When you choose to live abroad, there are a lot of different approaches to how best immerse yourself. Some friends we’ve met here were discouraged from having visitors for their first six months in Chile; others are planning to stay in country for their entire two year commitment, without any trips home. I imagine the idea is that it takes time to build into a place, and the more concentrated time you put in, the more benefits you’ll see. As we are making up the Walters family rules as we go, we have both had visitors and now a sweet visit home, and we’ve only been gone 7 months.
This has worked for us. While our Spanish doesn’t grow when we spend weeks away or when we host English speaking folks, I think our stability actually does increase. Admittedly, we were nervous about how returning from our trip would feel. Would we be OK? Would all the ground we’d gained be lost? I even had a friend say “Four weeks home in the U.S.? You may never come back.”
To my surprise, we eased back into our life in Santiago with only a few blips of homesickness. We were actually delighted to return to a place and people we knew, and the contrast between our arrival in July and our return in March was stark. Jeff has his mountain bike (and massive helmet, so that’s encouraging) and knows where he can do a sweet 45 minute circuit on Cerro San Cristobal. I know where the organic farmers market pops up on Saturday morning and that the cherry tomatoes are worth the 20 minute walk. And even Rayna seemed to settle in to our apartment easily, snuggling down with her books and stuffed animals like they were old friends she was so happy to see.
And while we miss our friends and families all the time, we were much better able to cope with the transition to Chilean life this time.
A huge part of that are the people here who help us get through the rougher days. We live in a building with sweet friends who we are always happy to bump into at the elevator or share a bottle of wine with. We were welcomed home by our church friends and our Colombian friends, and they didn’t even tease us about how rusty our Chilenismos are! And Jeff knew what to expect this semester, even taking on the task of teaching a civil systems class that he designed. A week into the semester, he is exhausted but much less shell shocked than he was six months ago.
I’ve hesitated to describe Chile as home…it still feels so different and at times so confusing. But returning from our USA trip did make me realize that, for now, this IS at least on the list of my homes (military kids get to have as many homes as they want, right?). I am counting it a huge answer to prayer that we didn’t emotionally tank when we got back and that the empanadas still hit the spot. We are definitely OK. So from our crazy home to yours, we send love!!!