I am now about half way through my time abroad and we have a pizza party tomorrow with IFSA to solidify it (yay!). These past few months have consisted of exploring new places, culture and experiences and now I’m looking to what is to come. By the looks of my homework load and wallet size I won’t be able to do anything too crazy but I still want to take advantage of the time that I have left here. My homework for my community and culture class was to come up with mid-semester goals. This concept was both foreign and a little unfamiliar to me but nevertheless thought provoking and interesting to think about. The professor also distinguished the difference between a goal and an expectation—what are the things we hope to gain from this experience opposed to what we expect from it? In other words, what are some tangible things to take away instead of a bucket list of things to be satisfied by. Also, on the same day the writing task was assigned, I received a letter from myself that I wrote before my abroad experience with hopes I had before I left for the summer vacation. It was actually a perfect preface to the assignment and I wanted to share my newly amended goal list (and a few things I’ve already started to work on from that list in just the past few days) with this new insight now that I am familiar with the culture a bit and target areas I can gain more from.
- Getting connected to a Christian community: Although I have been going to church, am in a bible study and read the bible each day I feel as though what I am missing is a more in depth reflection and accountability with what is happening abroad and connecting with other people. One way that I am going to be more reflective upon what I am learning about with my religion is to start compiling a list of take aways and applications to my life. Altogether, this will actually serve as my final essay for my religion course. The class is taught by an amazing professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica and his main goal is that we take something worthwhile away from the class. So when I proposed a comprehensive reflection he was nothing short of ecstatic to hear about my ideas and wasn’t too attached to the idea of a traditional essay. The second part of my amendment to this goal is making connections with people in the community. I have been going to church and have gone to bible study once but it I haven’t really been discussing much with the people around me. So kick off change, on Friday I got together with some of the Chileans from my bible study group and we made pancakes with manjar, strawberries, bananas, apples, tea and chocolate! The food was delectable, but more than that, it was a really great time for us to just sit down, outside of a structured environment of church or bible study, and really talk about how God is and isn’t working in our lives. I want to make more of an effort to meet with Chileans because I think that their perspectives are very unique and I love being able to hear about their lives in a general sense as well (actually continuing this goal tomorrow over lunch with one of the girls!)
- Relationships: One of my main goals of this semester was to make at least one good friend and to pour out my love on them as well as my host family. In terms of friends I have an amazing best friend from the program named Karrin and I feel like our relationship is an excellent mix of cultural engagement where we try to speak Spanish all the time and interact with lots of Chilean people in our spare time, but then also have times where we can just stay in and watch Chilean Netflix and stay up until 5am talking like this past Friday night. A way that I would like to push myself a bit more is to get closer to my Chilean friends; one way that I have already started this is with my friends from church and also through friends that I have already met on my own and with Karrin. In terms of time with my family I feel like the Independence Day holiday really helped with strengthening my relationship with them. I’m trying to spend more time with them by doing my homework along side my 11-year-old brother, Sebastian, staying longer at the dinner table to talk and watching my 9-month-old “niece” whenever her mom is busy. I also spend some evenings playing Just Dance with Sebastian and spinning around my two-year-old “nephew” in a game we made up called manos y abrazos where I hold him in my hands or arms and spin until we crash onto the couch! I also want to try and cook more to give my host grandma a break and I started on Sunday night by cooking once, which is a small dinner that normally consists of toast and tea, and upgraded it a bit by cooked French toast both savory with cheese, and sweet with cinnamon and powdered sugar to satisfy everyone’s taste bud preferences. Overall I just hope to enhance the relationships I’ve already formed especially so that I can connect with the culture as much as possible.
- School/Work: Originally I wrote about remaining a good student and also taking advantage of professional opportunities. In terms of school I feel like I have really been putting in a good effort into my classes even though they’re only pass/fail because I want to gain the most out of my abroad experience and I don’t want to develop any bad habits that continue when I return to the states. One thing that I didn’t anticipate before going abroad is just how time consuming it is to try and truly understand each of the texts in Spanish. Although I can read something and get the general idea of it, it’s very difficult to understand each of the words that make up an assignment. For this goal I want to continue talking to my professors, studying and completing my assignments on time, but I also want to add to be purposeful about understanding each word and concept in its entirety. The other part of this is “professional experience,” which I purposefully kept vague because I wasn’t sure about what kind of opportunities that I could take advantage of before I got here. So far I have accomplished this goal by volunteering as an aid to an English class at a local elementary school in a grade 5 and 1 class. My amendment to this goal now that I have a clearer idea of what I’m working with is to create personal connections with the students that I’m teaching and think of creative ways to teach them the language. Last week I got to practice this by leading the 5th graders in an activity where they practiced the vocabulary that they just learned by forming sentences about seasons, weather and activities associated with the seasons. I tried to make the exercise more interactive by bringing in beanies and sunglasses and based off of the item that they chose to wear they formed a sentence about it and afterwards the rest of the class practiced their pronunciation by repeating the sentence. At first the class was nervous about going up to the front and took turns shouting out different classmates’ names until someone went up. But by the end people were going up in pairs and asking to go up a second time to share! I think this is going to be a really important part of my time abroad because it allows me to not only integrate myself into the culture in a new way but to actually contribute to it as well.
- Adventures: I have now traveled to the north of Chile, the capital and to Argentina so I have met this goal pretty well so far! In a couple of weeks I’ll be traveling to the south with my program for an extended weekend and I’m hopefully going to be traveling for a bigger trip one more time in December. For this goal I just hope to continue to explore with all of the opportunities that I am given and to also take away cultural components of the experiences. In the culture and community class we discussed the difference between being an international student and a tourist and one of the primary differences seemed to be the profundity of the experiences. While you can visit a place for a day, a week or even a month there’s just something different about being immersed in a culture for a more extended period of time. Staying and studying in a different place gives you a sense of responsibility and I hope that in this responsibility that I will not only learn about things in the classroom but that I will also extend my findings to the actual places nearby as well. For our trip to the south of Chile we have already begun to study about the indigenous population, the Mapuche, that live there through watching a documentary about their marginalization in Latin America and even got to talk to the directos afterwards for a question/answer and general discussion period. Therefore in my last “adventures” I hope to take away lessons about the culture in order to gain a deeper understanding of Chile.
For all of you currently studying abroad or thinking about going abroad in the future I highly recommend a mid-semester goals list. So often we get preoccupied with expectations before traveling and can be left with regrets at the end with what you missed–especially the things that you can’t get from temporary visits. However this is a great exercise to come up with comprehensive goals from a unique perspective where you are able to have some context with what you’re working with but also have time left to achieve new things. And, if you’re writing about it on a public forum like I am, you have an audience to keep you accountable and I hope you readers will do just that