Experience Study Abroad: IES Chile

Although the COVID-19 pandemic certainly impeded study abroad opportunities, some of our students were still able to have incredible experiences abroad! Check out Emma’s reflection on how perseverance and openness led to a Chilean adventure!

I felt overwhelmingly anxious the morning of February 27th, 2022, when I woke up to go to the airport to start my study abroad experience. Even though I had studied abroad before in a short summer program that did not change the amount of nerves I had due to the fact that it was a new country, I lacked confidence in my Spanish abilities, there were a lot of complications to enter the country due to COVID, I did not know anyone in the program and it was going to be the longest time I was away from home. Once at the airport, my original flight was canceled as I was checking in. I felt as though the universe was telling me that I should not go. Everything seemed to be going wrong, that is, until I sat down on my rescheduled flight, and everything started to go right.

I attended an IES study abroad program in Santiago, Chile for 14 weeks during the spring semester of 2022. The program’s focus was health studies, and I had the opportunity to take classes to learn more about the Chilean health system, medical terminology in Spanish, native cultures, and the Spanish language in context. In addition, I was able to participate at a local university (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) in a buddy program that paired us with local Chilean students, as well as participate in the community by observing prevention health centers, hospitals, clinics, and indigenous tribe medical centers through shadowing medical professionals. 

A tour of the hospital Felix Bulnes Cerda, a very large public hospital located in a more vulnerable neighborhood in Santiago. We met the director of the hospital and discussed the importance of prevention in healthcare.

The truth is, I originally planned to do this program in the fall semester of 2020. I applied every semester since then with the hopes that the pandemic would end. For three semesters I was sorely disappointed when they decided to not run the program but understood why they could not. My hopes were honestly still low when I applied for the spring 2022 semester. Not only was it my last chance to study abroad since I would be set to graduate, but Chile also seemed to be very strict regarding COVID. Even as things seemed to be going in motion, I felt deep down that I still was not going to be able to go. While the country opened their borders and my advisors sounded hopeful, they were still not 100% sure the program would be able to run. During this time of uncertainty, I also faced many barriers in obtaining the student visa, my mobility pass (a document registered with the Chilean government to show that you are vaccinated against the coronavirus) and a traveler’s affidavit. However, as time went on, things started to fall into place, and I was able to get all the materials I needed to enter the country successfully. It may sound lame, but after waiting for over a year, one highlight for me was being able to enter the country and have this incredible experience.

The first week I learned many new sayings and words from Chilean slang like “pololo” to say boyfriend instead of the popular Spanish word “novio” to even more simple things like “esta noche” which is used to say tonight and “anoche” which is used to say last night. The first couple weeks I would find myself asking many Chileans to repeat what they had said because I did not understand the slang. In addition, I was corrected often by others to speak more grammatically correct Spanish. At the beginning this was good because I would re hear the different slang words and start to learn the correct ways to speak. However, after a few weeks it got to be irritating. Not being able to understand was more of a nuisance, why couldn’t they use the Spanish words that I learned. Or when someone would correct my Spanish and it would be the tiniest of errors that did not necessarily impede the other person from understanding what I was saying would get bothersome. Even hearing children in public speak better Spanish than me was a sad realization for a while because I could never get everything correct. As time went on, I started to get the hang of it and understood a lot more of the slang, and the little mistakes I made over and over, I started to stay correctly. This experience is not uncommon and has a name, the cultural adjustment curve. By the end of the program, I had a renewed sense of confidence and felt powerful that I could speak Spanish and I could live in a new country successfully and I could graduate from the University of Iowa.

International Women’s Day. Here in Santiago there are huge marches, concerts, protests and celebrations. The celebration of women and how far they have come and the protests of women’s rights and how far we still have to go.

In the end, the biggest lesson I learned from my study abroad experience is to maintain perseverance. I was challenged every step of the way, including before I even got into the country. Through these challenges I persevered and as I come out on the other side, I am so grateful for the support system in my life that has helped me achieve this opportunity and learn so much academically and personally.

Edited by: Abbey Jordahl, Honors Admin

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