This week has been wonderful and tiring and busy and happy and cold. First there was the whole process of getting home, which involved brief tears in the airport; moments of tears on the plane; Californian wine with the plane dinner which was incredibly disappointing; not sleeping on the plane at all; being randomly selected for the luggage search at US customs; a flight delay in Miami; hearing a lot of Spanish in Miami; and a most joyous reunion with my mom in Chicago. Within hours I was back in the glorious state of Wisconsin, basking in the comparatively weak midday sun and enjoying the delicious, not over-pasteurized, and cold milk. That comes in a plastic gallon jug. Not a cardboard box.
Reflections on departing a foreign country: saying goodbye is like ripping off a Band-Aid. You need to go through security. You need to get yourself together. Say goodbye and get your papers ready.
It does not help your switch back to English when every single person in your entry airport speaks the language you were just speaking for 5 months. Neither does speaking in that language most of the night on the plane…
Wrap your gifts up in your clothes. Nothing- not a thing!- broke. Also, say with confidence that you are 21 when the border patrol agent sees that you are carrying alcohol. Remember that you did indeed turn 21, and maybe they won’t make you haul your luggage through the second check.
If you have more than two pieces of luggage that roll, you should grab a cart to lug it through customs.
Everyone said that there’s a transition involved in going home after study abroad. I feel like it hasn’t been much of a transition, that I came home and unpacked and it’s life as usual around here. But I have my moments where I miss things/forget where I am/briefly wonder what language I should be speaking.
Things that have been wonderful:
Milk. Gosh, I missed just drinking a cold glass of milk.
Orange juice. Real orange juice!
Pretzels. Like the kind you get in a bag. I can’t even tell you if they have them in Santiago or not- I think they do?- because I swear I didn’t eat a single pretzel for 5 months.
Baking. Butter and sugar and flour like every single morning. More of that later.
Drip coffee. Ugh. Nescafé doesn’t even compare.
The sunrise off of our deck. Look at this.
Mass in English and going to Mass at my childhood parish.
Driving a car. I can still do it!
I went to the dentist, and despite large amounts of tea and juice and soda and all the sugar that comes with it (and infrequent flossing…), I don’t have a single cavity.
The water is so much better on my hair. After washing and conditioning my hair just once, it looked better right out of the shower.
The niceness of Midwesterners. Seriously. I love it.
Things that have been…different:
The lack of avocado (almost typed palta) in my meals. Also, the first time I went to the store, the first thing I saw was avocado. And I immediately thought, “Oh, we probably need palta.” Because we almost always needed palta in Santiago.
It’s only recently gotten wintry cold here. It was actually pretty warm for a Wisconsin winter when I came home. But I’ve been freezing.
For the first few days, I would go to look for something and think of where it would be in my Santiago house. Also, every time I’d carry a purse anywhere I’d check for my metro card and my old house keys.
Fewer daylight hours. And did I mention the cold?
The lack of mountains was positively disorienting the first couple of days. How am I supposed to know which way is east?!
I almost always look for toilet paper before entering a public bathroom stall. And many times I almost throw it into the trash can, instead of in the toilet. I will actually do that one of these days.
I like to talk about Chile. A lot.
I miss speaking in Spanish. And I’m afraid I’m going to lose it. And then when I do speak it, de vez en cuando, it sounds so weird to me!
I’ve noticed that I smile a lot and make a bigger effort to be warm to people. Is that a Midwestern thing?
When a table shakes, because someone’s kicked it or whatever, I immediately think, “Tremor!” In Wisconsin, folks.
My dad made chicken cacciatore, which is an Italian chicken stew. It was delicious, but then it reminded me of the Chilean pollo al jugo and my heart hurt a little bit.
But that’s about as “rough” as it’s been, if you can even call it that. I miss people, but that’s why we’ve got the Internet! And I’ve been keeping busy.
This is mostly what I’ve been doing:
These chewy gingersnaps were surprisingly delicious. That is to say, I didn’t think I would like them as much as I did. It’s nice to have a spicy cookie in the midst of pounds of chocolate and buttery goodness. The recipe can be found here, at Two Peas and Their Pod. If you need a cookie recipe, go there! They are known for their creative and reliable cookie ideas.
I also made peanut butter blossoms.
I like peanut butter blossoms because it’s a heavy cookie. The peanut butter is rich and dense, the chocolate is perfect (you can never go wrong with a Hershey’s Kiss!), and they’re freaking rolled in sugar. I like making these because they last me a while. Which means that the people in my house do not eat them all in a couple of days. It’s just too difficult to eat a bunch in one sitting. They’re tricky in their deliciousness. I got this recipe from How Sweet It Is, which is a blog I absolutely adore, but you can also get the recipe off of a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Really. I even checked. It’s still there.
I also made these. And will probably make them again, because unlike the peanut butter blossoms, they are dangerously easy to eat.
These are so soft and delicious. Why? Instant pudding mix. Cook and serve pudding is NOT the same! Make sure you get the right kind! Or you’ll end up like us with two little sad boxes of cook and serve vanilla pudding who get yelled at every time you go to make cookies and think you already have the right kind of pudding. This is the recipe I use. Yup. A whole pound of butter. 4 1/2 cups of flour. But it really does yield around 6 or even 7 dozen cookies. You’ll need that many. They won’t last you.
And then I had my friend E. over and guess what we did?
I love these. E.’s family requested another batch. They’re a pretty easy cookie and you might have all the ingredients in your house already, except the Candy Cane Hugs (which are delicious by themselves) and unsweetened cocoa powder. They were a favorite last year, and I think my family forgot how much they liked them until they ate them again. Find the recipe here.
Believe it or not, I still have a lot left to do. I’ve got two apple pies to make. I still have lemon raspberry thumbprints, German cinnamon stars, sugar cookies round 2, and- wait for it- Chilean alfajores to make. There’s also pretzel treats and peppermint bark. But those are so easy I barely even count them.
Oh, but did I mention I’m making my own manjar for the alfajores? Yup. Just gonna casually stir a quart of milk with a bunch of sugar over heat until it turns into caramel. You know. Hey, go big or go home.
All in all, it’s been a great first week back in the greatest country in the world. Do we have plenty of problems? Absolutely. I will never deny that, especially in the light of what happened last Friday in Connecticut, which left me with a knot in my stomach all weekend. We are not perfect. But between the outpouring of sympathy and empathy and goodwill in the days since and the chance I’ve had to compare life here to life elsewhere, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Well, maybe I’d go back to Chile for a while. But I’ll talk more about that later.