Katie Schmid, Argentina & Chile, Human Rights & Cultural Memory, Buenos Aires & Santiago (Sociology)

  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

I was definitely worried about the language barrier before going abroad. I had only gotten up to Spanish 3 by the time of my departure, so I was nowhere near fluent. Once I got to South America, however, I realized all that mattered was a basic understanding and a willingness to try. My host family in Argentina was so patient with me. They helped me learn new words and always engaged in conversation with me, even when I was nervous! By the end of my stay with them, they were encouraging me and telling me how much I’d improved! Practicing my Spanish turned out to be one of my favorite parts of being abroad.

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2. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

I wish I had researched more about the culture and demographics in Argentina and Chile. Argentina especially turned out to be much different than I was expecting. I had a lot of preconceived (and pretty ignorant) ideas about what I imagined a South American city to look like. When I got to Buenos Aires, I had no idea how European-influenced the city would be, and how many people there were of European decent. I wish I would have done my research to prepare a little bit more for this kind of Western setting, rather than making assumptions that weren’t based in fact.

3. What were your favorite classes abroad? How did they compare to UCSB?

The classes in both Argentina and Chile were extremely interesting. Since our program was human rights based, our classes focused on the political histories of the countries, issues of poverty, spaces of memory, and more rights-based material. It was fascinating to learn so much about the political and cultural histories in both countries, especially from the perspective of professors who had lived through events such as dictatorships in both places. My favorite class was the Poverty & Development class in Chile, because it was taught by a professor who worked to protect human rights during the dictatorship in Chile.

4. What is one of your best memories from abroad?

Definitely my trip to Patagonia at the end of the program. I was able to travel down to Torres del Paine, Patagonia with four friends from my program to backpack the W trail for five days (my first ever backpacking trip)!! It was the most beautiful, rewarding, and amazing experience. Not to mention, an awesome bonding experience with four new friends from my program. I would highly recommend anyone studying in South America to make a Patagonia trip your #1 priority!

5. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge abroad was finding a healthy balance between social life, academic life, keeping in touch with family back home, and my own mental health. It can be really overwhelming at times being abroad, because you feel intense pressure to participate in absolutely everything you can. While it’s really important to adventure and seize the day, it’s also totally fine to just go home and take a nap some days. Even when you’re abroad, lazy days are necessary.Argenina_Katie Schmid2.jpg

6. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

I had a unique experience in having two host cultures! In Argentina, I really admire how passionately political they are. Everyone seems to care about some issue, whether it be education, reproductive rights, wage inequality, etc… and there are protests almost every day! In Chile, I love how kind and accepting they are. Our whole program felt very welcomed into Chilean society, and it really felt like there was a place for everyone there.

7. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us
about your experience.

No, unfortunately it’s hard to intern during my program because we are in each city for such a limited amount of time (about 6 weeks in each place). However in both cities, our orientation leaders and professors did mention that if anyone was ever planning to be back in Argentina/Chile or was staying after the program, they’d be happy to connect them to volunteer and internship opportunities in the human rights field.

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8. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

CHORIPAN!!!!! I cannot stress enough how delicious choripan is. Chori = chorizo (Argentine sausage), and pan = bread. It’s basically a sandwich of meat and bread with delicious chimichurri sauce. This is a staple dish in Argentina and can be purchased from most street vendors and restaurants for cheap! (Don’t buy choripan in Chile…it’s not the same) Chilean food was nice because Argentine food choices are very limited (lots of bread, pasta, cheese, and meat), so after being there for six weeks the diversity of Chilean food (sushi, fish, multicultural food, etc.) was really nice.

9. How have you changed since your time abroad?

I think the biggest thing I learned while abroad is how much I don’t know. I went to both countries with certain expectations that ended up being totally wrong. I learned so much about the political histories of both countries that I never knew before. I learned from the people in my program about how to be a better ally and activist in my own community. I learned how to be a more ethical, aware, and respectful traveler. My study abroad experience definitely reminded me that there is always more to learn and room to improve when it comes to respecting the cultures of others.

10. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

I would advise them to really think about why you want to go to a certain country, and try to travel to a place for the right reasons. I think sometimes our abroad experiences can be kind of selfish, because we’re paying so much money to be there and it’s such a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. With that mindset it can also be easy to get disappointed if something doesn’t live up to sort of artificial expectations we had. Always be aware of the culture you are coming into, and the ways you may have to alter your behavior or change your expectations appropriately. Don’t be afraid to make friends outside the program, or to travel alone and enjoy solo experiences (as long as you can do so safely)! Definitely make an attempt to learn the language of wherever you’re going. Overall, just to have fun and enjoy the experience, but also try to be as respectful as possible and adapt to the culture that you have the privilege of living in.

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