Grass, trees, and speaking English

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I'm coming home! Actually, by the time you read this, I will already be home. As of this writing, though, I'm still five days away from touching down at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. To say I'm excited would be understating the obvious.

My stay in the States won't be a long one -- just 10 days. I'm only coming home to interview for a scholarship for graduate school. Nonetheless, the preparations for my departure from Antofagasta have kept me very busy. I've been doing a lot of traveling and have taken advantage of good prices to buy lots of Christmas presents and souvenirs. My closet is crammed with tapestries, llama-wool ponchos, pisco and chocolate. I want to do more traveling through Chile once I'm done teaching in December, so I'm using this trip to haul all of the stuff I've bought back home to Scott City.

Though the initial idea was to come back to Chile with fairly empty suitcases, it now appears as if I'll be equally loaded down on the way back. Lots of Chileans have asked me to bring them back things from the States, either because they can't find it in Chile or because it's much cheaper in the United States. My host family wants me to bring back a couple of CD walkmans to give to their two sons for Christmas because they are about three times as expensive in Chile as they are in the United States. I want to bring back certain foods for my host family to try: peanut butter, bagels, chocolate chips, etc. The other gringos in the group have their own requests, too: films, music, books and magazines in English, etc.

The 10 days I have in the States are going to be rushed, but there are a few things on my must-do list. Tops, of course, is to see my family and friends as much as possible. I'm particularly eager to see how much my 18-month-old niece, Raegan, has grown in the nearly five months it has been since I left (if she even remembers who I am). I also plan on making up lost time by indulging in as much ethnic food as possible: my favorite Thai, Indian and Vietnamese restaurants in St. Louis will be seeing a lot of me.

And I hope it rains. A lot. I haven't seen rain in nearly five months. I think one of the strangest parts of the trip will be to go from early summer to early winter and back again all within the span of 10 days.

Whenever someone spends an extended period outside of the States, there is always talk of "reverse culture shock" upon returning home. I know I'll find some things strange upon first arriving, like grass and trees everywhere, and the weather, and not speaking in Spanish all the time. My next column will be written either from St. Louis or Scott City; so I'll let you know how the adjustment is going then.

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