For my STEP project, I chose to study abroad in Chile for a month and a half. During this time, I lived with a host family and attended classes at PUCV, the city’s university. While in Chile, I got to enjoy two of the things I love most: travel and nature. I was able to meet new people and experience a different culture as I traveled the county’s diverse landscape of mountains, oceans, and deserts. Yet, even after a month and a half in the country—more time than I had ever been abroad previously—it was still not enough. When it came time to leave, I felt like I had barely scraped the surface.
Despite this feeling, my time in Chile was transformational, especially in respect to my understanding of global interactions. Personally, the most surprising part was the amount I learned about our own country, the United States. It is sometimes said that the winners are the ones who write history. After being in Chile, I completely agree. Although I am a Spanish major, being in Chile, in my classes and interactions with locals, I felt like I was learning about Latin American history for the first time in my life. I had heard about some of the major events and people before—Pinochet, Allende, the coup in Chile, and Operation Condor—yet never understood their significance to Latin America nor the role that the United States had in these events. Through my STEP project, I discovered a whole new perspective of the United States, another side to the story. From my Chilean professors and family, I heard about the United State’s pattern of interference in Latin America. Unfortunately, this pattern often consisted in the US interfering for its own benefit (under the guise of anti-leftist governments such as communism or Marxism) at the expense of Latin American countries.
Before Chile, I had little idea of why countries would dislike the United States or that such sentiments could be so potent. After, I am both knowledgeable and aware of these feelings and can understand their origins. I feel that I am more politically and culturally aware and have a more global perspective on how the actions of our countries can affect others.
There are a few central events and people that led to this transformation. First and foremost, the classes that I took in Chile really helped to broaden my perspective on interactions between the United States and South America. The two classes that I took were the Sociopolitical History of Latin America and Human Rights in Latin America. Between the two, I was able to hear Chile’s side of history and learned a lot about our own country.
One of the more surprising things I learned was the role the United States played in helping to overthrow Salvador Allende and in Pinochet’s rise to power. For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, Salvador Allende was a socialist president elected in 1970. Three years later, he was overthrown in a coup that led to the rule of Pinochet—a dictator of 17 years responsible for thousands of disappearances and death. Although I had heard these names previously, I never realized the gravity of the situation. I discovered that the US took drastic measurements, such as stopping almost all economic aid to Chile, in order to combat Allende’s socialist government. I also found out that the United States interference with Chile was not isolated; it is one of many instances in which the US has worked against “the evil” of leftist governments (communism, Marxism, etc). Unfortunately, like Chile, many of these efforts led to dictatorships and unlawful rule.
After learning all of this, I realized that my knowledge of history has been completely one-sided. I have only ever really heard the United State’s version, which seems to have skipped over these not so great details. Moreover, these experiences made me question some of my views/beliefs about leftist governments. Although I still believe democracy is the best option, I now see that those types of governments are not necessarily as dangerous or terrible as I had thought.
I know that, so far, my account of my STEP project may seem dismal—learning about the not so great history of the US and Latin America. This is because this knowledge was the transformational part of my experience. Before going, I thought that I wanted to travel and teach English in foreign countries after graduation; my trip confirmed this. Seeing the beauty of Chile and interacting with locals made me positive that traveling is something I want to do throughout my entire life and career. Though this confirmation was reassuring, it was not a change. Instead, I was transformed by the Chilean account of history. Discovering how the United States interfered in Chile and other South American countries and, more importantly, the result of these interferences gave me a new perspective on our country and world interactions. It made me more conscious of the United State’s role as a global power and how our country affects others, especially developing countries. As I move past college, I will use this knowledge to search for careers. After I teach English abroad for a few years, I plan to return to the US. Knowing this history makes me interested in working in some type of foreign affairs or for the government so I may be able to make a stand against these types of actions in the future.