For my STEP signature project, I choose to do a study abroad trip to Chile that focused on the agroecosystems and agroeconomics of the country. We visited a lot of different farms and agricultural facilities where I got the chance to learn about Chilean culture and agricultural practices. We also got the chance to see a large part of the country ranging from Puerto Varas to La Serena.
This trip allowed me to see into a whole new world allowing me to grow in my understanding of the world around me and myself. One assumption about the world that this trip changed for me was that climate change was a touchy subject, like it is in the United States, all across the world. While I was in Chile, I found that climate change to Chileans was a simple fact that everyone believed was impacting their life in major ways. Another personal area of growth was my ability to communicate with others. Going into the trip I had only ever been to one other place that spoke Spanish as their main language and that was four years ago. Upon arriving I realized that my Spanish was a little rusty but as the trip went on I gained confidence in my abilities to communicate with the Chileans. I got the chance to learn more about agriculture and sustainability through visits to farms, fruit production facilities, research stations, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
These transformations happened throughout the entire trip. The largest impact was caused by my fellow travelers. Through the trip we had multiple different Chileans from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile join us. The Chileans from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile not only helped plan what we were doing throughout the trip but also gave me great insight on many different aspects of Chilean culture.
Throughout the trip, we also visited different types of farms with some amazing tour guides. I learned so much about different sections of agriculture, including the dairy, fruit, and vegetable productions. We even went to a fruit research center that had a bunch of different types of fruit ranging from common fruits in the United States, such as oranges to fruits found only in South America such as cherimoya and loquats. One interesting thing that the research center was working on was the best ways to grow oranges. We also visited a dairy farm where they were using the milk of their own cows to produce dulce de leche and cheese. The tours that we went on allowed me to gain more knowledge and a deeper understanding of the agricultural industry.
Overall, the country was just breathtaking, everywhere you looked there were mountains and volcanos. In Puerto Varas, you could see three volcanos across the lake from the city. The southern parts of Chile were so lush but as we traveled north this changed to desert-like conditions. The Northern parts of Chile were still home to many different plant and animal species. This trip was the first time I had ever been anywhere close to a desert. In my mind, a desert was barren and unbearably hot but the lower edge of the Atacama Desert was nothing like that. While driving we saw a lot of different animals ranging from guanaco to goats. Also, there were a lot more plants than I thought there would be.
This trip was significant in many ways both academically and personally. Academically, I learned a lot about agriculture and ecology that I did not know before taking the class and trip. This knowledge can help me to communicate with some of the other specializations within my major. Personally, I got to experience a new place and meet new people that have helped to shape who I am today. Growing up, it was always a personal goal of mine to do an education abroad in college. I will never forget the beauty of Chile and the amazing people that I met along this trip.