I had been holding on to my memories of Chile for too long and living in the dream world of exchange and what ifs.   

The rebound year of exchange was the worst part of the exchange process, but in the end it really benefited me personally as I was able to learn from it and make changes by my own means.  I’ve been able to talk to some excited outbounds from my district on their “Announcement Day”, answering questions about South America, the culture, what kinds of things should I bring, etc.  When they would ask how it was being back you never really wanted to tell them the truth, yes… it sucks, but it gets better.  I’m just so excited that they are just starting on their adventure of exchange, fresh eyes going into a new journey.  

Since Rotary was so good to me all my exchange years my parents decided that we would host an exchange student this past year.  I was so excited; although I would be off at university all year I was still able to come back home and hangout with my exchange brother.  Caio from Brazil joined our family on December 26th (same date I switched families…. Weird), and it’s been quite fun having a little brother around.  I really only got to hangout with him when I was finished school in April to May, but I sure will miss him!  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have great host-families.  I knew my family was fun, adventurous, and fair when it came to rules and that they would be excellent host-parents.  We’re hoping a trip to Brazil will be in the future!

Caio and I reppin our Rotary blazers

As for me right now I can only say that I’m yet on another adventure!  This summer I landed a job working for Ontario Parks doing a travelling “Learn To Camp” program.  My co-worker and I have been travelling from Sudbury area provincial parks and will make our way up to Kenora (near Winnipeg) teaching families the basics of camping.  A job that allows me to travel to places I’ve never been to before – perfect!  I’m so lucky to once again have an experience that allows me to travel.  Although I’m constantly dreaming of what could be my next adventure abroad, I’m finding it so special to be able to travel in my own province and see things and parts that I’ve never seen before.  I’m already about 1,500 kilometres away from home at the moment in Thunder Bay, and have never been this far North ever!  Throughout the summer we’ve been camping in different provincial parks or staying at staff houses, constantly changing location, scenery, and park staff friends every week or so.  I’m so happy to still be able to live somewhat of a travelling life!  If you're interested you can follow our travelling adventures through our twitter...

My co-worker (Shelby) and I at Pancake Bay Provincial Park

And with that I believe this brings an end to my Chile-blogging days.  I am no longer an exchange student and I’ve made it to the end of my rebound-year.  I hope through my writing and pictures I have showed a side of Chile and exchange life that has inspired and has been positive.  Thank you everyone who has actually taken the time to read my posts and especially to those who have been there for me during all the emotional train-wrecks.  My exchange year in Chile was truly unforgettable.  I will always keep those memories and friendships close to my heart forever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

6 Months of Being Back

It seems like 6 months into my exchange was a lifetime ago, and now being back for 6 months I feel like life has fast-forwarded on me. What have I been up to since being back in Canada you may ask? Well, I spent my summer working up in northern Ontario, then after only two weeks at home I moved into University and have entered the world of constant stress.

Sometimes it's hard for me to understand and feel what is really "home" to me right now. I've only spent 4 weeks at "home" and in "my room", but now it doesn't really feel right. Is my dorm room my new home? Or is Chile my home? It's so hard to place myself now, with so many connections and memories, especially in Chile, it's so hard to let go.

Being a rebound is probably the hardest part of the exchange process. Honestly there isn't a day that goes by that I don't have a thought about Chile, my friends, and life there. It took me a while to stop crying on a daily basis, but in truth it still happens a lot. Yeah we all need to move-on in life but there's still a big part of my heart and soul in Chile. There's also the difficulty of not annoying or boring people with your stories although you can't help it when they just slip-out.

I know it seems silly (especially because I live with 11 people) but sometimes I feel so isolated and lonely. The people who I have confided in the most are so far away from me, and when I'm feeling homesick for Chile who really wants to hear about it? I truly believe that some of my best friends who I could absolutely be myself around are still in Chile, and there is little chance for me to see them anytime soon. Hopelessness and lack of motivation are also taking a toll on me. Yeah, so I'm in university, "a time to discover who you are", I've already been there, done that, but without the educational discipline.

