My parents were surprised to find out that I went by my middle name while I was studying abroad in Chile. I had always been called Bailee and even I admit that it took some getting used to being addressed as Alyson. I told Chileans to call me Alyson because I knew that it would be nearly impossible for a native Spanish-speaker to correctly pronounce the first part of my name. The “aye” sound simply does not exist in Spanish conversation because the “a” sound is always pronounced “ah,” and even if you did run into a word in Spanish with “ai” in it (like bailar, for example), it would sound more like “buy” than “bay.”
When I was in Santiago I was able to be Alyson instead of Bailee for a while. The Alyson side of me is less afraid to be social and I met a lot of great people that I never would have been able to talk to if it weren’t for my ability to speak Spanish. I miss the challenge of deciphering every street sign and menu at a restaurant even though it wasn’t always easy. I laugh thinking about the one time I ordered an empanada that I thought was filled with cheese and mushrooms and instead discovering that camarones means shrimp, not mushrooms. Mistakes like these made my life interesting and a bit hilarious.
I remember walking into U.S. customs in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport after my flight in from Santiago and seeing an address from President Obama being played on a loop on a screen and thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really home.’ The definition of home has come to mean so much to me in the sense that we can have a physical structure we call home, but also a culture in which we grew up that can provide the same level of comfort or fondness. More than ever I feel like a person without a home. I lived in the same small city up until the age of 18 and since I left the whole world has opened up for me in many different ways. The first big move was from California to Washington in 2015 and since then I have been to Mexico, Chile, and Argentina with my eyes set on more countries in the future. I was fortunate enough to see the homes of many different people and it made me think of just how complex intercultural exchanges are. The simple things like what makes us comfortable, what makes us laugh, and what inspires us are so dependent on where we call home.
Since my return to the U.S. I have continued to keep in touch with my Chilean host mother. She helped me through the death of my grandfather in August, but more than that she constantly encouraged me to look forward. She had lived in Santiago her whole life so she knew everything about how to make the most of my experience there. My host mother Tita made Santiago my home when I was feeling lost and I have been missing her and that beautiful city since the day I came back.
Nowadays my friends can find me painting or drawing in my new dorm room back at Seattle University. I haven’t been in Seattle since May 2016 and I feel like already a lot has changed. A big accomplishment for me my first year at Seattle University was putting on my first solo show at Cafe Pettirosso in December 2015. My time abroad has filled me with artistic inspiration and I hope to complete another body of work that I can be proud of in the coming months. I have a lot to think about now that I have lived for a while in another country. I have been thinking about my own sense of identity as well as what I call my home and where I would like to call home in the future. Art has been the constant in my life that urges me to push myself further and I hope that art and travel continue to inspire me to be a better person.