Daniel Knapper is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
This may not be a standard cultural highlight that one may here, but for me it made a big impression. One afternoon I was waiting outside a local cafe for a ride to basketball practice when I saw two dogs start fighting across the street. It was brutal, and it didn't look like they were going to stop anytime soon. After about half a minute of the fight I saw a man sprinting towards the dogs from a little shop on the corner, he had a 5 gallon bucket of water which he poured on the dogs. The only affect the water had on the dogs was that it moved them to the middle of the intersection, where cars were forced to stop to avoid hitting them. By this time the screams of the smaller of the two dogs was getting hard to take. A couple seconds later another man ran into the middle of the street to try to get them apart - successfully again, but like the first time the dogs continued after they escaped the human, only this time all the losing smaller dog wanted was escape.
On the other side of the street my eyes were glued towards the fighting dogs when I heard two school boys speaking in quick voices. I looked over at them just as one of them slapped the other on the shoulder and said (translation) "come on, let's go!" They then dropped their backpacks on the sidewalk and ran across the street to again attempt to break up the dogs. After yelling and kicking dirt in at the pair, they successfully broke up the dogs and gave the smaller dog a head start. When the bigger dog followed, he was greeting by a sidewalk full of Chilean citizens who all just wanted that small dog to escape.
The small dog made it away while the bigger dog, tail between his legs, ran away.
I had witnessed something that almost brought me to tears, but at the end it turned out okay. The Chileans had shown me how they can group together when someone is in need, and help - even though it might be dangerous, and even if it means abandoning personal belongings on the side of a busy city street to do so. I was so proud of the Chileans that day, especially those teenage school boys who abandoned their belongings and risked a wild dog bike to stop the pain of the little dog... and why? Because it was the right thing to do.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I studied abroad because I wanted to focus on my Spanish skills at a more intense level than we can get by simply taking a Spanish class or two here on campus. One of the reasons I chose Chile (instead of the other Spanish speaking countries offered) was because of where it is located. We lived in the beautiful, ocean-side city of Viña del Mar in South America. Simply the fact that Chile is in South America was a big draw for me because many people have been to, or plan to go to Europe, but not very many people have the chance to travel or live in South America. I was able to travel throughout Chile and even to Argentina one time.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Wonderful, but not dazzling. I will never forget my time abroad, nor the people I spent it with, but it wasn't a fairy tale semester. There were hard times, and other times when I simply wanted to stay in and not see any more new things. There's obviously a lot of change being thrusted in a different country, culture, and world for that matter.
I definitely am glad I went, and the good times far outweigh the bad ones (definitely!), but just know going in that everything won't be sparkling and shining forever... you are still living life, and life has low moments
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
Living in South America for four and a half months did a number on me, but in a good way. I definitely came back a slightly different person than when I left. Abroad I gained a sense of independence that I hadn't had the opportunity to achieve here in the States. We were completely free to do what we wished, provided we showed up for class and got our homework done. I think that really allowed for some soul searching, and figuring out who you are and how you wanted to spend your time. For me, some of my personal beliefs were challenged, and I had the opportunity to either stick to them, forget them, or alter them. I think in most cases I found myself slightly changing how I saw the world, or the place I wanted to have in the world. Having so many different experiences than normal really allowed for ideas like that to flourish, and that's something I wouldn't have experienced had I not took the first difficult step to study abroad.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
I would tell them to look forward to it, 'cause it's awesome! I would also tell them, however, that as I said earlier, it's life, and life has low moments. That means that it's going to be hard at times. Maybe you are going to have a week where there seems like too many huge tests to deal with at once, or maybe your family at home will be celebrating and getting together for the holidays but you won't be there. Those are both possibilities. BUT, at the same time you will be experiencing something that those at home are not. You will be abroad in South America with nothing between you and the world except for a bit of homework. So all in all, I'd tell them to focus hard when doing homework, because you aren't going to want to sit in your room for very long once you have the whole of Viña del Mar to explore.