Somehow in the whirlwind of the week that was my first in Valparaíso Chile, the famous ‘We are not Hippies, We are Happies’ mural was whitewashed away. If that had been the most difficult discovery of my first few weeks abroad, I would have had fewer scars but fewer stories. My first weeks living in Valparaíso have resembled the ups and downs of walking through the city itself with a few climbs up hills to inspiring vistas and many more stumbles down endless staircases. And yet, no matter where I have turned or gotten lost or lost hope, there’s always something beautiful to behold and something valuable to learn.
1. Keep an open mind
Traveling to a new country and being stripped of everything and everyone you know is a very scary thing. It can be easy to cling to what feels familiar when everything seems strange — to go to a restaurant where the menu is in another language and order a burger or to never stray off the sidewalk you know will get you to your intended destination. It’s not bad to be comfortable but did you really come to another country to experience the same things? No. So order the item on the menu that sounds like gibberish and stray off the sidewalk. Open your mind and get comfortable in your new skin.
2. Keep climbing
Being away from everything you know gets easier — and then it becomes difficult again. One day you might conquer a mountain just to see your country from the perspective of the clouds and the next day you may struggle to scale the stairs to your room. This is entirely normal. On the days you feel like climbing mountains, do so. And on the days when your stairs seem like too much to overcome, you can remind yourself of those mountains you conquered and you can remember how beautiful where you are looks from above. Most importantly, just keep climbing and don’t forget to pause every once in awhile to admire how far you’ve come.
3. Keep changing
In the end, you will change. The person you were when your friends and family waved you onto the plane with tissues will not be the same person who returns to them. This is entirely natural. Growing and changing are essential parts of the human experience and are inevitable when you live in a different country for several months or even a year. This might be hard for your loved ones to get used to upon your return but they will eventually recognize you under your new chameleon skin. Embrace the changes you experience and wear them proudly.
In Valparaíso, a white-washed wall is not the end of a work of art but rather the beginning of another that will continue to tell the city’s constantly changing story. In Valparaíso, I have chosen to be a white-washed wall waiting to be colored by my experiences and I hope wherever you are, you do the same.
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