Jul 31, 2012

So what happens now?

This all started as a way to show my family what was going to happen now that their 15 year old daughter/granddaughter/niece/cousin had decided to up and leave, and I never thought this would amount to too much. "Sophia's AFS Adventure" was supposed to fade into darkness pretty quickly. Yet here I am, 2 countries and 3 totally different experiences later, still blogging. I was (once again) planning on dropping off the face of the blogging world after my exchange ended, but due to some persuasive family members I'm keeping up with it (at least for a while).

So what will I have to write about? I mean, I've already done AFS. Twice. And I was a nanny. In Paris. I've conquered French high school, wielded a machete, learned how to change a diaper in less than a minute, tasted wine older than myself, danced in the street at midnight, gotten photos with police officers, run under the Eiffel Tower, ridden a Vespa, learned how to make tortillas, gotten odd nicknames, told jokes in languages I don't speak, written music, performed with 200 person choir, slept on a train, explored a city in a downpour, asked a stranger to marry me, taken sides in a soccer (sorry, football) rivalry, lived with 5 dogs, and organized an entire library of music. What could possibly come next?

Well, I'll be starting my first year of college, an event that will surely prove to be just as blog-worthy as any of my past adventures. But why do you care? I mean what's the intrigue in some random girl from Maryland's freshman year?

First of all, because I'm going to school in Hawai'i, which is just as different a culture to mainland USA as that of France or Costa Rica. If you're into this for the whole intercultural understanding thing, I'll be sure to post about what makes Hawai'i cool (besides the beach and the weather.) (Although I'm sure I'll be writing about that too, just to make you a tad jealous).

If you're more reading this to check out AFS and find out why being an exchange student rocks, then this will kind of be like a sneak peek into what life could be like as a returnee. It'll be a first hand look into the impact that an exchange can have on the lifestyle of the student. Or something like that.

And if you're just reading this because you love me, well then you'll get more Sophie updates!

So, yeah, pretty much it's a win win situation for everyone.

As for me, I'm currently in Texas visiting family and finally meeting my 9 month old niece for the first time. In a few days my parents and I are going to head out west and take Route 66 all the way to Los Angeles. Then it's off to Hawai'i to start my fourth (!!!) global adventure. Stick along for the ride?


Jul 11, 2012

And just like that it's all over

Foreign exchanges are incredible things. Anyone who's been on one will tell you how it changed their life, how it made them see the world differently, how it made them see themselves differently. And if you're anything like me, you'll be a little skeptical of all of the hype they're creating. After all, it's just living in a different geographical location. Your friend who just got back from a semester in Paris is probably just trying to get attention when they lament how different everything is and try to kiss everyone on the cheek, right?

But trust me, this time the hype is totally justified. It's something that's impossible to capture in words or photos, but is extremely real. Living somewhere else, no matter how "similar" or "on par" it may be to where your from, will be completely different from anything you've ever experienced. Period. Because cultures are different. That's what makes this world such a cool place. Every place has it's own identity, it's own things (no matter how small and insignificant they may seem) that make it unique and different from anywhere else. Maybe it's the way they teach kids to tie their shoes, maybe it's the way the country is structured, but whatever it is will have an impact on the way life works. Yet despite the cultural differences, we're all just people. We all want to be happy, to be successful (by whatever standards you measure success), to be loved.  And so while there may be huge cultural differences, there will be an inherent sense of familiarity. Which is generally awesome.

