It’s been more than two weeks since Chile was rocked by a destructive 8.8 magnitude earthquake and about a week since Taylor Hall landed back home in the United States from his host family’s town of Chiguayante, a community approximately 10 miles south of Concepción.

The epicenter of the quake was offshore, about 65 miles north-northeast of Concepción, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at 3:34:14 a.m. on Feb. 27. Hall flew into Boston’s Logan Airport from Santiago, Chile, on March 9.

Sitting in a coffee shop on Main Street in downtown Camden on a recent morning, Hall soaked up the heat from the sun shining through the windows. Having spent the past seven months in South America, Hall — a Rotary International exchange student — was visibly cold despite the near-50-degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

While describing his cross-cultural experience in the months, days and hours leading up to and following the earthquake, Hall stopped in midsentence as he noticed a big rig passing through town.

“Oh, that bothers me,” he said, tensing up and shivering. “That’s exactly what a tremor feels like.”

Regaining his composure, Hall went back to describing the difference between what a piece of fruit tastes like in Chile and in America.

“The fruit there is so flavorful, and the food in general is much richer and flavorful,” said Hall.

Today Hall is spending a lot of time reflecting on what he’s been through and comparing the differences between Maine and Chile. He is also weighing what is important to him. For nearly 48 hours after the earthquake, his family had no contact with him, and Rotary clubs in Camden, Rockport and Bar Harbor were all interested in keeping up with his whereabouts and well-being, given that he was an ambassador for all Rotary clubs.

Hall’s journey to Chile began last year. He graduated from Camden Hills Regional High School with the class of 2009. Having turned 18 in May, he just made the cut-off (younger than 18-1/2) to be eligible to participate in the Camden and West Bay Rotary clubs’ Youth Exchange program.  He made the arduous trip to Chiguayante, and was welcomed into the home of Carmen Cordova and Jorge Gatica, his host “Mom” and “Dad.”

“My brother was Matias, he just turned 15 and I was his birthday present,” said Hall.

Hall lived with the Cordova/Gatica family (Hall said South American women do not take their husbands’ last names) in a two-story contemporary home, with 2-1/2 bathrooms and three bedrooms. Hall said the home wasn’t in a packed city neighborhood, but in an area more like the suburbs, with walls separating each property.

“There are fences between the houses, so you can’t cross from yard to yard, sort of like on ‘Home Improvement’ with the neighbor Wilson, where you could only see the top of his head,” said Hall. His mother was a stay-at-home mom and his father was a doctor at the nearby hospital, an oral surgeon and a professor at the University of Chile.

His Chilean father didn’t get home until nearly 11 p.m. most nights, but he drove Hall to school in the morning and came home for lunch each day with the family. Lunch, Hall said, was the equivalent of the American family dinner and the daily time to come together and catch up.

Hall said he had a blast in Chile, and called the transition from his American family to his Chilean family smooth.

“The transition between mine and their family was easy, and I came to feel more liberty with my host family, though I was also not as free since I couldn’t drive and had to rely on friends and the bus to get around,” said Hall.

Though he had already graduated from high school in the states, Hall enrolled as a junior in the local Spanish-language high school while his brother attended a different, English-language school. Hall liked school, but found the uniforms, which included a button-down shirt and burgundy tie and sport coat, uncomfortable. And high school in Chile was similar to his Maine high school, except that there were no options for extra classes such as photography, theater and woodworking.

The seasons in South America are opposite to North America, so “summer” vacation from school in Chile began the first week of December. And a school trip, similar to the annual Washington trip offered at Camden Hills, took Hall to Argentina, where he spent the days rafting, horseback riding and gliding on zip lines through the forests and the nights partying at discos.

Soon summer in Chile was waning as the month of February was drawing to a close, and Hall said that while his brother was lamenting a return to school during the first week of March, Hall was looking forward to getting back together with his classmates.

To celebrate the transition, a back-to-school party was scheduled for Feb. 26. Hall’s host family had two homes on their property, the second home being a smaller, single-story wood structure built for when their grandmother, who lives in Santiago, visited. This would be the location for the party, and it would be where three female fellow exchange students would spend the night while their male counterparts and friends bunked in the main house.