I never wanted to loose that spark that I had while on exchange, so livid and ready to learn and explore. But in reality I may have fallen into a rut, I feel stuck, and it's not the first time. I think most rebounds experience this feeling, whether it be a short occurrence or an ongoing battle of trying to fit back in. We've experienced and lived through so much at a young age, and then we come back to our homeland and realize that nothing has really changed, life is going on like you had planned before you went abroad.

A month ago I had started to think about this whole grand-inspiring blog post about being back for six months and what I have experienced, but here I am rambling on about how sad I am - poor ex-exchange student who got to live in a foreign country and is now in reality wah wah wah. Heck, I doubt anyone will even read this post now that I have no funny and exciting stories to share.

Anyways I thought I would give and update into the on-going life of an exchange student - now a rebound. If there are future or current exchange students who happen to be reading this don't be discouraged, all of the emotions of the pre, during, and after exchange will all be worth it one day.

As for me right now I'm concentrated on trying to survive and pass first-year university, enjoy the winter and snow that have been absent from my life for almost 2 years. and maybe plan a foreign travel in the near-ish future. On wednesday I'll be presenting my Rotary presentation about my exchange - let's all hope that I don't cry during the middle of it!

On a side note Rotary District 7080 is facing a serious dilemma, the future of Youth Exchange in district 7080 is at risk. Due to a decrease of volunteer host-families, the district will be unable to host many students and in return will be sending out less students, or even have to shutdown the program. If you have never thought about being a host-family before it's not to late to have a great experience wherever you may be. Just a friendly reminder to open your home to a friendly exchange student!

With that I will leave you with a video that I had put together a while ago with a bunch of photos from a boat-ride on my Patagonia trip!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Well... I'm back

Here I am, sitting in my own room in my small town, looking out my window into my court where the lawns are green, there's no fences or gates around the houses, we leave our cars and front doors unlocked and the humid summer air is making me sweat when I'm doing nothing. I've been driving by myself again, ordering food in english, paying for things with Canadian currency, running into old neighbours, seeing friends again, biking in the country were everything is green and the houses are pretty and perfect... so far away from everything I used to know and was living these past 10 months.

My last two weeks in Chile were constant non-stop days. I was out everyday doing something, last minute shopping, spending time with friends and going to the discos for my last time. By the end of my second last week I thought I was ready to go home, I felt satisfied and the idea of leaving seemed really nice. But by my last week in Chile I did not want to leave at all. By the time you can count down the days in single-digits things really start to hit you that the time is coming to an end. I had my despedida on Saturday night and some of my friends and I went out to a disco for the night. I finally got to my house at noon the next day after only sleeping 4 hours and then had to finish up my packing. My best Chilean girlfriend came over as I was packing and also gave me some last minute gifts that really mean a lot, especially the letter she wrote and we both started to cry after I read it. We then had our last family lunch together (I'm going to miss my host-dads weekend cooking), and then I had to say my goodbye's to my Grandma and host-brother who weren't coming to the airport. The whole way to the airport Cony (my Chilean friend) and I didn't even talk, or couldn't. All we could do was look out the window and hold back our tears as best we could. But I couldn't hold back that well as this was the last time I was going to be able to see these streets and places that had become so familiar to me.

We arrived at the airport and already some of my friends had been there waiting. Finally checked my baggage (two overweight bags and having to leave my guitar behind) and then had all the final goodbye's. This day was one of the hardest days in my life. I was an emotional wreck and it was impossible to fight my tears. I couldn't stop hugging all my friends, there never felt like there was enough hugging and talking to fill that gap that I knew I was going to have once I stepped through security and left my Chilean life behind. I had become so attached to the country, the people, and my life there. Why was I leaving all of this and going back to Canada where I knew nothing had changed... was I leaving to early? Saying goodbye to some of my best friends in the world was horrible. Luckily I wasn't travelling alone, I was with my best friend from exchange Emily from Toronto. We only met each other here in Chile and it's crazy to imagine our exchanges without each other. They would not be the same and we would not be the same. We had become like sisters, or more like twins, and we've gone through this whole year together and have some of the best and craziest memories together. So we went through security together crying and shaking and almost having a mishap of Emily not being able to leave the country since she's 17. We finally got to our plane and the tears where still coming. The take-off and landing were really hard because it officially symbolized "the end" of exchange.

