Follow eight Otterbein undergrads as we travel through Chile and Argentina January 2-29!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Home at Last

First and foremost, I owe every one of our followers my apologies for not updating after our adventure in Argentina. I'm sure everyone has by now heard the details, so I will just say that we were  incredibly busy enjoying our last few days in Chile (and hindered by spot internet connections). I am absolutely floored by all the support we have been shown by visits and comments on our posts!

Each of us has been asked to write a reflection on the trip to be read by professors of Otterbein's Modern Languages department, the dean, and our peers. It was my first attempt at writing, in just a few short pages, how much this trip meant to me and how much I was affected. I would like to share it with you all here. :) I would like to encourage my fellow Gringos to post or email me theirs as well, so it can be read by our blog followers!

Discovering Argentina and Chile

    The twenty-six days that Dr. Carmen Galarce, my seven fellow students, and I spent in South America were packed with frenzied activity and unforgettable experiences. We spent one day in Santiago followed by two weeks in Valdivia, a weekend in Pucón, one day in San Martín, several days in Bariloche, and a week in Viña del Mar. While in Valdivia, we stayed with host families and attended Spanish language and culture classes at the Windsor School. In the other cities, our group toured, took part in special activities like white-water rafting and hiking, and interacted with native Chileans and Argentinians. This trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that not only improved my Spanish but also challenged me as a citizen of the world.

    Although I have studied Spanish for eight years, it is only after this study-abroad opportunity that I consider myself fluent. My listening skills have improved dramatically. After all the new vocabulary I learned and my exposure to the pronunciation of native speakers while studying abroad, translation is no longer a tedious process. Being forced out of my comfort zone and into a Spanish-language mindset also improved my speaking abilities: I am able to speak more coherently, at a quicker pace, and with a much better accent after my time abroad. There is truly nothing comparable to immersion to master a foreign language: every conversation, television show, or street sign was an opportunity to learn something new. My peers and I especially benefitted from the unique opportunity to live with a Spanish-speaking family while also having our fellow students and Dr. Galarce to refer to for help.

    Our trip also gave me an unparalleled opportunity to become more familiar with Chilean culture. Staying in their country allowed me to put cultural facts I had learned in class put into real-life practice. I got to witness and interact with an unfamiliar culture which affected all the aspects of real peoples’ lives. Although I could spend years abroad and never learn all there is to know about this rich culture, I feel truly blessed to have it so intimately shared with me by my host family, Chilean friends, and professors during my short time abroad. It simply is not enough to say that I fell in love with the people I met in South America.

    Even beyond improving my Spanish-language skills, studying abroad had a profound affect on my very being. I am impossibly glad that I chose to board the plane to Santiago and venture outside the United States for the first time. Each day, I was struck by the realization of how much more there is in the world than I had imagined. From reconsidering America’s standards of beauty to confronting varying and confusing cultural norms, my up-close experience with Chile and Argentina made me a more open-minded and well-rounded individual. My interactions abroad helped me form a more complete view of the world; this trip was my first step in stripping away the blinders of inexperience that have narrowed my worldview. I am now not only determined to revisit Chile, but to travel to other parts of the world as an eager and avid student.

    Before we left, Dr. Galarce promised us, “The person who will pass through customs on his/her way home won’t be the same person who arrived in Chile.” She could not have been more accurate. For me, our entire adventure in Chile was a learning process. There were so many moments in which I recognized great changes occurring- from the first time I held an entire conversation with my host family to the day I understood every word in a Chilean soap opera- but one shines especially brightly in my memory. In Pucón, I went white-water rafting for the first time. Halfway through, we were given the option to exit the raft and jump off a thirty-foot cliff into the water below. I can assure you that the woman who cried leaving her family to board the plane to Santiago would never even have ventured to peer over the edge.  However, surrounded by the beauty of this exhilarating country and wrapped in the support of my new friends and professor, I jumped. The woman who took that plunge was a braver and much more independent one, who in fact shed tears upon departing Chile.

    I am eternally grateful to Carmen and her sister Natacha Galarce for their unfailing guidance, and to Otterbein University and its Modern Languages department for making this trip possible. It was life-altering and enlightening in ways I could never have predicted, and I hope that future students will have the same incredible opportunity that we did.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

San Martín

Yesterday, our group crossed the boarder between Chile and Argentina by boat to reach the beautiful little town of San Martín. A few of us girls found the most adorable coffee shop while the others did some shopping and unwinding after our trek. After breakfast this morning, we made the five-hour drive to Bariloche, Argentina. In this charming city of chocolate shops, cafes, restaurants, and beaches, we'll spend the next three days touring, shopping, bonding as a group, and of course practicing our Spanish as we become acquainted with Argentinian culture before we return to Valdivia and our host families.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to let a few of the other students say a few words about their experience so far on this trip:

"I'm having the best time of my life here in Chile. All the locals are so nice, especially my host family. I'm learning a lot about their culture and the Chilean Spanish."
- Justin Cox

"This trip has helped me as a Spanish language student, and also as a student of the world."
- Theresa Howe

"Studying in Chile has been the greatest, life-changing adventure. I feel so comfortable that sometimes I forget how far I am from home. I'm homesick, and I never want to leave."
- Joe Lucas

"Words don't suffice. Let's just say it's been the trip of a lifetime."
- Kaitlin Houdek

Travelling is too much fun!

Loving the warm weather in South America

Trying Chile´s best beer (well, some of us)!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Valdivia and Pucón

It's hard to believe that we've reached the halfway point of our adventure in Chile. We've had an incredible amount of fun and learned so much... if I had a dollar for every time one of us said, "I don't want to leave Chile..." Well, I'd probably have enough money for all of us to stay.

