It has been two years since this journey began. It is pretty crazy how rapidly those years have passed, and the impact only 24 months can have on a person’s life. So much has changed.

Before, I was a college student at the University of Idaho and while I was not struggling in my studies, I was struggling with myself. College is supposed to be about finding yourself. Your strengths, weaknesses, supposedly handing you tasks that ready you for the future. While everyone else was doing that, I was falling into a deep hole. I was in what I now realize was an emotionally abusive relationship. Add in anti-depressants that were prescribed on a misdiagnosis, and the eventual cold-turkey stop of those pills, and you have the mess that was Caitlin at that point.

Sending away my study abroad application was the first pin-drop of light that managed to seep in, and I held onto it like I was in the finals of the National Pro Rodeo (Ooh, my redneck is coming out, switching gears again). It was on a whim that I chose the destination and sent it off. Valparaíso, Chile had never been on my radar. Up to that point in my studies, we had covered almost every other Latin American country, but not Chile for whatever reason. The city only came to my attention when I was watching The Motorcycle Diaries for one of my history classes. In the movie, there is a scene where Che Guevara and Alberto are standing up on top of Cerro Alegre looking out at the bay during a beautiful pink sunset. It was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen, and I knew at that moment that I had to go there.

By chance, as I was looking up more information about the city, I discovered the International Studies Abroad organization and one of the few study abroad programs in the United States that had a program in Valparaíso. Only a week or so later, I started filling out my forms and sent them away. My heart had spoken to me, and with that moment, the pin-drop of light started to grow, lighting the path that I needed to take.

I sent away my application in February of 2011, and in July of that same year, I was off, and in a sense, I was free. The relationship that I had been suffering in ended (thankfully) a couple months before I left, the withdrawal effects of the medication were finally going away, and I was feeling normal for the first time in a couple years. My newfound freedom aside, stepping onto the plane was one of most terrifying things I have done in my life. What would I find in Chile? What was going to happen with my life? As light as the moment seemed, the future was filled with darkness. I was scared, but excited. Exhilarated, with a newfound gratefulness for life and wanting to enjoy every moment.

Would most people have applied to a program to live in a foreign country in my circumstances? Probably not. But, I knew something had to change. I knew something better was waiting for me. The moment that I stepped onto that plane, my life changed forever, and it initiated a domino effect that I was unable to comprehend at the time.

From my experience, I urge anyone:  If your heart is calling you to it, if you feel as though something in your life needs to change, do it. Life is too short to sit and wish things will change. You have to make it happen. What could seemingly be an insignificant moment can impact your life if you only recognize and act upon it.

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In my case, I traveled to Chile to see that beautiful pink sunset on top of Cerro Alegre for myself, and with that, I got so much more.

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