Travel Tips: Be a Kook
It’s natural when you arrive at your new destination, wherever that may be, that you’re going to want to get settled and feel like you’re back at home. Essentially, you’ve just left everything you know and it’s a very vulnerable position. This is a natural instinct when you arrive in a new country, especially considering that you’re going to be living there for the next 5 months. It’s easy to get overwhelmed that first week. Everything seems unfamiliar, and at first the simplest chores can take hours.
However, in my first week, some of the best and funniest moments were when I was completely lost. No matter how hard you try, in your first couple weeks it’s going to be painfully obvious that you’re not a local, not a native Spanish-speaker, etc. But as long as you’re looking like a tourist, you may as well learn from it. How often are you at home and completely unsure of how to do something as simple as removing money from an ATM, or ordering a sandwich? Confusion is an almost-exclusively study abroad privilege, and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Before I got on the second and final plane of my journey to Chile I realized that this huge event that I had talked about countless times was literally 10 hours away from starting, whether I was prepared for it or not. Luckily a ten-hour flight is plenty of time to prepare yourself for your first, critical hours in a new country. In that ten hours, or however long your final flight is, I would take a little while to place yourself in a different mindset than you’re used to when you’re studying at your home university or living with your parents. I opted for the Kook mindset, and I would recommend it to other students studying abroad, because honestly, it has been fantastic.
A kook isn’t worried about looking stupid speaking a new language. We will fumble through a couple Spanish phrases and sound like idiots, but will be smiling the whole time, so that it’s near-impossible not to smile back. At home I generally avoid this kind of behavior, but here in Vina, being a kook has been exponentially more fun.
Eventually I do hope to learn how to speak proper Spanish, take the correct bus, and order the food that I actually want, and I’m sure that will be great. But for now I’m going to make a fool of myself in a new language, take the wrong bus to the wrong place, and try a lot of new food on accident, because as great as it may be to feel at home in a new country, I would argue that the kooky first weeks feel even better.
Nate Sweasey is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Vina del Mar, Chile. He is currently a Junior at University of San Diego