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.