Courtney Kelley is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I'll never forget the first time I went over to my host mom's sister's house for lunch during fiestas patrias, which is their Independence Day (like the Chilean version of 4th of July). It was a few weeks into the semester and so I was starting to feel more comfortable being with my host family, speaking Spanish, and following the conversation. As we all sat down to eat, my host uncle made a toast to thank everyone for coming and how thankful he was that the family was together on this special day. At the end of the toast, he said that he was very glad that I was there and that he hoped that I would have a pleasant experience in his country. Besides the accomplishment that I could understand what he said, the best part of this toast was the feeling that I was welcomed into their home and that they were glad to have me there for the whole semester. Little did I know that I would find this hospitality in many more places than just that one time, but it was one of the first times that I realized that I was a part of their family.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I knew I wanted to study abroad since I decided on St. Ben's and it was one of the factors that helped me make that decision. I had been to Spain for two weeks when I was a sophomore in high school and that made me even more excited to see what the world had to offer. The summer before junior year I had gone to Europe on a three-week-long trip with CSB/SJU and so I was not sure whether I wanted to go back to Europe (probably London) or do a Spanish-speaking program like Guatemala or Chile. In the end, hearing how excited the past Chile participants were about their experience was really what made me feel like Chile was more for me. I strong recommend talking to past participants either through email or setting up a time to let them share their experience with you because for me it was the way I made my decision.
Describe your overall cultural experience
Looking back on my experience in Chile, I feel so proud of all my group mates and myself. We survived and we thrived. Some great highlights were performing a dance in front of the whole university for La Dia de la U (University Day), getting to know my host family and making international friends, becoming a closer group, traveling to the driest desert in the world, spending afternoons on the beautiful beaches, going to a national soccer game, discovering the neighboring cities, climbing a mountain, going to Argentina, going to barbeques with friends from the university, learning about new foods and drinks, learning how to dance cueca and reggaeton, playing on the university basketball team, meeting other peoples host families, celebrating birthdays and other holidays (both Chilean and U.S.), being able to take public transportation almost anywhere, spending a day and night at the worlds biggest pool, cheering on some group members in a half marathon, speaking Spanish, hearing Spanish, thinking in Spanish, volunteering with kids, redo-ing a daycare, walking around, and going dancing.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
I think that going somewhere out of your usual realm for an extended period of time it changes you in more ways than you will realize and it was very fun to see my group members grow as people and grow together as a group as well. I definitely feel that the trip affected me in a positive way. Now, that does not mean that everything I did went well and that there were not times when your confidence is shot down, but either way you learn how to manage that and get back up with a new lesson learned. I felt like I got to learn a lot about myself and how my attitudes affect what happens. What is great about being in a brand new place is that everything is excited and at the tip of your fingertips. I am now a more assertive person. I am not afraid to ask questions or stand up for what I think. It is difficult to talk to other people in Spanish and make connections in a different language, but that is what is most rewarding about this trip- the ability to meet local people, real people that you can be friends with and learn about Chilean culture.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?First of all, do it!! Even if it is not Chile, it will be an experience that will enrich your life and make you think and feel in new ways. While abroad, everything is an adventure. Just walking around will be a cultural experience and force you to learn about yourself and how you deal with new situations. I encourage you to research your host country, so that by the time you get there you will already have the basics down and really be able to dig deeper and find out what makes the country special. What I really like about the Spanish speaking and other programs with a host family stay is that you really get to know the culture and develop friendships with new people. Yes, it might seem traumatizing, but it is worth it because they will be the ones that you get to learn the most with. Also, there is nothing like forming the group dynamics that every CSB-SJU study abroad group has. By the time you come back to campus, you will have a bunch of new friends that know you in this special way.
I really recommend traveling after! You can continue to learn your Spanish and discover more about Latin America. After the program was over I traveled with some friends to Peru (Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco) and then Buenos Aires, Argentina and Puntas Arenas. Also, I really recommend staying for New Years in Viña!!
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Chile? Email Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.