What I’m Learning

The other day, I told you all what I’ve been thinking about lately. Implicit in the idea was that I’m also learning a few lessons along the way, so I thought I’d be a little more direct and share what I’ve learned (or am still in the process of learning) since moving to Chile ten months ago.

Santiago airport, many moons ago now.

I’ve learned that I have no idea how long we will live here. I say this at the outset because this is, hands down, the most popular question Ryan and I have been asked since we jumped ship. To set the record straight, we don’t know. There are no ultimate return tickets home on the books. Ryan’s not on a set contract, and there’s a lot of work here. For that we’re grateful, as that’s certainly not the case back home. His work is project based and his project is just getting off the ground. It may keep him busy for the next two or three years or he (we) may be moved elsewhere. That “elsewhere” could be here in Santiago or in Australia or Canada. The open-ended quality of our relocation makes part of me feel like we’ll be living in Santiago forever, even though I know that’s not the case. But without a countdown, we have more time to look around and realize: “Wow, it’s been 6, 8, 10 months.” Soon it will be a year, then more.

I’ve learned the simple past tense, but only in the “I” form. I.e., I can say “I went” or “I spoke.” Considering my Spanish teacher tried to teach me the past tense the week I arrived (before she realized I didn’t even know the meaning of the verbs she was conjugating), this is a small accomplishment. I can also (in Spanish) talk about the weather, cooking, the layout of our apartment, where we live and what we do, where we are from, that we don’t have brothers or sisters, what I like to do in my free time, how long we’ve lived here, and that no, we don’t know how much longer we’ll be in Chile.

I’ve learned how to successfully fill out and process medical claims. Exciting stuff, I know. But seriously, this is no small feat. Since we’re pretty out-of-network in this neck of the woods, we pay for our healthcare services up front and submit claims for reimbursement or to put towards our deductible. Of course, this sometimes has to be done via confusing websites and skype calls that drop only once I’ve been put on hold or local calls where the person repeats herself just as quickly when she finds out I don’t actually know that much Spanish. The first time was the hardest, as are many firsts here in Chile (getting a visa, going to the post office, understanding what the cashier is saying, paying bills, or cashing a check). Now I’ve gotten the hang of most of these and have learned to control my blood pressure (for the most part) where the bureaucracy used to overwhelm.

The longest, skinniest country on earth, that’s where we live.

Ryan and I have both learned that a three-day weekend is not enough time to explore Patagonia. As Ryan said the other night, it’s a bit like sitting in California and saying, “Hey, let’s fly to Virginia for the weekend. That’d be fun.” I know we’ve all done it and worse, flying in and out of various far-away locales in order to be there for a friend in need or a wedding or a work event. But, it’s not necessarily ideal or economical, right? So the next time we have a one-to-two week stretch, we’ll finally be able to see the beauty first hand and know what it’s all about.

Ryan’s learned how much he misses surfing. In his entire life, he has never lived this far away from the ocean (and he’s coming up on his second-year anniversary in Santiago). We miss other things, too, like burritos and our families (not in that particular order :). We depend on each other to get each other through the missing and back to the reasons why we’re here. I’m not sure we depend on each other any more than we would back home, but it’s a different kind of reliance because at the end of the day we arrived here a family and we’ll leave as one and so much will have occurred in between that we could never have truly prepared for when we made this decision back in California, before we were even married, before I’d ever stepped foot in South America, and before Ryan had time to miss the ocean.

I’ve learned that I can teach English to people who only knew how to say hello and goodbye when we met. So, I’ve learned how much can be learned.

As evidence, I’ve learned to cook. I’ll be the first to admit that necessity is the driving force, but, hey, results are results. I can now include hummus and macaroni and cheese among those missed tastes of home that I’ve made from scratch. In addition to a million variations on pasta, I can also bake some tasty chicken, stir fry shrimp, marinade beef, and not dry out the salmon when we can get our hands on it.

And it tastes gooood.

I’m always trying to learn to let go. Of stress. Of disappointment. Of the aggressive driver who runs the red light or honks 15 times when I only need three more feet to reach the curb. Of the emotional distance that can creep up along with the physical distance.

I’ve learned that when you really do need a friend though and you reach out, it’s almost always a good thing for both of you. Sometimes, you get amazing nuggets of advice, too, like this tidbit from my girlfriend, Jaime, by way of her husband, George: “The brick walls are there to remind you how badly you want it.” We were talking about writing and editing our work and finally publishing it. Jaime is very close to knowing that reality and I cannot wait to tell you all about her book when it comes out. But the brick walls can be anything, right? Because we may have been talking about writing, but we were also talking about relationships and struggle and doing the work.

I’m re-learning to swim. I’ve known how to since I was four and knew a butterscotch candy awaited as long as I made it through the whole lesson without crying, even when it was time to jump off the diving board into the deep end. I’m not sure why I cried. I’ve loved the water every day since. And, at the time, there was a strong, tan set of arms waiting to catch me. I suppose it’s the same reason we, as adults, might hesitate and catch our breath when we’re heading into the unknown or taking on a new challenge. When you’re four, you just might cry about it a little (just as you might when you’re 4+) So, when I say I’m re-learning to swim, I really mean that I’m training my breath and my endurance for movement through water and I’m teaching myself the importance of taking the time out to do so.


I’ll also tell you what I haven’t learned yet: a whole ton of Spanish, what it will actually mean (and not mean) if this book I’m writing actually gets an agent, how to bake (like, really bake), what’s it’s like to ski the Andes (there aren’t any trees!!), about Christmas in Chile, what this country and city will mean to me when we look back on this time, how many more earthquakes we’ll feel, how I’ll write about this place one day, just how much I couldn’t imagine not knowing all the people I’ve met and will meet here, and about a million other things that make this life about surprise and mystery and all the opportunities for discovery along the way.

And, of course, whenever it is we’ll live in California again.


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