Megan Smith is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
One prevalent characteristic of Latin American cultures is the concept of "machismo," in which women and men are viewed unequally. The women in our study abroad program received comments, whistles, and stares from Chilean men. Its a very common occurrence and women ignore it, rather than speak up. Women are expected to help with meals and serve the men as they sit at the table without lifting a finger. College women wore large hoop earrings and stylish clothes to the gym, and resisted working up a sweat. They were very concerned with preserving a feminine appearance. Experiencing "machismo" in South America encouraged me to reflect on why it occurs, and how gender roles are established in the U.S.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I was looking to broaden my perspective of the world. Before Chile, I hadn't traveled internationally, other than to Canada. The only culture I truly understood was the one I experienced--my own. I studied abroad so I could personally experience how someone else in the world might live or view things; I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
I have a Spanish minor, and one goal of studying abroad was to improve my spanish proficiency. I chose the Chile program partly for the chance to experience a variety of biomes, all within the same country. I also expected Chile to be very different from U.S. and European cultures, but soon discovered that Chile is actually very influenced by Europe and the U.S. In the end, I didn't know much about Chile but I went with a gut feeling that told me "this is where I fit."
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Not every second of your experience abroad will be magical and amazing. There are very challenging moments, but that's what makes studying abroad a learning experience. Traveling to another country is great, but studying in another country and becoming a citizen (temporarily) is a completely different experience. You become a part of that country and it becomes your home. Programs that involved a different language are especially challenging but very beneficial. There is no better way to learn a language than to be immersed in it.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
My Spanish proficiency has definitely improved and I am much more confident in my language abilities. I was an independent person before I went to Chile, and that was a very beneficial trait to have while abroad. I learned that even thousands of miles away from home, family and friends, I WILL be okay! A big part of studying abroad was learning to adapt. Accept what you cannot change, then adapt to it. After studying in Chile I became much more flexible and adaptable--little problems don't worry me like they used to and I've learned how to cope with a situation where I may not be comfortable.
Another major benefit of studying abroad is cultural awareness and acceptance. Its easy to judge another culture and accuse them of being "wrong." Studying in Chile for 4 months opened my mind to the fact that no culture is wrong or right, they are simply different. My traditions and values are what I am accustomed to, but someone from another culture may have a different opinion of them
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
Clear any pre-conceptions you have about your host country. Don't arrive with expectations, just open your mind and go with whatever comes your way. Seize every opportunity; Don't contain yourself inside a comfortable bubble. Let go of your own customs and embrace the culture that you are living in. In four months, you'll return to life back home with your food, your traditions and your language--so for now, live like a Chilean (Roman, Parisian, Austrailian, whatever).
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Chile? Email Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org.