My exchange has been filled with new opportunities, adventure, hard times, amazing times, love, loss, self-building, new experiences, sadness, happiness, and so many other things. I have truly grown as a person and I think some people might be surprised by it. I still don't know if I've changed drastically or just little parts of me, but I feel like I'm more myself now, and I'm really content with it. Exchange was the best impulse-decision of my life, I literally had never thought about taking a gap year before university until I heard that one announcement on the morning announcements my grade 12 year.

The reverse culture-shock is real, I feel like I'm just on vacation visiting and will go back to Chile soon. But that's obviously not a reality. It's really hard to realize that I can't be in Chile anymore, I honestly want to be there right now instead of Canada. But that's how life goes, and it's on to the next chapter of my life.

As for life now I'm at home waiting for family friends to come over for my step-dad's birthday, a regular weekend where my family loves to entertain and cook. Luckily I was able to go to Emily's house last night and we spent time talking on her roof about exchange and life, and how we've been dealing with being home. Only the other exchange students truly "get it". Next weekend I'm leaving to go live and work up in northern Ontario in Killarney Provincial Park for two months and won't be home until the end of the summer. I'm not so worried about leaving my Canadian family and friends, it's the worry of how will I still be able to contact my Chileans, we're already a hemisphere away...

Daniel after his "birthday" with all his Canadian loot (his birthday is July 8 so we celebrated in June!)

Family dinner at Los Buenos Muchachos

Me and my girl Cony my last night

Last hours at home

First host-parents on the left, second on the right

Nicole, Cony and Daniel

My Grandma is the best

Maybe I'll keep writing in my blog, most likely random reflections or stories from my year

Los amo mis amigos chilenos y los intercambistas
Nunca los olvidaré
Ustedes son los mejores del mundo, de verdad!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

2 weeks

Wow - I just looked back on my post that I wrote when I had only been in Chile for 2 weeks and here I am... with only 2 weeks left in my exchange. I know I say this a lot but really my exchange went by way to fast. Re-looking at some of my first photos here in Chile I see and know that there has been such a big change since those first few days, weeks, months here. Especially looking at photos of the kids in my class. When I first took those photos with them I had no clue who they were, what their personalities were like, what their life was like. But now they're my family who I unfortunately have to say hasta luego to in a short time.

I've made some of my best friends here, and in such a short span of time we've become so close. I have my best Chilean amigo, amiga, and gringa... they all know who they are, and I couldn't imagine my time here without them. It' amazing how you can travel so far away from your homeland and find people who feel like you've known them all your life. People who you tell them things you may have never told your best friends back home. It's things like this that make it seem impossible to get on that plane back home.

It's only 14 days until I'm on that plane and I'm already starting to turn into an emotional wreck. Sometimes I feel like I could cry instantly - it's the mix of being so excited to go home and see my family, friends, and my familiar world... and then the unimaginable reality that I will no longer be in Chile and never sure of when I can come back. Sometimes exchange feels to unfair in that aspect... I've finally made my life here and your telling me I have to leave?!

As for life lately I've been trying to keep busy busy! On friday I had my last day of school. The night before I had made a cake (delicious Lyndsay-style) for my class. The day was actually quite boring as my classmates had to actually work in their classes. But I was able to get one of my uniform shirts signed by mostly everyone while I was anxiously awaiting to do my Rotary presentation for my class - but I never ended up doing it! For our last class of the day they had organized a goodbye party and ordered sushi and pizza for everyone! After devouring our food and my cake I made a little speech/nervous blab about how much I love my class and that I'll miss them - which is the truth! They've really become my family here, and I can't thank them enough.

Friday night was the birthday party of one of my good exchange friends. A lot of the exchange students came and we made the most out of night dancing and laughing until the sun rose. Unfortunately it was also the last time that us Santiago kids would have the opportunity to see the exchange students who live further south like Curico and Talca. So early in the morning with 3 hours of sleep we had to say our goodbye's and part our ways. The goodbye's don't seem real, I don't know if they ever will. Then on Saturday night I went out with my Chilean friends to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of my friends. It's going to be hard going home and not being able to go and dance in a club, it's so normal now, but the music wouldn't be as good anyways! Oh course my Sunday I'm dead from little sleep but I'm trying to make the most out of the little time I have left, spending one weekend night with exchange students and the other with my Chileans.

a mix of Canada, USA, France and Germany!

