Lessons from a Trek Across South America

When in Argentina…Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Peru, and Uruguay

JDF South America 2

Jillian visits the Atacama Desert in Chile

Recent college graduates often have similar post-grad agendas: backpack through Europe or Asia for about a monthand then start working in the “real world.” Jillian Di Filippo’s plans took a different angle. Di Filippo graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this past May with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and minor in Urban Studies. Before jumping straight into her job at a management consulting firm she went along with her “travel bug” headed for South America. Differently from many of her peers, though, she was able to negotiate with her firm for a February – instead of September – start date and did not book a return ticket.

Ultimately going to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Peru, and Uruguay over a span of three months, you can imagine that she had once-in-a-lifetime experiences and learned valuable lessons from them. Here are four that stand out the most.

1. “When I started traveling alone, one of the biggest challenges was knowing I was the only one looking out for myself…I learned how to make friends with random people because when you’re by yourself you have to be the one to initiate interactions. I learned how to relate to a broad range of people, which made me a lot less judgmental and a lot more open-minded. [For example] I would talk to taxi drivers because they have the most interesting opinions. I now look for more experiences where I can connect with new people and put myself out of my comfort zone a little bit more.”

2. “The hospitality I received was shocking and overwhelming to me; it was also not expected to be reciprocated, which is a very American concept. I now try to slow down and connect with people I meet more – smile, make eye contact…things people do not often do.”

3. “I was traveling with only a 40 L backpack…that’s not very big. I had to live very much with the basic things and ask what can I pare my life down to. What do I actually need? When you strip away a lot of the stuff it leaves you room to enjoy the experience. You only have one pair of jeans, there is no dilemma about choosing which pair to wear. I realized that enjoying the basic things of life is more important.”

4. “I was lying in a bed made out of salt with the worst fever of my life [in Bolivia]. I thought this one is up to you God, I don’t know I hope you’ll be okay. I really learned how to roll with the punches. I’ve been more flexible in my approach.”

Since Di Filippo’s return, she has been carrying on these experiences and applying these lessons to her life in the states. She plans to continue to do so when she begins her job in consulting this month.

Contributor: Evangeline Giannopoulos

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