Hall said the late-night party was winding down and at around 3 a.m. on Feb. 27 he was  tidying up and putting things away after the girls had gone to bed.

“I had gone back to the house to clean up and check on everyone and I was in the hall going toward the bedrooms when the ground started to shake,” said Hall.

Hall had been through a 6.2-magnitude earthquake earlier in December, and thought he had a sense of what to expect.

“I thought, this is no big deal, I can do this, but then it got really big and kept going on and I had made my way to the door frame by the carport, so I just stayed there for the 90 seconds the earthquake lasted,” said Hall. “I stood there, not moving, listening to my friends scream, hearing glass breaking in the kitchen and watching the cars in the carport lift off the ground and bounce up and down.”

Asked what else he heard around him, Hall said he heard everything, yet nothing at all.

“I couldn’t hear anything during the earthquake because it was so loud, but I could eventually hear my parents in the yard, calling my name,” said Hall. After the shaking stopped, Hall said, he called to the girls and told everyone to get out of the house and into the driveway, where they would be safe from falling debris.

Since the power was cut off, as it is in Chile whenever a high-magnitude earthquake hits, Hall’s host father pulled the car out of the carport and shined the headlights against the wall of the house so everyone could see.

Hall said the temperature outside was just 40 degrees F, and everyone was in their pajamas, standing outside freezing with no way to keep warm. They wondered what to do when Hall said, “Hey, I’m from Maine, I have warm clothes upstairs we can put on.”

Hall said his father gave him 30 seconds to run into the house and find what he could, and while inside the house, Hall felt tremors, but nothing like the big one that sent everyone outside.

“I was scared, but I was trying to keep it together and put on a brave front,” he said. “And then I thought, oh God, the entire world will hear about this and I have no way to contact my parents and I knew they would be freaking out.”

An hour after the earthquake, Hall’s group was still huddled outside when they heard a car pull up to the home’s gate. It was a family friend, and she said she had been down the road at Hall’s favorite disco, called Kamikaze, when the earthquake hit. She told Hall the roof collapsed, and she and the musicians had taken refuge inside her car and the only place she could get to was the home of Hall’s family.

“She stayed with us for about an hour and it was nice to see a familiar face,” said Hall.

Exhausted, Hall decided to try to get some sleep. In fact, everybody but Hall’s host parents headed back inside the grandmother’s house to find a place to sleep. His mom and dad, he said, slept in the family’s car.

It was not a restful sleep, said Hall.

“I heard car alarms, sirens and dogs barking,” he said. And it was the barking dogs that Hall now remembers most.

“You know how animals can sense when there’s going to be an earthquake or a tsunami? Well, I began listening for the dogs while I was trying to sleep,” he said. “I quickly figured out that when the barking stopped, about five seconds later there would be another tremor. It was the worst way to sleep, the barking dogs and then the sound of the wooden house creaking. The tremors were different, but it didn’t stop me from sitting up on the side of my bed each time, ready to run if it lasted longer than a few seconds or grew in intensity.”

Hall said he was able to sleep until about 8 a.m., when he woke up to the sound of his mother yelling at him in Spanish to get up and help her and his father with the cleanup.

As if by miracle, Hall said his family’s homes did not suffer any structural damage. Things inside were tossed around and broken, but the buildings themselves sustained only minor, cosmetic damage.

The following day, Hall said, he ventured out onto the streets with friends and saw whole buildings reduced to piles of rubble and sidewalks and streets buckled and cracked. He said it was hard to grasp the damage, and to see buildings that had withstood previous earthquakes succumb finally to this one.

“In our neighborhood, buildings built properly were OK,” Hall said. “But those not made well were destroyed. And it was interesting that in the nearby slum district, all the homes were fine. And that was because they were made of wood.”

The family was without electricity and running water. And they started to run out of food after about four days.

“I think it was about four days, but I lost track of time after a while,” said Hall. And while the electricity came back on at day four and the Internet returned at day five, Hall’s departure at day 9 still had the family without running water.

