Hi everyone,

My name is Chantal Encalada, also known as Chanty. Writing for a blog or magazine has always been a dream of mine, which makes this interaction with you all that more special. As I thought of ways to best introduce myself in my first piece, I decided to go with a confession: the more time I spend at Emerson, the more homesick and lonely I seem to become. Family and home are no longer things I have to return to, but want to. At its surface, this may not seem like an extraordinary confession, but let me explain.

When my sister first went to the U.S., I recall all the nights she wished to be back with the rest of our family in the comfort of her original home. It was heartbreaking in the beginning, but frustrating to see no end to it after months. I noticed she relied on me and my mom to do things for her, and things that required no new language or knowledge of her new home. Her attitude reminded me of my cousins’ back in Ecuador. They displayed a desperation for my aunt and grandmother to do almost everything for them. One of the things that truly peeved me was the absolute need to wait for dinner to be served and be eaten all together. It was then I assumed Ecuadorian culture encouraged absolute dependence on families.

From a young age, I was taught to be the exact opposite, and it was primarily because I grew up seeing my single mom be as independent and hardworking as possible. I learned to walk from school, eat, and tuck myself in while my mama worked. It never felt unusual or wrong for me to do that for myself because the rest of my family was back in Ecuador, and I figured: who else would help my mom?

I had the gratifying pleasure of visiting Ecuador, where my family is from, this past winter break. It was my first time away from home for the holidays, and despite how unfamiliar it felt the morning of, the trip was one of the best experiences in my life. Apart from the immense beauty, rich culture, and wholesome food I woke up to everyday, living in the country for almost a month shifted my perspective on family “dependence”.

Looking back, I realize how silly I was to consider myself “above” those “dependent” on their families simply because I did not. The real fact is I could not ever depend on my family because they were not here. Everyday, cooking and preparing the table to eat a meal alongside my family, filled my heart with joy and comfort I had not felt since my summer home in New Jersey. And even then, this country is so busy it is sometimes difficult to plan one meal together. During this trip, I observed the interactions between my aunt and cousins closely to realize the reason they ask their mom so many questions is because of how much they value their opinion. I saw how my cousins or aunt wait around to go to the store with my abuela because they know she loves to look around and pick out a snack. And okay yes, they do need a little more maturing to do, but all this time, I failed to learn why family connection and support is vital in Ecuador. Moreover, something to desire!

Needless to say, I cried on the plane ride back mainly because I missed my family, but also because my shift in perspective made me fear what it would be like to be alone now...

I greeted freshman year of college with wide grins and an enthusiastic curiosity for what laid ahead, which made my mom question whether I was even upset about leaving home. Deep down though, she understood my excitement stemmed from how hard I have studied my entire life to pursue a career in something I love, in a place where I could develop my own sense of self. This was the start of my new, independent life as a person free from previous titles such as daughter, sister, etc. This was Chantal’s new, independent life.

Truth be told, however, the first night featured many tears and rummaging through old pictures and videos. Occupying a giant suite by myself for the night made me feel even smaller and lonelier, because I was the first one of my suitemates to move in. The next morning, I was awaken with cheerful voices and genuine smiles that instantly distracted me from last night’s goodbye.

I was comfortable with the idea of leaving home to truly be alone and find  a greater sense of independence. But now, I am currently back in my dorm room after a long day of classes and meetings, and I realize the grand difference between independence, purposeful solitude, and loneliness. There is not one day that goes by where I do not feel immensely grateful for the privilege I have to be studying what I love and become occupied by things that excite me. I guess I just failed to realize how lonely the journey to achieving your dream can be.

The older and busier I get, the more goodbyes I have to bid, and it hurts to constantly leave my loved ones behind to pursue a better future… so much I sometimes question if frequent departures and evenings where I have no one to come home to means a better future.

The thing I miss the most about my trip is the warmth, and I do not mean just the sun. I mean the warmth every hug offered me; the warmth every smile and laughter brought to my day; the warmth of loved ones.