Leaving San Ramón was very different than leaving Millery. This time there was no big group at a hotel, no long bus ride to the airport. Since we had already had our final orientation in Limón, we just had to show up at the airport on time the day of departure and sort ourselves out to get home. At 3:20 AM, Ivania, my host parents, and I  loaded into the pick up truck and headed off to the airport. The radio kept the ride from being awkwardly silent, since none of really could think of what to say. When we got to Juan Santamariá International Airport, we figured someone from AFS would show up to give us tickets and help me get where I needed to go. (The San José office hadn't really been too detailed when telling us what to expect). We waited and waited and waited. Groups of people passed, lots of people complimented me on my Liga Deportiva Alajuelense jersey I was wearing (Side note: La Liga is better than Saprissa. Always. Continuing.), but no one from AFS showed. Finally, as time was starting to feel tight, a few other AFSers (not volunteers though) showed up, and we figured we should just try to get checked in on our own. I said my goodbyes to my host family, but very much to my surprise I didn't end up crying (which was very odd considering the good 2 hours I had spent crying after a goodbye I had just 2 days before). I didn't dwell too much on that, though, and instead attempted to maneuver exit taxes, bag check in, and security with my 2 other Americans.

We made it through unscathed, and made it to our gate without too much wait time before boarding. The flight to Miami was smooth, as was all the border patrol shenanigans (which, somehow, I did entirely in Spanish). One of the other Americans managed to get the three of us in exit row seats for the flight to New York, and a few short hours later we were making our way out to see our parents for the first time in 5 months. (Well, 2 of us were. One still had a flight to wait for). It was great to see my mom and dad, and around 2 AM we finally arrived back in Towson.

It wasn't until I got on Facebook and got a message from Ivania asking if I was home safe that it really hit me that I had left Costa Rica and wasn't going back for a long time. That's when all the tears that hadn't come that morning finally arrived.

And while I'm still sad that my time is done, I'm happy to be here now. It's an adventure in itself, really. I'm with some of my oldest friends, doing things I do every summer, yet somehow it's different. Once again I feel like I see the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I see things that I never really noticed before, like how many people around me are speaking Spanish, or how stressed people get over being 5 minutes late. I notice how values are different in the USA and in Latin America, how families are more spread out, how much liberty people have at 18. None of it is necessarily better or worse, it's just very different.

I find myself feeling very culturally confused quite frequently. I don't feel like I'm a typical suburban white girl anymore. Part of me is almost Tica, part is almost European, and part is almost...well, I don't know what it is. I  want to correct people when they say they're American (after all, there is a whole other continent of Americans south of us), I crave rice and beans (typical exchange student stuff), I feel awkward that I don't have to say goodbye to each person individually when I leave somewhere. The day after I got home, I went to the Mercado Latino and bought tons of food I'm used to eating. Then I bought some paté and a baguette.

I changed so much more than I expected to in Costa Rica. Having already been on an exchange, I didn't think that I'd learn all that much the second time. But I did. Costa Rica taught me things about life, about exchange programs, about myself.  I learned that it's OK to to change families, to be bad at Spanish,  to fake a smile, to use the cards you've been dealt, to talk to people, to change, to become attached, to take a chance, to fall in love, to love yourself, to have pride, to be different, to listen to bad music, to not want to leave, to be excited to go back, to be typical, to not know, to learn, to get lost, to look crazy, to grow, to get fat, to mess up, to break some rules, to laugh at a joke you don't understand, to be laughed at, to laugh at yourself, to show off a bit, to stand out, to blend in, to cry, to smile for real, and to live, really live.

And now, here I am. Sitting on the hammock in my back yard under the magnolia tree, the summer sun just starting to lower, the smell of burgers coming from my neighbors patio, the sound of talk radio almost audible from the kitchen window. And I'm lost. I'm lost without a clue which direction to go in. I know that in 2 weeks I'm headed out west to get a flight to Hawai'i, where I'll be until winter break, but that's about as much as I have. Everything I thought I had figured out, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be, I'm suddenly not sure about. But for the first time in my life I don't feel like that matters. I'm not stressed or anxious, I'm calm. For lack of a better word, I'm pura vida.

Going to Costa Rica was an amazing decision. If you're thinking of doing it, DO IT. Because there's something about that place that I just can't put into words. It was a great learning experience, a great growing experience, and a great living experience. And maybe I'll end up back there. Maybe I'll end up in France. Maybe I'll end up somewhere entirely different. I really don't know.

But I have a lifetime to figure it out.

Hasta Luego,