Valparaíso, Chile (ISA) STEP Signature Project Experience

My STEP Signature Project consisted of a study abroad program at Pointicia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, in Chile during the summer of 2018. During this time, I resided with a host family and attended classes to work towards earning my Spanish Degree. After my classes were completed, I spent an additional month volunteering in a medical clinic, where I spent time interacting with patients and assisting local medical staff.

My STEP project dramatically increased my world understanding, giving me a new found cultural competency and allowing me to understand and experience first-hand what it takes to be a global citizen in today’s world. I believe that my STEP project, aside from transforming my language skills, gave me the tools to understand and relate cultural and social differences to different practices and ways of life observed that may be very different from that of my own in the United States. With the help of my host parents, fellow Chilean students, and other students that were a part of my experience, I was really able to open my mind, hearing about new ideas, political views, ways of life, etc. My STEP project made me realize, and appreciate the amazing diversity of the world, and the diversity that exists on my own college campus as well. I was able to observe and have a deeper appreciation for diversity of thoughts, cultural backgrounds and ideas in all faucets of life, but my favorite was in the clinic setting. As a pre-med student with hopes of heading to medical school, being able to observe medicine in an additional context was invaluable to me as I prepare to apply to medical school. I truly believe this, and the personal growth that accompanied my experience will allow me to excel as a physician who is able to break down language barriers and offer a pathway to better public health for immigrants here in the United States.

I believe that the most important and influential influences in my personal growth and transformation during my STEP signature project are as a result of the amazing people I was able to share my experience with, so I would like to take this opportunity to separately address all of the special people who made my experience amazing, and aided in helping me discover so many things about myself that I never knew before.

For starters, my host family who so graciously welcomed me into their home for the three months that I lived in Chile and treated me like their very own daughter. When I received my host family assignment I was honestly a little worried.  Many of my friends’ families were younger, had children, and lived in lovely homes.  My host family on the other hand was an older couple that lived in a lovely, but modest home.  Little did I know that my host Mom and Dad would come to impact my life so dramatically.  Upon my arrival, they showered me with love and affection until the moment I left them.  Every day they went above and beyond to help me adjust to life in Chile and essentially adopted me into their family. My parents taught me Chilean slang, fed me traditional Chilean food, and taught me about history and engaged me in conversation. They had a huge part in m y cultural integration and language learning while abroad. They really showed me that love crosses all cultures and helped me to understand the importance of being able to communicate with all people.

My friends and the fellow students on my trip also helped me to appreciate the diversity that exists not only in Chile but between college students inside of the United States.  I met many students from the United States, from Argentina, and Chile. I even met students from Ohio State that I hadn’t known before the trip, but now consider them to be some of my best friends here on campus. I am so grateful to have met so many amazing people from all over the US and really see the diversity that makes out country so great in action. Through this diversity, I was able to explore many new ideas and points of view. On one occasion, I even went and had coffee with another student from the United States just to have an open chat about some current issues.  I’m not normally one to go out of my way to discuss sensitive issues so it was a little uncomfortable to me but in the end I was glad I did it. I grew a tremendous amount in this way and as a result, feel that I am much more open to different views and opinions and have a new appreciation for diversity.

Lastly, my coworkers at the clinic that I volunteered showed me so much kindness and helped me grow as a person through learning and service. One of the things that I learned from my time in the clinic was that the Chilean healthcare system is very different from what we have here in the United States.  In some ways, their healthcare system is perhaps a little less developed.  One example of this is one day we had a very long meeting about the use of alternative medicine.  In other ways though their healthcare system seems to work better than ours.  One example of this is that all Chileans have a booklet that they keep with them that contains all their medical history and medications.  Also, during pregnancy woman can attend informative meetings about how to have a safe and effective pregnancy and if they attend enough events they have their delivery paid for. From this exchange of ideas and learning more about different health care policies in Chile, I was able to see the importance of being a global citizen because we all could benefit from an open dialogue that focuses on the exchange of ideas and information worldwide.

I believe this change that I observed in my personal, academic, and professional life through my STEP signature project will be absolutely monumental in my future endeavors in all realms of my adult life. I believe that the skills and confidence I gained while studying abroad, combined with the new and deeper global competency and intercultural understanding, I believe that my future holds so many possibilities with these valuable lifelong skills. Not only did my Spanish improve tremendously, I am more confident, and am able to engage people of all different cultures and backgrounds. I believe all these skills will serve me in having a more fulfilled personal life, as well as propel my academic and professional career in medicine where I will be able to better serve my patient population and strive for groundbreaking discoveries in patient care. I believe that this experience will help me reach my ultimate goal of becoming a physician who is able to break down language barriers and instill confidence and trust in their patients through a diverse understanding of culture, language and identity of which is not my own, but still a huge part and influence on the person I am and the story of my personal journey, which was largely influenced by my STEP signature project.

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