Suzanne and her students sit on the benchs of the colegio San Alberto Hurtado after her last day of teaching English.
Overseas Study Program
Suzanne’s majors: Spanish and Mathematics
Year abroad: Fall 2009
Reason you chose this program: I spent a lot of time researching where I wanted to go. My number one concern was safety. Also, I wanted a country and a program that would really encourage me to speak Spanish and improve my communication skills, not letting me fall back on my English.
Favorite classes: I took a sociology class called Latin American Formation and Development in which we talked about Chilean society in comparison with other societies. Also, we discussed comparisons in religion and general beliefs of the people. I could see what we discussed directly in everyday life in Santiago. It was really neat! The CIEE Spanish course was very helpful to have while living in Chile. It offered me a place to ask questions about Chilean Spanish, in particular,as well as to help me catch some of the mistakes I made in everyday speech.
Describe the housing situation: Everyone stays in a homestay. If you want to stay for a year, the second semester they allow you to choose a homestay or an apartment. I know people who did both options and were happy with them. I lived with two host parents in their 60s. It was an adjustment for me, but they taught me SO much about the food, their family, Santiago, and their beliefs. I highly recommend living in a homestay!
Best memory: I was able to travel some while I was there, so having the opportunity of visiting the southern tip of Chile (Patagonia) after the semester classes ended was amazing. It was beautiful hiking and we got to see a colony of 30,000 penguins on a small island and newborn baby penguins!
Biggest surprise: I was surprised at the amount of influence the United States had on Chile. They had American movies in the theaters, released a couple months after they were in the United States. Also, music from the United States was not uncommon to find --and many loved Michael Jackson.
Greatest challenge: The first challenge for me was trying to communicate in the way I wanted with my host family and with the locals. My host family was VERY receptive and encouraged me often, but it was still a challenge. Getting used to the fact that there is no such thing as "politically correct" was very different from my experience in the U.S.
Experience with culure shock or reverse culture shock: I did experience culture shock, which caught me off-guard even though I had been warned. It's different when you are not used to communicating in another language and you don't know how to be polite. Also, you can't just call home when you're walking around (unless you have an international phone) and this was difficult for me.
Going abroad vs. staying on campus: You hear this all the time, but it's true: study abroad is worth it! I have very close friends and a boyfriend I was sad to leave and miss experiences with in my fall semester. You will not regret it. When it is hard, realize that the other people in your program are thinking the same thing. You meet all kinds of new people, and most people end up wishing they could stay longer in the end. After being there, I think that if I wanted to live abroad, I could do it with much more ease. I know myself a little better now. I know what to be prepared for and have confidence that I can communicate well. I now feel like I could do it without feeling like I need the support of a program like CIEE, who was always there for me.
If I could do it over, I would...have gotten a conversation partner at the university. A few of my friends did this, and it was pretty fun for them. It's a fun way of practicing your Spanish with a Chilean who is not in your host family. Also, I should have given my e-mail to be on the listserv given to exchange students for activities. It's overwhelming how much you can get involved in at first, but this is something small you can sign up for and be as involved with it as you want later.