Today is our last day of classes here in Valdivia. We are presenting the artwork, poetry, theatrical pieces, and presentations we've worked on since we arrived. I could not have asked for more enthusiastic, patient, or knowledgable professors to have worked with. Otterbein's partnership with the Windsor School has benefitted the students on this trip so much.

Over the weekend, our group made the two-hour drive to a breathtaking town called Pucón: essentially, a beach nestled between a lake and a volcano. We bathed in the natural hot springs and the entire group went white-water rafting, which was both the most terrifying and exhilerating experience of my life. At one point, we had the option to exit the raft and make a 30-foot jump off a cliff into the water below. I can assure you that the woman who boarded the plane from Atlanta to Santiago never would have taken the plunge- but Saturday, I jumped. This adventure in Chile, surrounded by my professors and new friends, has made me not just a better Spanish speaker, but a more adventurous and self-reliant individual. I think the same could be said of every one of us.

The students on this trip (some of which knew each other, but many did not) have become incredibly close. I have never met more interesting, fun, genuinely caring people in my life- you all have made this trip what it is for me, and I am blessed to be sharing this adventure with you. Anyone who is considering studying abroad, on this trip or another, should know that they will be making friends for life.

Tomorrow morning, our group leaves for a new, week-long adventure in Argentina. We are all excited to see what this new country will have in store for us.

As promised, here are some pictures from our adventure so far!

Looking at Chile's natural beauty

After white-water rafting in Pucón

Climbing the mountains of Oncól

At "Calle Calle," the river that runs through Valdivia

La playa (the beach)!

Trying Chilean food at a fería!

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Today is our fifth day in Valdivia. There is so much to say, I'm not sure I can fit it in one blog post (but I'll sure try)!

We took an overnight "cama" bus (the most comfortable type offered) from Santiago to Valdivia. There we toured the Windsor School, met our professors, and settled in with our host families. It's safe to say that we've all had a bit of a culture shock- for example, my family speaks no English at all. However, every one of us has great things to say about our experience so far. My family has done everything possible to make me comfortable. My "adoptive mom" and I have spent many hours sitting by the river and chatting in Spanish; she's always willing to drive me into el centro so the other students and I can go shopping, eat out, and explore the town. Most of us have host siblings who have learned some English in school. They often accompany us, show us arond town, and help us with our Spanish while we help them with their English.

Valdivia itself is strikingly beautiful. They call it the "city of rivers:" it is bordered on one side by mountains, by the beach just a few minutes in the other direction, and through the center of the city runs a huge river. My family lives about fifteen minutes from el centro, so every time I go to school I get to cross the river and witness the breathtaking view. I keep telling my family that I have never before seen such color or natural beauty.

In the six days we've been here, my Spanish has improved dramatically. I can speak faster, clearer, and with a better accent. Everyone in Valdivia is so eager to help that, even though we are 5,000 miles from Ohio, I feel at home.

This week, we will attend language classes at the Windsor School during the day and spend evenings with our family or out on the town with our new Chilean amigos. This weekend, we begin touring Chile and Argentina with our group!

More posts and pictures will be coming very soon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


We landed safely Santiago, Chile around 9 this morning! While there's nothing fun about a ten-hour flight, we were all so excited that nobody minded.

Alongside Professor Galarce and her sister, Natasha, we had a wonderful tour guide named Sam who led us through the streets of Santiago. We saw Chile's largest cathedral, toured a peace memorial for its citizens kidnapped during Pinochet's military dictatorship, found a Chilean Starbucks (!!!), and adventured through several marketplaces.

Everyone is thoroughly exhausted from the traveling, but we are so excited to become better acquainted with Chile. I have to say that in my eight years of studying, my Spanish language skills have never been so challenged; every conversation, every purchase, and every sign I saw today was a chance to learn something new. I see now why my professors insist that Spanish majors spend some time abroad.

In just a few minutes, we'll be embarking on a 10-hour bus ride to meet our host families in Valdivia. :) ¡Hasta mañana!

¡Bienvenidos a Chile!
We stand on a ridge overlooking Santiago

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Queridos Estudiantes (Dear Students):

Queridos estudiantes:

You are going to start an incredible journey that will change your lives forever. Living abroad strips away many of the things that previously defined yourselves: your language, your family, your friends and your culture. You will be left standing naked in a strange land and exposed to many things from the new environment that may seem unexplainable and unreasonable. But you will survive! I assure you that the person who will pass through customs on his/her way home won’t be the same person who arrived in Chile: you will evolve, and Chile will affect you in many ways.

You are going to the longest country in the world. Superimposed on a map of the United States, Chile would stretch from Maine to Southern California. On a map of Europe, Chile would stretch from Moscow to Lisbon. It is 4,270 kilometers (2,647 miles) long, yet averages only 177 kms. (110 miles) across.

You will be living and exploring the South notable for its beautiful scenery, including volcanoes, lakes, forests and rivers. It is one of the biggest tourist destinations in South America.

So, queridos estudiantes, relax and enjoy the trip!!

Dr. Galarce

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Preparativos (Preparations)

I can hardly believe that in six days, we will be on a plane to Chile! We have spent the last few weeks bonding as a group, spending the holidays with family, and anxiously preparing for the trip. What an incredible opportunity we've been given by our family, professors, and university.

We will leave Atlanta Monday evening and land in Santiago at 8am Tuesday morning. We'll spend a few days exploring the city, then head to Valdivia to meet our host families.

Our next blog will come from Santiago, Chile.
¡Hasta luego!

Our Chile group!