I hit a point last week where my life here became my real life. This might sound strange, or you might know exactly what I mean. Let me try to explain.
Up until this point, everything was new, and more importantly, everything felt temporary, like I was on some weirdly long vacation. Like I’d someday walk home to my house in Green Bay and see my mom cooking dinner instead of walking down a street, ignoring passerby looking questioningly at my face, and speaking Spanish to my host mom as she cooks dinner. My life had the potential to immediately revert back to my life in Wisconsin, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. (In fact I’m pretty sure that is how it will feel when I do return. Going back home is always the easiest thing.)
I think I can attribute this strange feeling of temporality to the ease of connecting with my ‘other life’ in the US. Each night I spend at least a half hour on Facebook, communicating with acquaintances and friends, new and old, and an equal amount of time answering e-mails and planning future trips in Peru. I’ve realized that while being abroad the internet is more of a contradictory blessing-curse than ever. Facebook is free communication and instant updates, but it is also an endless stream of pictures and updates that can fool my mind into thinking I’m sitting at Memorial Union. Everyone feels so close, yet at the same time when I try to place myself in Wisconsin I mentally take a flight over the numerous (what, like 15?) countries of separation and I’m able to vividly feel the distance. Someone I know had a friend tell her that she shouldn’t worry about keeping in touch, but instead just live in the moment while your there. The group of students I was with immediately all agreed that no, it is necessary to keep in touch. There’s a slight anxiety that if I don’t check Facebook everyday someone I know and care about will… what? Say something clever? Post a nice picture?
After I think more critically, I realize that a lot of the information (exception: personal messages) I receive from Facebook is just everyday stuff. Not useless, but not particularly important either, especially when I have memories to make and Spanish to learn.
I would consider de-activating my Facebook, a move that usually implies to others that you’re either pretentious or courageous, or one of those rare people who actually don’t like Facebook, but then I would be paying a good amount more money to use my phone for texting here. I would infinitely prefer writing letters… except when I remember how much it costs to send a letter, and how long it takes to receive an answer that would be more relevant the next day.
So my life continued on like this, one foot in America, and one foot in Lima, my mind frequently kidnapped by some random memory of home just to be called back to the present by a question posed in Spanish. Then parciales (midterms) came along and I realized that the semester is half over. I’ve gone to about fifteen percent of the places I wanted to go and spoken about fifty percent of the Spanish I thought I’d be speaking. My ambitious gears kicked in and my life here became present. My dad sent me a card for my birthday in September that contained one line of advice. He told me, “Don’t be an American living in Peru.” At the time, I was like, “well, of course I won’t… I’m living with a host family, I’ll be taking classes in Spanish, it’s full immersion!”
I was wrong. It’s easy to be an American anywhere, especially in the places in Lima I’m usually at like Miraflores or the university campus. I am an American and it is my natural state. And I always revert back to it. On another level, I’ve realized that it will always be easier for me to revert back to my natural state of being somewhat shy and reserved, anywhere I go. If I don’t like to enter a room full of strangers in the US, how about trying the same thing in a different language, in a different hemisphere?
Each day presents many opportunities in which I must leave my comfort zone, both cultural and personal. I don’t necessarily want to go back to the Magdalena market in apprehension that the storeowner who made me feel uncomfortable might be working again. I don’t necessarily want to present in Spanish in front of a class of native speakers. I’d much rather study at Starbucks than a Peruvian café because I know it will be exactly the same comforting environment as Starbucks in the US.
But if I don’t do these things, I might never have the opportunity again. Of course I knew this, and I know this now. But amongst in the everyday worries of life the bigger picture often gets lost. Among the lost hours of planning future trips, reading endless lecturas, and travelling by micro are a few moments of realization that “I am here, in Peru!” and again my desire to take full advantage of my study abroad experience is renewed.