When people say that studying abroad was the best experience of their life, they aren’t lying. At first I was skeptical about leaving the country for 4 months, but then I decided that my life was way too predictable. I was doing the same routine every day: school, eat, work, homework and finally sleep. I knew that there was more to life than that.
When I first arrived in Chile I was exhausted. Our 24-hour flight plan had completely drained me of any energy. However, when my host father arrived I immediately perked up and I was so excited. When he started talking to me my first thought was “oh boy- I don’t know enough Spanish for this!” But as time went on I became more comfortable speaking with the natives. It wasn’t long before I felt completely fluent in their language- and it all happened without me even trying. The people in Chile are so amazing. They are so eager to share about their culture, and also learn about ours.
Chile has such a vast landscape ranging from the driest desert in the world to the North, and ancient glaciers to the South. Chile also shares a border with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This border consists of the Cordillera de los Andes which is the largest mountain range in South America. The coastline of Chile consists of the Pacific Ocean- which towards the end of the trip it was possible to go surfing!
My trip north was filled with adventure. I visited the Valle de los Muertes (the Death Valley) and also the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). If you appreciate landscape and sunsets you will love these two places. The sky is filled with so many different shades of blues and purples that all seem to melt together peacefully behind the mountains. In the north you can also visit the salt deposits. This is not the same salt you can eat, but the ground consists of plain salt. There are also two salt lakes in the middle of the desert where the salt is so dense you are able to float without swimming!
My south trip was a completely different experience. I was able to climb an active volcano that was 2680 meters high. I also went white water rafting and zip-lined through a forest over a river. In the south there are many other tourist attractions. We took a ferry boat to the glaciers and were able to put pieces of ice from the glaciers into our juice!
Some other group trips include skiing in the Andes Mountains in Chillan, visiting a mine that was actually built under the ocean and also la playa Cobquecura. I also did some traveling in smaller groups. We stayed in Santiago and visited a vineyard, the Santiago zoo and a few other tourist attractions. At the end of my trip we had 2 weeks to travel wherever we wanted. I chose to travel to Cusco and Lima, Peru. While in Cusco, I was able to visit one of the 7 wonders of the world. We woke up at 3 in the morning so we would be able to take the Inca trail and climb another famous mountain called Waynupicchu. It was a difficult climb but it was amazing!
My family in Chile was more than helpful with anything I needed. They were especially great homework help. Living with another family is such a great experience. I learned to appreciate another culture, and really got involved with how they do things/ handle different situations. They were very understanding when I was having issues communicating. They were never frustrated with me and did the best they could to help me. It was because of their support I am able to speak Spanish at the level I can today. They wanted to make sure every day that I was eating enough… needless to say I gained a few pounds there. The food is phenomenal! They sell fresh fruits and vegetables on the street for ridiculously cheap. Some of the typical food includes empanadas which is a fresh bread (kind of like a pita) either baked or fried. Although it may contain whatever you prefer, the most common to Chilean culture is shredded beef, olives and hard boiled eggs. A great tradition in Chile is their asadas. This is basically a fancy word for grill out.
In Chile they are not as concerned about money or power as we are in the US. Their first priority is their family. The close bonded relationships that they share amazed me. It was seldom heard of if a child would play video games each day. Instead they would spend hours sitting at the table telling each other stories, hopes, dreams and goals. It also amazed me the amount of respect that children had for their parents. It was very rare to see any child test their parents’ authority. They also were more appreciative for what they had. They all seemed very satisfied with what they were given and never complained about wanting more. This made me envy their culture and share everything I had learned and seen with family and other students
Classes in Conce were completely different from what we do in the US. Each professor only had class once a week. Each had a teaching style that was based around our involvement and interest in the subject. The classes were very helpful and educational. All St. Cloud State students have their classes together and all classes are taught in Spanish. Student involvement in the classroom is encouraged and the teachers are more than happy to help you if you have any questions.
It had only been 3 short months since my return from Chile and yet another opportunity came along for me to do a short term study abroad in South Africa. When we first landed in Johannesburg, I knew it was going to be amazing. I was able to spend two full weeks in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, working with underprivileged children. Because my minor is Special Education, I needed field experience and was lucky enough to fall upon the opportunity to get my field experience in another country.
Each day we toured different schools ranging from high class privileged to one room school houses in the townships. We observed student teachers from SCSU at a privileged school which was really interesting. We talked to the children one on one and they asked us things like “what’s a pop tart? What’s a s’more?” It was interesting to see what impacts the media has on children over there. My favorite part was when we were able to volunteer at the special needs schools. Not only were we able to teach them fun games from home, we were also able to watch how the teachers perform with little to no resources.
When we were not doing our field experiences we were either swimming in the ocean or checking out the local markets. There was so much to be seen, two weeks was not enough time! One of the days we were able to go to Addo Elephant Park. Here we saw families of elephants and many other animals including some lions, warthogs and kudu.
We went on many field trips in just a few days. Another important stop was the Kragga Kamma animal reserve. Here it was possible to pet tame cheetahs. During this excursion we saw monkeys, zebras and rhinos. Our jeep was even chased by a water buffalo!
This trip was truly amazing and life changing. I learned so much in such a short amount of time. It’s amazing how 2 weeks can really change the way you view the world.
Studying abroad is a big decision, but it also can be a life changing experience. If you have any questions please feel free to stop by the education abroad office located in the basement of Lawrence Hall. We can help with choosing a location that best suits your needs to funding your experience!