“I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly” (Fahrenheit 451)
I love my planner. It keeps my life organized; it reminds me of birthdays, holidays, and party plans. I can simultaneously manage countdowns, due dates, and daily to-do lists. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see a page darkened with scribbles and notes, as if being busy meant that I was on the right track to success.
When I finally landed in Santiago, Chile, on July 24, 2014, I was eager for a year of learning and adventure. I had looked forward to this moment for the past couple of months, browsing lists of tips and do’s and don’ts for study abroad. I had uncovered numerous blogs of gringas in Chile and carefully analyzed my host university’s course planner. During the orientation session that week, I eagerly flipped through the blank pages of my new planner, imagining the endless possibilities.
I had no objectives outside of class other than to practice my Spanish and absorb what I could about Chilean culture. At first I felt lonely and anxious, but in time I felt a pressure lifting that I did not know even existed. I realized that the absence of obligations left an opening for adventure, and all that would not have fit in my previous definition of reasonable. For instance, I found myself two months later sitting on the terrace of a homey hostel in the nearby port town of Valparaiso, sharing a traditional grilled meat or asado with people who had been strangers only a few days earlier. The conversation flowed late into the evenings of the long weekend, and I returned to Santiago heartened by having met some of the most important people of my time abroad.
In fact, some of my fondest memories in Chile include the two beat-up couches on that terrace, where I sat for hours talking to friends and new acquaintances. The hostel was a place to get away from the city and forget about time. We had no obligations beyond eating, resting, enjoying the warm sun, and watching the hummingbird flit lazily among the flowers. I met some incredible people while sitting on those couches, and I learned how to listen. Whether close friends or guests staying in Valparaiso for the night, they shook my perception of the world – of decisions neatly organized in a straight line towards success and happiness. They taught me how to follow passion despite the uncertainty and of the difficulties and unhappiness that plague people all over the world. They served as a reminder to me to slow down and take a moment to appreciate the world and its people.
In my two months back in Texas, I’ve been constantly busy. It’s thrilling to have ambitious plans and run at life head on, but at the same time, I feel a little pinch in my heart when I open my planner to see that it’s full. I now have to schedule time to catch up with friends or have a party, carefully sandwiching down time between classes, work hours, meetings, and homework. I flip through pages to see that the weeks ahead are already full. And for the first time, what used to make me feel accomplished and in control of my life now brings a sense of discouragement.
It feels odd to manage time as a limited commodity, to calculate every move in terms of trade-offs and opportunities. While I’m being more productive and efficient than in Chile, I still resent having to choose between my friends because I have only so many social hour slots each week. I push off RSVPs for events and parties until the last minute because the feeling of having my week planned down to the hour, including “social time,” feels so heavy and oppressive. While I’m eternally grateful for the many opportunities that I have through my university, I feel a nostalgia for unplanned moments with others that bring a richness into life.
From my time in Chile, I learned to stop trying to control time, the environment around me, and my experiences with other people. Letting go of that control is scary and uncomfortable, but it enables new opportunities to come in. I learned to say yes and to take chances; I fell in love, and I learned that I can climb volcanoes and run down glaciers. I know now that I may be young and naive, but I am still the master of my fate. I learned to live in the moment and to cherish beautiful memories; I also learned how to let go and say goodbye. These are lessons that I never could have planned.