Micaiah A., Chile- Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (Biology)

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The Chilean Universities program immersed me completely in the crazy and beautiful culture of South America, I learned to speak Spanish in a way I never had before and made many local friends I will cherish for the rest of my life. Keep reading to learn more about it!

ACADEMICS

  1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?

I took classes that would qualify for the upper division electives portion of my Spanish minor and GE courses. I found the academics of Pontificia Universidad Católica to be similar to those of UCSB though it was very different taking non-STEM classes. I attended normal university courses taught completely in Spanish which was a challenge but also lots of fun and a great learning experience.

  1. What was your favorite class abroad?

My favorite class was contemporary theater. I loved it because the professor was very enthusiastic and the class had great discussions. With this course we attended different plays around Santiago which was an amazing cultural opportunity.

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

Yes, I interned with a government-funded public service organization called Parque Metropolitano. This is an environmental education company that runs the largest urban park in Latin America as well a system of 20 other urban parks within the city of Santiago. I was able to choose my own project to work on under the supervision of a professor. I worked studying bees in the artificial hives within the park, observing their movements and then preparing and delivering presentations about them to groups of elementary school students. Additionally, I worked doing weeding and caring for plants that bees are drawn to in the native plant nursery. This experience was a great way to integrate myself even more in the Chilean life and gain skills in research and communication.

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HOST INSTITUTION

  1. How would you describe your host institution?

The host institution I attended was a very prestigious private Catholic school. I really enjoyed attending PUC as the campuses are beautiful, the professors are highly qualified, and the course work felt challenging enough to keep me engaged. This school is also less affected by strikes which are common in Chile and it is nice that the coursework is not interrupted. The drawback of this university is that the student body is generally quite wealthy so it provides and very singular view of what Chilean university students are like.

  1. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

Yes, there are lots of clubs and organizations on campus and within the city for exchange students to join. While I wasn’t involved in any of these, I had many friends that were. While attending school I did participate in a weekly Pilates class held in the school gym.

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HOUSING

  1. Describe your housing situation.

For the first month of my program I lived with a host family, as did the rest of the students in my program. After this time I moved in with a group of Chilean students in an apartment which was recommended to me by a UC student who was just finishing her year abroad. The apartment, which I shared with 3 boys, was 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and located in a central neighborhood in Santiago.

FOOD

  1. Where did you eat most of your meals?

Most of my meals I cooked at home or bought from vendors on campus.

  1. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

Groceries cost much less in Chile than they do in the United States, especially California. Generally buying groceries to cook is a better option for the budget than is eating out, however I do think that exploring local restaurants is an important part of getting to know a city. An average trip to the grocery store would usually cost me less than $20.

  1. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

Living in Chile would be a bit difficult for vegetarians and vegans because the diet there revolves highly around meat. However, it is do-able, and I know students who made it work. I have a very serious tree nut allergy which is challenging to navigate in any country. Chileans are generally kind about these types of restrictions, though on average a bit less understanding than Americans as severe allergies are simply not as common in other countries. 

  1. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience was actually the very first night I arrived in Santiago. I got off the airplane with some girls who I had met briefly when turning in my application and with whom I had planned to stay in a hostel the first night in Chile. We just searched for some restaurants near us and found one called BocaNariz which turned out to be one of the best restaurants in the city. It had a really fun wine tasting menu and some of the best food I had my whole time abroad.

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

One local food I really miss is empanadas. I had not tried one before arriving in Chile, but they are a staple snack there and very tasty. Chilean wine is also very good!

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HOST CITY

  1. Describe your host city.

Santiago is an interesting city as it has aspects in which it is bustling and aspects in which it feels sleepy. Being the capital of the country, it is a great place to see historical monuments, important government buildings, and art museums. The people there are very politically active which is really great to see, but important to be aware of so as not to get into trouble. The city is filled with immigrants and the Chileans are welcoming to all.

  1. Was it easy to get around?

Public transportation is very efficient and very easy to use. Almost all neighborhoods of Santiago are well connected to the metro system which is a really fast way to get around. Additionally Uber is relatively cheap and it is a great city for walking.

  1. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

I felt very safe throughout my time in Chile. Many people don’t believe me, but I felt significantly safer in Santiago than I do in many cities within the US. General safety tips are still important to remember such as not speaking too loud in English, walking around late at night, or going by yourself to neighborhoods you are not familiar with. The one safety tip that’s important for Santiago in particular is to always be aware of political protests taking place throughout the city. These are often nonviolent but you can never be sure and the police are quick to spray the crowd with tear gas.

  1. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

Some great things I did in Santiago were hiking in the park, visiting museums, attending cueca and salsa dance lessons, shopping at the large outdoor fruit and vegetable markets, and going to yoga in the park.

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HOST CULTURE

  1. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

One cultural difference is the touchiness and familiarity of Chilean culture compared to ours. For example, women greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek, even in formal business settings. Another example is the willingness of the people there to ask you about your religion or political views and then bluntly share their own opinions which is very unusual here.

  1. How did you handle culture shock?

For me, adjusting to the culture was not nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. People in Chile are incredible warm and open to foreigners, especially in a large metropolitan city such as Santiago. Living with a host family in the beginning of my program allowed me to quickly be submersed in this foreign culture and I would suggest anybody going abroad to immerse themselves as much as they can immediately in order to make the transition smoother.

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

My favorite aspect of Chilean culture is the way that people who have just met act as if they’ve known each other for a lifetime. This begins from the very first minute people meet when they great each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. They are willing to share their true opinions frequently, even on sensitive topics, and don’t feel any need to put up a mask or hide who they are when meeting someone new. This allows everyone to form much more intimate bonds with those around them which I think is a really beautiful thing.

TRAVEL

  1. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

My favorite travel experience was at the very end of my program when I chose to take a trip by myself, which I had never done before. I went to the Atacama Desert located in northern Chile and to Bolivia. Though going to Bolivia by myself, especially as a woman, was a daunting experience, I found it so liberating and eye-opening. This experience allowed me to meet so many people from so many different cultures and really experience the Bolivian culture as I didn’t have a group of American friends to shelter me. While visiting the capital city of Sucre I met a Bolivian woman who showed me around and taught me about the local culture and her kindness really made my trip.

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REFLECTION

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

Really everything that I was nervous about before leaving turned out to be no big deal. Everything from finding an apartment to choosing classes to navigating a new city are things that we are all capable of when we trust ourselves and accept the experience for what it is. Yes, going abroad is a challenge, but it one that we as UCSB students are up for.

  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge was dealing with my nut allergy which is very serious. It was scary having to trust others on what was in different foods and seeing the way that ambulances just sit in traffic there didn’t help. However, having loyal friends who understood the problem and were ready to take care of me really helped.

  1. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

After going abroad, I feel that one of the biggest ways in which I have changed is the way that I interact with others. I try to take the familiarity with others that I picked up in Chile and bring that to the United States. I also learned truly how long a weekend is when I went abroad. Being back at school here I try to continue to do as much as I can on the weekends and realize that there is always time for the things I love even when schoolwork seems overwhelming.

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

My advice to prospective students would be to be a part of their host culture as much as is physically possible. To me, this is the most meaningful part of living in another country and will make you feel at home so much more quickly. To achieve this, try to make friends and/or live with local students, speak the native language almost constantly, or apply to an internship or job where you can meet locals your own age.

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