So I've been back home visiting New Jersey for the past two weeks.
Of course each visit home would not be complete without visiting family and friends, shopping for clothes and teaching supplies, and eating the delicious food that I miss. There's the comfort that you experience with what is familiar: your bed at home, the TV shows you miss, and eating the food that you crave while you are gone. This visit home was special because I also managed to get to the Jersey shore twice: once with my friend Rob who lived in Chile for a year, and another time with my dad. The last time I had been there was in 2009.
I find more and more, however, each visit home entails more than these things that have become routine for me. I really find myself thinking about American culture, Chilean culture, my family and friends, my life in Chile, and how I'm changing as a person.
As I sit at Starbucks and write this while wearing sandals (I have worn them almost nonstop for the past two weeks), the consumerism and relative wealth that is available in the States once again is very blatant. I find myself giving in to consumerism and buying perhaps more than I need because prices are so low. I also worry that I will regret not buying something or forget to buy something and not be able to get it until the next time I'm home, (which will most likely for the holidays in December). I do have to add that I am also bringing back things for friends and students as well as some materials for a low income school that I have volunteered at, so that is also accounting for one of my luggage pieces.
A more glaring example of the consumerism and perhaps even a sense of entitlement can be seen on TV. As I was watching The Price Is Right with my dad, a woman jumped up and down when she found out she was playing to win a jungle safari in Africa. She exclaimed, "Please! I need this vacation!!!" In the end, she didn't win the game. In a somewhat similar situation, I watched House Hunters on HGTV. A couple was looking for a new house, and the wife insisted that wherever she lived had to have granite countertops already installed. I don't remember how the episode ended, but I imagine that the woman probably got what she wanted or went on to do without.
Another thing I think about is independence. I enjoy the independence I have when I visit the States. This is not to say that I'm not independent in Chile, but it's different. When I'm visiting the States I can drive to wherever I want to go, and I can pretty much get whatever I want to buy or eat at most if not all times of the day. Things are readily available, and it usually doesn't require a long trip or much planning on my part. There's something special about driving down the highway and listening to the radio in the summer, and that's something I don't have in Chile.
I've also come across varying attitudes about my experiences living abroad. When I meet people for the first time they are usually very enthusiastic and interested in hearing about my experiences. Some express their interest in traveling to Chile or other parts of the world, and of course I encourage them and let them know that I am willing to give advice or travel tips if they want them.
Sometimes these go on and tell me that they admire what I've done and open up to tell me about their fear of flying or a general fear of the unknown that keep them from traveling. I really respect these people, as it's not easy to admit that you're afraid of something.
Other people that I meet have accepted my travels and experiences living as an expat. When I'm home for a visit we will chat about what has happened in our lives since my last visit, and I really enjoy spending time with those people. We can talk about life, share a meal, or just spend a night playing games or watching TV together. The important thing is that we're spending time together and that we're friends and understand each other. Some of these people are fellow expats that have moved back to the States or people that also have traveled a good amount in their life.
I've also found other people that have a different take on my experiences. I've gotten comments that I should look into a government job being a translator or that I would be better off in another line of work. Before I say anything else I have to say that I´m a rather sensitive person. While these questions appear innocuous, I feel like their underlying thoughts are that I'm not making enough money or that teaching is not a worthy profession. They also seem to think that I shouldn't be living abroad and that I would be better off living in the States. In general, these people hold the attitude that the United States is the best country in the world and they don't have to step outside of it to know it.
After trying to have an open conversation as to why these people hold these beliefs (I honestly believe they are bringing these issues up because they are concerned for my best interests), it becomes apparent to me that they are usually uninformed about what they are talking about. They aren't familiar with the political climate in regards to teaching or the hard work that goes along with teaching each and every day. They don't seem to realize how much work I've put into developing my skills, and the extra cost and coursework I'd have to put in to get the necessary qualifications to change careers. They also don't seem to realize how difficult it would be to move back to the States financially, logistically, and mentally. (I almost want to ask these people "Why don't YOU try picking up your life and move to another country and then move back?")
Deep down, I think these people are also afraid. They are afraid of change or of the unknown and want to protect others. They probably also worry for my well being.
After giving it some thought, I once again have to reaffirm that traveling and living in another culture is such a great way to grow personally and professionally. Yes, it can be scary. Things might not work out the way you expect, but that´s part of the adventure and growing as a person! I've been in Chile for three and a half years now, and I think people who thought living there was "just a phase I was going through" are now realizing I'm happy with my life in Chile. It certainly isn't perfect, but I'm a lot happier, have a comfortable lifestyle and plenty of job opportunities.
So the next time I receive some advice about changing to a "better" career or moving back to the States, I won't try to convince them to my way of thinking. My response will simply be: "Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm happy with my life in Chile."