Mary Schweich is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Going to the Atacama Desert was an amazing cultural experience. Chile is a country so unique and full of culture and the Atacama is, in my opinion one of the best examples of that. We took a guided tour through certain parts of the desert, and at one point our guide mentioned the fact that people indigenous to Chile would have travelled through, and some continue to live in the region. At one point we were in a cave rock formation and the guide mentioned that people could have stayed or lived in the cave. Sitting where people sat hundreds of years ago, in the cave, was an immensely moving experience. Being able to experience and learn about such an interesting culture was an amazing experience.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
Studying abroad was something that I had anticipated doing ever since I came to CSBSJU. I have met so many people that had studied abroad who had always mentioned the incredible time that they had, and how it had been one of their favorite times during college. Knowing that so many people that I looked up to had found it to be such a great experience, for me at least, affirmed the fact that studying abroad would be something I wanted to experience.
I would have to say that the language aspect of the Chile program what initially what appealed to me most. I improved my Spanish exponentially while studying in Chile. Due in most part to living with my host family and having all of my classes taught in Spanish. The classes that were made available to me in Chile allowed me to complete my Hispanic Studies minor, which was great. Along with the location, the pacific coast, as well as the volunteering component also helped to make Chile my top choice for studying abroad.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Being abroad was a learning experience in every sense. Not only do you learn so much in your classes, you learn so much about yourself. You are challenged in ways you wouldn't normally be, which can sound scary, but in the end looking back you start to realize that all those challenges have taught you how to do so many things like be more independent, to use free time to its maximum potential, and to not let the little things get you down. Also it is just I would have to say life changing in general. You are getting to see part of the world that you haven't seen before and experience everything that it has to offer, by spending four months there. It is better than any vacation could be. You come back with new friendships and new experiences you won't ever forget.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
My time in Chile has had a big impact on me since getting back. Going abroad has made me much more independent. Before going I was always really dependent on my parents and friends in a lot of ways. Being somewhere where you initially only know a few people and the language is different makes many everyday tasks a little more challenging. For that reason I had to learn to be more outgoing and communicate better in order to understand and problem solve in a foreign country. I also I learned that I can do much more by myself than I ever thought I could. There were instances where I wanted to go somewhere or do something a little different than the rest of the group, so I was forced to pursue those things alone. Things like travel were scary at first, but now I am more confident and feel more independent knowing that I can successfully be independent and have a great time.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
One big piece of advice I would give is do what is going to be best for you, at all stages of the study abroad process. Pick the trip that YOU want to go on. It is hard to strike out on you're on away from your friends, but chances are you won't regret choosing the program you feel is right for you. This also I think carries through to the actual semester abroad as well. Just because not everyone is doing a certain activity or going somewhere doesn't mean that you shouldn't to. If you are really interested in something or somewhere find someone else who is and plan it, because it will be great!
Also planning is key. Not just having one plan but having contingency plans. Just like at home things are not going to go exactly according to plan, in fact do to things like the language barrier and time changes things can seem to get messed up more than usual. So my advice would be if plan I doesn't work out, move to plan be and stay calm, things tend to work out and more than likely you will still have a great time.
Finally my advice would be to not think of this experience as a vacation, but it really isn't. Yes, you are in a different country, but that doesn't mean that it is a semester long break from school and responsibilities. There are days where things can be a little overwhelming and a challenge, just like back home. So my advice would be to remember that and realize that overcoming challenges is part of why you are there. The challenges that you may encounter are going to make you stronger and be some of the aspects that help you grow and that you will remember when you get home.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Chile? Email Mary at email@example.com.