So that's where I am, not quite sure what I'll do in my next two weeks but hopefully exploring parts of Santiago, last shopping trips, and hopefully if we get some rain/snow I'll have the chance to go skiing (but that's a big hopefully).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beavertale Round 3

Third and final Rotary Beavertale...

298 days, 18 hours, and 40 minutes. From the time I boarded my plane in Canada until I will board my plane here in Chile to head back to my familiar world. But somewhere in those 298 days this country has become so familiar to me now; the places, the people, the language, the food, the streets, my life. When you start out your exchange you never really think of it coming to an end. Being put into a foreign land not knowing anything, to speaking the language and having friends that feel like you’ve had forever, how can this come to an end? My last months here have passed by so fast and have been the best months of my exchange. Its heart wrenching to know that I only have one more month left of this life, but I have so many memories and stories that I will be able to carry on with me for forever.

March started off with my second Rotary trip, this time to the North of Chile. The first couple of days we spent up in La Serena and Valle de Elqui which are only about 7 hours north of Santiago. One night we stayed in the Valley at an accommodation with an observatory. I’ve already seen the amazing stars in Chile but the sky was fully illuminated with no moon, the Milky Way galaxy visible, planet Saturn evident through the telescope, and the mountains of the valley framed the sky as if you were staring straight up into a glorious painting. For the whole trip we travelled by bus and had two nights onboard. After our first night onboard we woke-up to a drastic change of scenery. We stopped in Antofagasta and saw la mano de Dios (hand of God), and then straddled the Tropic of Capricorn while we continued on towards San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert. When we went on a horseback ride in San Pedro I was amazed to see all the mountains and volcanoes in the distance; I didn’t expect to see so many volcanoes. During our days spent in San Pedro de Atacama we went to the Salar de Atacama (a salt field) with flamingos, Valle de la Muerte, and Valle de la Luna where it literally looked like you could have been on the moon! The next morning we woke-up at 4:30 am to take a long and bumpy bus ride up to the Geysers del Tatio (4,320 meters above sea level). On our way back down we stopped in a few small villages where we sampled llama meat and were attacked by locals with water balloons! We then travelled to our last city, Arica, which is at the very north of Chile boarding Peru. After a day of travelling up 4,500 meters to a volcano we received news of the earthquake that hit Japan and that the coast of Chile was under a tsunami warning – and we were right on the coast! Luckily nothing happened to Chile other than a few big waves although we were ready to evacuate if needed. It’s safe to say we clocked-in quite a few kilometres in those 10 days!

March brought the reality of back to school and all the joys of the Chilean school system. I was a little worried of going back into school as I wasn’t sure how far I had progressed with my Spanish and hadn’t seen many of my school friends over the summer. But the truth is this year has been so much better! I’m able to follow along in class, understand my friends’ conversations and hearing the many “Lyndsay, hablas español!!” at the start really made me feel comfortable again. I feel like I talk the most fluent and most comfortably with my school friends. I think it’s because I’ve known them since my first week here and that I’ve grown to feel as if I’ve always been in that class. The school days are still long but now being in 4° Medio we get to leave a bit earlier as most of my classmates are in Preuniversitario (Pre-university). My poor classmates have to attend school for the regular hours and then go to their Preuniversitarios after for a few hours where they study intensively for the PSU test (Chilean SAT) in November that will determine which university they will attend next year.

I’ve also been filling in some of my free-time now after school by joining a university field hockey team here in Santiago. By chance, and my host-mom asking if I could practice with them for a few minutes, the coach invited me to join the team! I’m training with the field hockey team from the Universidad Diego Portales. I’m not able to play in the actual games since I’m not registered as a student. But it’s been great finally playing a sport again that I love and hanging out with my new group of field hockey friends. I mean, one day for practice we had a kung-fu class – now that was interesting!

