The end of November was bittersweet as I shared my final days with my South American friends and prepared my suitcases for the flight home. After returning from El Tatio, I had 10 days, a final Fulbright presentation, a birthday party, and an apartment checkout left. It was a busy week and a half and I was sure to enjoy every last second. November 21-22 was the final Fulbright meeting to close out the 2016 grant period. I made my way to the Providencia neighborhood to hear everyone’s final presentations on the impact their project had and to meet one last time. It was really great seeing everyone again and seeing how their work turned out. I presented some of the results of my project and the geology trips I took. I even brought along some samples so I was carting around heavy rocks all afternoon. After the morning presentations we went to lunch both days. It truly was inspiring to be around people who are so passionate about their work and I learned so much about things I had never imagined before.
That weekend we celebrated Andrea’s birthday with an asado on the rooftop of Santiago’s apartment building. It was a beautiful evening and we decorated with balloons and signs and had two types of cake! One was a dulce de leche layered cake and Cinthia made a cake frosted with dulce de leche (South American’s love this stuff). Santiago and Fabricio were in charge of grilling the meat over the coals and I brought some salads. It was such a fun, relaxing night accompanied by great friends with an awesome view of the city.
The heading of this section is Spanish for saying goodbye, and my last week in Chile was full of that. My friends organized a surprise goodbye dinner for me one night that completely took me by surprise. We had previously talked about going out to eat to celebrate all the birthdays at the end of November (three people!) so I was expecting just our normal, small friend group to go. I had been in the office earlier that day and Andrea would not stop reiterating the fact that I had to be back at 8pm sharp that night to meet everyone. I reassured her I would be back in time and didn’t think any more about it. I left to visit some Fulbright friends that day & arrived at the agreed restaurant at 8pm sharp to find Daniele there. I hadn’t seen him in a while and was convinced it was a coincidence we were both there until I saw a huge crowd of people coming towards me from the university. Everyone was there for the surprise party, even Dr. Reich, Dr. Barra and his wife, and nearly everyone in the office. Around 25 people in total. It was so sweet and I felt like I was really part of their group. They even gave me a beautiful malachite/lapis lazuli necklace & earrings as a going away present. I never thought I would make such great friends in Santiago but I ended up finding a South American family!
I learned so much during my time in South America. It taught me humility, the importance of culture, expectations, the beauty of friendships with people who are different than you, how to survive in a huge city, and that there are amazing places in every corner of the world. I became a better scientist by being around some of the best researchers in the world and completing an independent study and writing an actual paper on it. I learned so many things about different countries and ways of life from my friends and shared about our way of life in the US. That is probably what I enjoyed most: having friends from all over South America and discovering all the details about each country that you would never get from just being there as a tourist. I am so grateful to have gotten to spend 9 months in Chile.