This semester’s tests and papers have been replaced with hiking in the Andes Mountains, biking through the Atacama Desert and cliff diving in Southern Chile. Bienvenido a mi vida! As crazy as it sounds, this is my life for six months as an American student living and studying in Santiago, Chile.
I’m sharing some of the amazing experiences I’ve had this semester in the hope that I can help those of you who are in the same place I was last year – trying to decide where on earth you should study abroad.
If someone gave you the chance to travel to an affordable place that would allow you to grow intellectually, physically and spiritually, you’d be a little loco if you didn’t grab it at the get-go.
I’m often asked why I chose South America over Europe, and I can’t exactly place my finger on why I chose Chile; I think that, maybe, the country might have chosen me.
Perhaps I was drawn in by Patagonia, the Andes Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama Desert, the intriguing cultural differences of Chileans compared to Americans, or even the mere fact that it’s on the opposite side of the world than any place I’ve ever visited. Whatever the reason, my independent, curious spirit hopped on the plane and flew 16 hours to get to where I sit typing today, at my dining room table in the small mustard yellow house nestled between the foothills of the Andes mountains.
Since I’ve been in Chile, I’ve learned more about the world and myself than I ever have in such a short period of time. People travel for many reasons, but in the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
Living in South America has forced me to get outside of my comfort zone, and it’s given me a chance to learn and grow as a person. Today, I see humanity from a very different, unique angle. I’ve learned how America is more than just the U.S.A, it’s South America and Central America, with a profundity and philosophy of life that vibrates and shines.
One of my schoolmates living here also explained his decision to come to South America in a way that captured it perfectly. “Your money will go far and you will have time to really enjoy yourself. You could be here for a year if you wanted, whereas in Europe, three to six weeks. I was surprised at how incredible it is,” he said.
“There is an enormous amount of things to see and do. You won’t always have the time in life to travel on a snail’s pace as long as you desire…. It will be an experience that will not only teach you about yourself and your own desires in the world, but [also] help you really grow as a person. If you travel fast on a budget and are always worried about time…you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities and simply visit a place, but never really get to know it on a personal level.”
“You’ll be able to say you’ve been there, but not have a deep connection with the area.”
Traveling to the southern-most tip of the world would encourage a change of attitude. Now that I’ve been to Chile I know I’ll never be able to look at the sunset, ocean, a smile or even a kiss on the cheek the same way.
I’ve gotten to know a different culture and country, as opposed to being a typical tourist. Who knows where this knowledge may take me in my lifetime, paired with my brazen spirit and independence that have blossomed while I’ve lived and studied here. Not only will I have this personal audacity that I’ve gained from my trip, but I’ll be fluent in another language, which is a skill that will make my resume stand out like a blonde American in a sea of Chileans.
I know, for a fact, that being here has been a life changing experience. Whether it was Chile that chose me, or just fate, I have no regrets.
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