In April came another holiday – Pascua/Easter. My family and I left on Good Friday to go to the campo with my host-dad’s family. Out of all the un-rainy days there are in central-Chile it seemed to just pour down as we were driving. We arrived to a lot of mud and cooler than normal temperatures. We spent our days baking calzones rotos (literal translation – torn underwear) which are small fried dough pastries, and three kinds of mouth-watering empanadas! The older cousins and I even went out to a disco one night – I didn’t believe my cousin at first when she said there was one out there! It was such a weird feeling having Easter in autumn. When it warmed-up it felt as if it could be warm Thanksgiving Day instead of a crisp spring Easter day. My season senses have been so mixed-up this year.

Lorana! In May I had the most amazing opportunity to travel to Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui on my final Rotary trip! I fell in love with the island and everything about it. We flew almost 4,000 kilometres into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and we arrived on the small, humid, and magical island of Rapa Nui. The sky was a brilliant blue, the many green covered volcanoes were so vivid, and the air was as clean as could be. We visited many places to look at the Moais (the famous rock statues on the island), learned about the culture and traditions, and even took a horseback ride up to the highest point on the island. Up there you could see the tiny island below you, and in the distance, for 360°, was pure ocean. No land in sight for miles! It was such a cool experience to know how far away and secluded you are from everything else that you know in the world. We also experienced some of the most bi-polar weather on the island. One minute it would be sunny with barely a cloud in the sky and then it would be pouring rain on you the next. We experienced the change in weather as we were hiking up to a crater. Of course we weren’t expecting the rain, and then suddenly we were poured on. After it had stopped, and we were on our way down again, the rain came harder than before and a river appeared on our path where there wasn’t one before! This was one of the funniest memories: A whole bunch of foreign kids having fun in the rain as we were all slipping and sliding in the mud, soaking wet. The whole feel to the trip was so relaxed – a true island vibe. But the best part of it was being with some of the best people ever, the exchange students!

My exchange has been a constant up and down ride the entire year. I’ve felt so many emotions in such a short period of time and yet I’ve grown so much from it. From having my highest of highs, to my lowest of lows, exchange and Chile have truly shaped me into the person that I have become today. But it’s not only the experiences and life lessons that shape you it’s also the amazing people and friends who have come into your life along the way.

My exchange student family - It’s so strange to look-back on our very first day-trip together where we were all new “doe-eyed” exchange students in this foreign land called Chile. But now we call this country home. We know how to get around it better than some locals, we now speak the language, we know where to go to carretear, we are always there when another exchange student needs help or someone to hangout with, and most importantly we’ve found a place to call home and a new family from all over the world! I’ve made some of the best memories during my time here with my exchange friends. Even though we come from so many countries, different walks of life, and are all our individual persons, we have an unbreakable bond as exchange students. I will never forget the incredible people who I have shared my year with, and the most hilarious and special moments we’ve had together!

Mis amigos chilenos – the people who have gone through my exchange with me from the start to the finish. They’ve seen me at my worst when I arrived not able to say a word, to now at my hilarious attempt to be as Chilean as I can be! From going on our class trip to the south and Argentina to celebrating everyone’s 18th birthdays, I am truly going to miss my Chilean friends and class. Some days I feel like I’ve known them forever, especially my group of close friends that I’ve made. It seems so surreal that in a month I won’t be able to greet them with a kiss every morning, hear about the latest news in their lives, or dance, sing, and laugh like the crazy people that we are! But I know I’ll always be a part of my class as their Gringa, la Lyndsay.

With only four weeks left it’s hard to imagine how fast my exchange has gone by. I’ve learned so much and have grown a lot as a person in just these short 10 months. I’m not sure who I’ll be when I return back home or if a difference will even been seen by my family. But I’ve experienced so many things in just a short period of time. My exchange has been the best, worst, happiest, loneliest, most exciting, most difficult, most interesting, and life building year of my life. I see beauty in this life and country everyday – I wouldn’t trade my exchange for anything!

Thank you to everyone who has made this amazing year happen for me. To my supportive family in Canada, the Rotarians of District 7080, and my Chilean family and friends you have all made a difference in one girl’s life.

Un beso,