Water was the family’s daily chore. Hall said a family friend had a pool nearby, and they trekked to it and filled jugs for cleaning and toilets. For drinking water, they had to walk to a local river and to hydrants that had been opened for the public.

Hall said he went eight days without a shower, and shuddered for a moment while telling about it.

By that time, Hall said, the family was rationing food, and his last meal with them consisted of a small ball of rice, a piece of chicken and a roll, which his mother baked that day. Being without food, Hall said, was the hardest part for him in the end.

Hall said it wasn’t until day two of the ordeal that he was able to make contact with his parents back in Camden. He made his way to town, where the only place to make a cell phone call was right in the center of town.

“The last conversation I had with them before the earthquake was the day of the party,” Hall said. “I told them I would call them the next day. I told my girlfriend I would call her Saturday.” Hall indicated he regretted making that promise.

Hall said when he called his parents Feb. 28, they at first didn’t recognize the incoming phone number he was calling from. When he said, “Mom, it’s me Taylor,” Hall heard screaming in the background, and someone say, “Thank God he’s OK.”

“That’s when I broke down finally, I really broke down, and I told them I wanted to come home, to get me out of here,” said Hall. “And they said they wanted me to come home too.”

Then began the attempt to get him out of Chile, but Hall said the temporary embassy set up at a local Holiday Inn Express proved unable to help. Then a reserved seat on a military cargo plane that first week became a missed opportunity, as handlers were unable to reach him March 3, and the plane left without him that night. Finally, his parents were able to secure a plane out of Santiago via Rotary and a travel agent, and then it became a matter of waiting it out until the flight home March 8.

Since his return to Maine last week, Hall has talked with his host parents and learned that they now have water, and a supply of food. He said his father had been able to get to his medical office since Hall left, and was able to retrieve expensive equipment before looters grabbed it. While the family stayed home, Hall said, his father went to the local hospital each day and volunteered to help the injured.

“The family is doing a lot better; they are more calm and things are nearly normal,” said Hall.

His brother won’t be able to go back to school until April 15, due in part to broken water lines and to the looters who broke in and stole everything that wasn’t bolted down.

As for being back, Hall said the things he’s finding hardest to deal with are the cold and the open space. He’s not used to big, comfortable sport utility vehicles and the temperatures are much too low for his South American-acclimated core.

“We didn’t have anything big in Chile,” he said. “My twin bed was too small for my 6-foot-tall body, the cars all required me to climb in and out, they were so small, and my bedroom was no bigger than an American bathroom. But I also learned that I don’t need all that stuff, all that big stuff. I learned to live without and I miss that.”

The other surprising difference, said Hall, is the food. When he was preparing for departure, he knew he was a picky eater and had concerns about what he would be forced to eat, or do without. Hall quickly learned it was a misguided concern. Now that he’s returned, he has found that apples he once thought tasted delicious have a flavor that pales compared with what Chile has to offer.

And while living in a small town is something he has always enjoyed, he misses being able to walk to just about any market or restaurant he wants to, and to access public transportation and go anywhere for a dollar.

He also misses the closeness he learned to be comfortable with in Chile.

“In Chile, the custom is a cheek-to-cheek kiss to say hello and goodbye,” said Hall. “Here in America, there is a lot of distance and space between people and I learned to get rid of my personal bubble real quick there.”

As for his immediate future, besides likely encouraging the introduction of public transportation in Camden and more cheek-to-cheek salutations between his family and friends, Hall said he has plans to pick up working at the YMCA in Rockport again to teach swim lessons. He also hopes to work at the waterfront in Camden as an assistant harbormaster. In the fall, he will head to Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., to study broadcast production.

“My plan is to go back to Chile for spring break next year, to bring my family with me and show them what life was like down there,” said Hall.

As for what he would do differently, if he had 20-20 hindsight, Hall was adamant.

“Do your research,” he said. “I had no idea Chile was a seismic country. If I had done my research, it would have prepared me for the tremors they regularly get. There is no way to prepare for a natural disaster, but before you go somewhere you’ve never been, do research so you know what’s possible and how you should deal with it. I had a blast down there, and other than the earthquake, I would recommend going there to anyone.”