Elisabeth is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I chose to study abroad because I have never left the country, and there is no time like the present. I am also a Spanish minor, so that narrowed down my options. I've always wanted to study abroad, but had always planned on going to Spain. In fact, I even filled out my application for Spain without even considering the other programs (Chile and Guatemala). A week before applications were due, I looked into the Chile program and absolutely fell in love, so I talked to some of the students who had been on both trips and decided Chile was a better fit for me.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
This may sound odd, but something that has stuck with me was my first night in Chile with my host family. After arriving, I realized that any Spanish I had had in the past was worlds different than Chilean Spanish - I felt very lost and overwhelmed, and actually started crying because I couldn't communicate with my host mom very well. She walked over to me, held her arms out, and just hugged me while I cried, saying "Esta bien, esta bien." I consider this a cultural moment because first of all, it exemplifies the affection of the Chilean culture. They are very open with feelings and find no shame in showing them. This was also cultural to me because even though words were not helping me, a simple action, like her hug, calmed me down right away. Actions are the same in many languages, and this is something I came to learn as more time passed.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
As I am sure many people say, there are no words to do the experience as a whole justice. I could maybe sum it up with every picture and every blog post, but even then it wouldn't be the same. As far as the actual study portion of study abroad (we didn't have internships), I would say it takes patience and adjustment. The classes in Chile are different - more lecture based, and obviously in Spanish, plus they grade on a different scale. I'll admit it was a bit frustrating, but it gets better as the Spanish becomes more natural. In Chile, we were required to do 25 hours of service learning. There were a variety of opportunities offered, but I chose to help in a seventh grade English classroom, as well as help coach a rugby team (I play rugby at CSB). This experience was incredible, as were the kids. They taught me as much as I taught them and even threw me a surprise party my last day. They remain one of the highlights of my trip.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Where to begin...I guess for myself, the biggest benefit was gaining more confidence in my abilities. I had gone through some personal stuff right before leaving for my semester abroad, so I knew it was going to bring a lot of self-clarification, but I underestimated just how much. The Spanish aspect is the most frustrating part of the experience, but also the most rewarding because there comes a point when you stop thinking about every little word and just speak. Then you realize that happened and just think, "Wow, that is pretty awesome." Being abroad also makes you slow down and appreciate things a little more. I had a lot of moments where I just kind of looked around in awe that I was experiencing what I was. You aren't rushing from one class, to this activity, to this meeting. It provides more time to just be. Studying in Chile also provided me with the opportunity to play on the university soccer team with Chileans, so I was able to build relationships there, while staying active and busy. Being able to play on a team again (I never expected to play soccer again after high school) was an awesome experience. I think overall I just have more of an air of confidence to myself now - I know who I am and what I want, and I know that if I can make it on my own in another country, I am capable of a lot.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
1. Look into all the programs before deciding. I think my experience would have been a lot different if I had chosen based on my original reasoning.
2. Don't let money stop you. It really isn't that much more expensive than a normal semester, plus there are outside options to explore.
3. If possible, live with a family while abroad. It makes the experience so much richer.
4. Make a list of pros and cons to all of your options, as well as a folder with all the info - there will be a lot.
5. Just do it.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Chile? Email Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org