It was difficult to have many expectations before choosing to study abroad. I had a lot of questions beforehand like: what would the food be like? What would my homestay family be like? Would I just want to go home? But each google search only brought more questions. Finally, I decided to just make the leap. I chose the SIT Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development fall semester program in Valparaiso, Chile. I chose Valparaiso, Chile because it seemed to be a beautiful beach town that was located close to Santiago, but also close to beautiful countryside and wine valleys. I chose the Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development program specifically because I felt that I would be able to gain a better understanding of how I could use my business acumen to help build a community ethically particularly in an international environment.
The two biggest highlights of my experience were the domestic group travel within Chile and my internship experience in the final month. Through my program, I went to Putre, an Aymara community in the north by the Peruvian/Bolivian border and to Temuco and Chapod, Mapuche communities in the South. I would not have had the opportunity to visit and experience the communities without the connection of my program. I learned more about the current situation of these indigenous communities and became curious about similar situations of indigenous communities in the United States. In these travels, we lived with host families and ate local food. I had lots of alpaca, bread, and quinoa. We also practiced reciprocity in working with local schools and helping our families plant the fields for the spring. On the topic of reciprocity, I completed an internship of 120 hours in November, the final month of my program. The internship was at Espacio Santa Ana, a community development center in Valparaiso. Through this experience I worked on my professional Spanish, helped with the systematization of data, and helped plan and execute events to help the community.
Some challenges that I faced were getting used to living with a family, language challenges, and getting used to public transportation. Although Chilean culture is not extremely different than American culture, I still faced some culture shock as I knew no one and nothing in the country. Overall, adjusting was not too difficult as I had a good group of my family members, friends in the program, and professors and admin that continued to check in on my mental and physical health.
Since I have been back, everyone wants to ask me, “How was Chile?” I still haven’t quite figured out how to respond to that. I usually just respond with, “A lot.” I am incredibly happy and grateful that I had the opportunity to study and live in a different country and community in this way.
Emily McAndrew is double majoring in Management and Spanish. She spent a semester studying Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development in Valparaiso, Chile through SIT Study Abroad. Emily had the following to say about her time abroad, “Studying abroad as a senior was an incredible experience that helped strengthen what I wanted to do post-graduation. I am a better student, worker, and traveler after my trip to Valparaiso, Chile.”
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