Time Abroad: Fall 2007 - Spring 2008
Major: International Studies
I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile. First of all I think it is important to know that study abroad is what you make of it. There are definitely people who go abroad with the idea of being a "foreigner" and others who go so they can come back having "lived" the culture. I want to make a point that there isn't a right or wrong way, they are just different. I have great pride in saying that I definitely did both and the reason for that is because I chose to stay for a year. I have to admit I was a bit nervous, maybe I'm downplaying a bit- I fainted in my bathroom the first week in my new home- but please don't let that scare you!! Going abroad for a year was the best decision I could have made about my study abroad experience. I feel that some people think that they can never integrate into a culture, likewise there are others who try too hard and don't take the time to be a tourist. The fact is that whether you like it or not, you have to be a clueless tourist for at least a while- but you don't have to stay that way! Going abroad for a year allowed me to have a good amount of time to adjust, then have time to sit back and really take it all in, just plain 'ol living. If you are even considering it, go for a year!
I chose Chile for many reasons, but Valparaíso (Valpo) in particular. The country itself is so diverse, from the driest desert in the world to the North, and glaciers to the south; there is nothing you can't find in this country! The people are great though at times their history and opinions set them aside from a few of their neighbors. Chile was a great first step for me into South America. They share a lot of traditional Latin American qualities, yet also stand on their own in many diverse ways. Valparaíso is unlike any city I have ever seen. It is culture in its most real form. The city itself is colorful and artistic, truly one of a kind!
All and all, really immersing in the culture isn't an easy thing to do, and no matter how many times you hear it, you think "I won't be that kid... I'll integrate" - but guess what? That's what I said and I'm definitely guilty. You have to put yourself out there, and for me that meant all my "gringo" friends leaving in December and having no choice but to integrate, or play tourist again with the next incoming batch of lost North Americans. But let me tell you, I did it, and I'm so glad I did. I participated in summer volunteer programs with my university and met so many Chileans, with whom I talk to more than my fellow Americans that I met first semester. If you are going to go abroad, do it well and make it everything it can be, go for a year. If you can't go for a year, get involved in clubs and groups. Force yourself to get out, you will be so happy that you did!