Julia’s Experience in Chile

Julia Sykes

Julia studied in Chile on the IES: Santiago, Chile, Study in Santiago Program during the Fall of 2014.

If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?

Studying abroad is the best way to gain a strong sense of independence while learning about a country’s history, culture and politics through their eyes.

If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?

I would have eaten more food.

What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?

As a Latin American Studies major, I was fairly set on studying abroad somewhere in Latin America during my collegiate years, but I chose Chile specifically because of its rich and fascinating recent history that involved heavy influence from the United States, and I wanted to learn about the history from the Chilean perspective.

What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?

I was concerned that I would not get along with my host family, that I would get lost, that I would not be able to communicate, or that I would just generally have a bad experience. I connected immediately with my host family by opening up to them and allowing them to open up to me, and I spent as much time with them as I could – which, in turn, helped me to feel more comfortable speaking Spanish and using it in my daily life. As afraid as I was of getting lost or not figuring out the public transportation system, I jumped right in and accepted that I would make mistakes and that I might get on the wrong bus or take the metro in the opposite direction I was supposed to. I realized that was all part of the learning experience, and did not allow myself to get frustrated for small mistakes that would be inevitable. By the end of my semester, I was a Santiago public transportation pro.

What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?

My program required that students lived with host families, and all classes were in Spanish, which forced us to use our language skills on a regular basis and to constantly be improving. Not many Chileans spoke English, and if they did it was quite broken, so I was surrounded by it. The only time I was ever using English was when I was alone in my room Skyping with my family and friends, which was not often, since I spent as much time as possible sharing meals and experiences with my Chilean family and going out to explore Santiago with Chilean friends.

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How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?

The independence I gained during my time studying abroad is an invaluable skill, and one that I would not have learned just from studying here at Penn State. I have grown the confidence to reach out when I need help, and to accept my flaws and learn from them.

Did you participate in any service projects while on your program? How did that enhance your study abroad experience?

I participated in an internship program where I was able to fully delve into the tragic history of this beautiful country, and learn more about how Chileans have been affected by the military dictatorship of the late 20th century. I was also able to meet the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet!

What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?

I traveled to some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and will ever see while in Chile. My experience with my host family is something I could not have experienced at Penn State – to live with people who care so much about giving a student a great experience in their country is so wonderful. I am still in touch with my Chilean host family on a weekly basis, to this day.

What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?

You will be afraid, you will be nervous, you will be anxious – and that’s okay! Accept that those feelings will be a reality at some point during your study abroad experience, but also realize that you will find so much joy and love in places you never expected to during your experience. “Study abroad” does not mean you need to be riding a wave of high’s for the entire duration of your studies, jetting off to a different place every weekend, doing something fun every night, or having every single day be an adventure – you will miss home, your family, your friends, your favorite foods, and mostly, Penn State – and that is okay. You are only human, and you need to allow yourself to accept those feelings as they come. Know, however, that those sentiments will only last for so long; ride those out, and then be reminded of how beautiful of an experience you are grateful to have.

Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.

I was out with friends at a cafe enjoying some empanadas when our waiter asked us where we were from, and my friend spoke up, saying we were from America. The waiter smirked and said he was from America as well, which caused a little confusion among us, but before we could ask any further questions he told us that this was all “America,” and that we were all “American.” It was one of my biggest learning moments during my time abroad because it reminded me of the importance of global perspective, understanding that there was more to this world than my home and Penn State.

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