Major: Spanish; International Studies
Project: Study Abroad
When I heard about STEP, I immediately began to think of all the possibilities available to me. From research to creative projects, I felt like I was given the opportunity to do anything, the opportunity to make any dream come true. Upon some careful consideration, I decided to fulfill my dream to study abroad, immersing myself in my language of study. I travelled to Valparaíso, Chile and enrolled in La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso to take Spanish courses for my major and to live in the language I love each day.
As I became increasingly familiar with the culture I was thrown into during those nearly 6 months abroad, I found myself becoming incredibly self-critical. However, this ability to criticize myself and where I came from was not disruptive to my life, but rather it helped me to enrich my experience. Each day I would encounter some difference that could shock me or cause me discomfort. Instead of allowing myself to simply remain shocked or uncomfortable, I would force myself to reframe the situation and determine why I felt that way. By always asking why, I allowed my innocent curiosity to guide me towards self-discovery.
An example of when looking at a situation in a different light led to a productive self-criticism began upon my arrival to Chile in the middle of July… the middle of winter. In Valparaíso, since the weather is relatively mild, many of the buildings don’t use any climate control. In most places I went, my classes and homestay included, there was no heat for the majority of my first-ever winter in July. However, instead of just saying to myself Why do they not have heat? I can see my breath in here! I went a step further and asked the people who I was meeting how they dealt with the winter, and why they didn’t use the heaters in their home. Not only are Chileans saving money and the earth by refraining from heating the whole home, but they demonstrate the idea that sometimes we need to change in reaction to our environment, not change the environment to accommodate us. So, I put on a sweater or two and quickly became accustomed to and appreciative of this way of life.
This theme of becoming accustomed to the environment instead of trying to change that environment would guide me through much of my study abroad experience.
As I attended classes, I could feel a difference of teaching styles in Latin America: professors expect students to be self-motivated and to come to class with their own ideas, then take into account the words of the professor. This is only made more difficult when all the courses are instructed in Spanish, which can at times cause some confusion due to misinterpretations. While the teaching method in the States was and is effective for me, the various changes in teaching styles (ahem, Spanish only) and the expectations allowed me to expand the way in which I approach my studies. Instead of simply arriving to class with the readings in mind, in Chile I learned to arrive with questions, inter-disciplinary connections, and even opinions which helped me to better engage with my studies. My accommodation to the Chilean classroom has travelled with me back to Ohio State, and I can feel and see the difference each day as I continue my studies.
In addition to my classroom experience and academic maturation, I found myself accommodating to the Chilean way of life outside the classroom, too. Engaging in English-Spanish Conversation Exchange programs was a highlight of my experience, and it was the way by which I met most of my Chilean companions. While my Spanish was far from perfect, my partners’ English was also still developing, so we were on equal ground. What people don’t always advertise about study abroad, in this scenario, is the amount of ridiculous descriptions that you will have to make to get your ideas across language barriers. From describing U.S. pancakes as “soft, flat waffles” to explaining the rules of american football to making up Spanish words for something I forgot how to say, I became comfortable with looking a little silly. However, the frustration of being unable to communicate with one another often subsides into mutual hearty laughter and unforgettable conversation. Thus, this live struggle, instead of relying on dictionaries, allowed me to react to the world around me without the expectation that others would help me.
In all my experiences, I was developing a maturity and independence that I had never before been able to develop. While I never was one to look at the world as a place that would cater to my needs, in my daily life, I used to be the kind of person that would turn up the thermostat if I get cold. Now, my first instinct is to put on a sweater.
The capacity to adapt to your surroundings is not only valuable in terms of becoming more versatile. Adaptability also allows you to go out with a goal that you’ll achieve despite all the chaos the world can bring. For me, this has translated into the pursuit of conducting research abroad for a thesis to be completed by my graduation this December. My ability to change my plans at a moment’s notice or to adapt to necessary changes has allowed me to seek this incredible opportunity, and it will allow me to continue its pursuit as I get closer to achieving my goal. These lofty academic goals are complemented by my personal goal to live, study, and work abroad. Clearly, these plans are inspired and supported by my incredible experience in the long, thin country at the end of the earth. So as I look to my not-so-distant horizons, I’m packing up my bags, grabbing a sweater, and going out into this chaotic world to seek my latest winter in July.
To learn more about my experience abroad, watch my video Planning for Chaos on YouTube or visit my personal blog fancyfreelindsey on Word Press. My work blogging for ISA about my time in Chile can be found here, and if you’re interested in seeing a brief project written in Spanish, check out La Lindsey Enjoyada.