Exploring and Understanding Chile

1. My STEP Signature Project is a study abroad experience in Chile. I took classes for 4 weeks at a local university, and now I’m starting a 6-week service-learning experience at a children’s rehabilitation center. Additionally, during my time here I have been living with a host family, so I am really being integrated into the culture.

2. In the 4 weeks that I have been here so far I have definitely noticed a difference in my Spanish-speaking abilities. Not only that, but I have learned a lot about Chilean culture and history. Being in a classroom can only teach you so much about a language or a culture. You have to actually go experience the place to fully understand what it’s all about. Before this experience I didn’t know anything about Chile, and I just lumped all of the South American countries together into one group. Now I have learned that each country in South America is truly distinct. I have learned a little bit about their similarities, and a little bit about their differences.

I have also learned some things about the U.S. and our involvement in the development of these countries that I was never taught before in the U.S. I can’t say that I was proud of my country when I learned these things, but it also really forced me to begin to question more things. Not just about the U.S. government’s past, but also in my own beliefs. I have been faced with a lot of cultural differences here in Chile. I can’t say that Chile’s way of doing things is better or worse than the U.S.’s way of doing things—they are just different.

3. The factor that has had the biggest impact on me is probably my host family. They are so kind and have really welcomed me into their family as if I was their own daughter. They have made every effort to show me their culture and their city. They are as interested in learning as much about my culture as I am interested about learning theirs.

Secondly, my classes also had a great impact on me. Even though I was in classes with only other foreigners, I learned so much about Chile’s culture and history. My teachers weren’t robots. They give me their honest opinions on things instead of just reciting the facts. I think their genuine opinions really helped me better understand the kind of emotions that were, and still are, felt about certain topics and events in Chile.

Finally, just walking around town doing daily tasks has helped me better understand the culture as well. I can observe how things work from a far, and also within the interactions I have with people. Of course people know I am a foreigner so they treat me a little different and stare at me a little too long, but even that helps me understand a little bit about their culture.

4. One of my personal goals for this trip was to improve my Spanish proficiency. Already I can see a huge jump from the day I got here to now. I can understand the fast and “messy” Chilean dialect, and my speaking has made some big improvements too. I can credit this to my family and professors who talked to me as if I were any other Spanish-speaker and didn’t slow down or change their manner of speech for me. Also, after completing my classes I have completed all of the credits that I need to fulfill my Spanish minor. As for my professional goals, I will see what happens in the next month and a half at my service-learning placement in the local children’s rehabilitation center.

Link to blog: www.accordingtothegringa.tumblr.com

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