Study Abroad: Not what I expected

Everyone’s experiences are different, some more challenging than others

I flipped through pages of the black spiral notebook I used while in Chile, fingers brushing over hastily scrawled notes written in anticipation of upcoming travels. I tore out randomized papers from the “Cultura Chilena” (Chilean Culture) Spanish class I took while I was there and stashed them in a blue folder to submit to my Spanish adviser at NDSU.

Last Wednesday at 11:30 I walked into her office and plopped down in a chair, ready to explain the class units and review essays and exams so she could determine if it would fulfill the requirements for my minor. After a coursework discussion that took less than five minutes, our conversation wandered to my experiences in Chile.

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Chillin’ in Santiago

When people ask me if studying abroad was the time of my life, I’ve always hesitated.

“It was quite the learning experience!” I respond honestly.

So as I sat in my adviser’s office, staring at a shelf of colorful Spanish textbooks and other resources, I wondered if she would fault me for admitting that studying abroad wasn’t what I expected – it hadn’t been the walk in the park I anticipated. Continue reading

San Pedro de Atacama — A world of its own

Spending a weekend in one of the most famous deserts on the planet

Okay so I’ll admit, I’m already home from Chile. I’ll also admit that I’m waaaaay behind on blogging. Because of that, I’m only going to write a couple more blogs about my experiences in Chile. I can’t sign off without telling you about my trip to San Pedro de Atacama, as well as a few other adventures with my mom when she came to visit. Then I’ll write a final wrap-up about what I learned and suggestions I have for fellow travelers and study-abroaders. Because summer is here and Saratoga is only a few weeks away, so my content is going to shift from travels in Chile to horse racing!

When I left for Chile, I was dead-set that I didn’t want my parents coming to visit. I thought that I was more than capable of putting on my big girl pants and going without seeing them for the entirety of my 4-month study abroad.

But shortly after I arrived, I realized two things: Life is short, and although independence is important, you should always welcome a visit from your loved ones no matter where you are in the world. And secondly, I wanted to share my new life with others who would appreciate the quirky differences from my “regular” life. Namely my mother.

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Reunited  ❤

So my second-to-last week in Chile, my mom flew down for a visit. I probably looked like a paranoid crazy person as I waited for her at the Dunkin Donuts in the airport. Every few seconds I whipped my head around to see if she was approaching. And when I finally saw my tiny little momma pushing a cart with two enormous pink pocodotted suitcases (which I requested she bring to get all my stuff home), I jumped up with my tea in one hand and donut in the other, practically tripping over myself to give her a hug. I’ll even admit to crying just a little – my mom is my greatest cheer leader, most inspiring life coach, trustworthy therapist and closest friend, and I had missed her a lot. Continue reading

Morning at a Racetrack in Chile

the Valparaiso Sporting Club – My favorite hidden gem in VIÑA DEL MAR

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The Puente Cancha entrance to the Valparaiso Sporting Club

If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’d hardly notice the wrought iron gates set in the graffiti-covered wall across from Puente Cancha in Viña del Mar, Chile. The wall, which parallels 1 Norte Street, shields the backside of the Valparaiso Sporting Club from the honking cars and smoking buses trying to deliver anxious people to work on their Wednesday morning.

Unless you poke your face through the bars of the gates, the only indication of a track on the other side is a sign emblazoned with a victorious racehorse and bold lettering, announcing in Spanish the dates of the 2-year-old Triple Crown Races.

A guard, seated in a small guard shack just inside, is expecting me. He motions me in as I push open the surprisingly heavy gate, leaving behind the raucous outside environment and entering into different world. A gray paved road stretches out before me, lined by trees and shedrows. Steaming horses covered with brightly colored sheets clatter up and down the drive as they’re cooled out by hot walkers. Continue reading

Reaching half-way: The beginning of five new challenges

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The photo-bombers in this pic make me laugh (taken at the racetrack Club Hipico de Santiago)

When you step off the airplane and into the airport of the country where you’ll spend the next four months of your life, you feel as though you have all the time in the world.

In barely one week from today, I’ll reach the half-way point of my time in Chile. And this scares the dickens out of me. Because for as much as I’ve already done, there’s so much more that I want to accomplish while I’m here.

Throughout the first two months I’ve experienced highs and lows. I’ve missed tall glasses of ice-cold milk (it’s not very common to drink milk here), blueberry French toast and my family. I’ve gone on adventures, been lost and confused, found my way with the help of kind people and even puked up an olive (don’t eat too many empanadas before getting in a car if you get motion sick). And I have no regrets for any of it, even the toughest of learning experiences that knocked me on my butt. Continue reading

Lessons from Pigeon Man

Some of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced in Chile can’t be fully captured in a photo, because it’s not the image itself that’s important. It’s the way I felt in the moment and the lesson I learned. One of the reasons why I like to write is because it allows me to describe the way things make me feel and build pictures with words.

One of these life snapshots and the respective lesson I took away has to do with an individual whom I’ll call “Pigeon Man.” Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know who I’m talking about. This is an elderly gentleman who sits in an alley-way I pass to and from my apartment building.

He perches on a white plastic chair next to a little cart laden with odds and end items – newspapers, packages of cookies, water bottles – random things that people might want to purchase as they hustle off to work. Plastic bags hang off the sides of the cart, most likely holding his meager belongings, and a giant white umbrella sticks out the top. Continue reading

Horse racing in Chile – It’s a small world

My first experience at a Chilean racetrack was nothing less than aWESOME

Ever since arriving in Viña (as the city is fondly called) I’ve been dying to check out the racetrack. My bus drives past the Valparaiso Sporting Club on its way to deliver me to classes, and my university, situated on a hill overlooking the city, provides a convenient view of the track. My breaks between classes are generally spent sitting in the lush, vibrantly green grass and watching the morning workouts. Yes, I do believe I picked the right place to study, and I swear I didn’t even plan that!

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Morning workouts

My curiosity got the best of me last Thursday, and I walked to the track for morning workouts, which are apparently not as common for people to watch as they are in the states. I bypassed the open door where maintenance staff was entering the grandstands, not wanting to tempt fate and have a run-in with security guards. Instead I played it safe and stood next to a low gate along the outside rail of the turf course. It wasn’t an up close and personal view, but I wasn’t complaining. I attached the zoom lens to my camera and started snapping away.

Aside from two or three who I saw putting in timed workouts, the majority of the Thoroughbreds here gallop without saddles, just a pad and a girth. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed, nothing like the bustling morning traffic at Saratoga. Continue reading

Let it go

Studying abroad is about being adaptable – not holding on for dear life

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The view from my Chilean university at dusk

School has always been important to me, and the start of each new semester generally means clutching to my schedule with a white-knuckled death grip. Homework and grades always come before going out and having fun. I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.

Many of my friends and family members told me how brave I was to leave home and study in another country. But I don’t think it has anything to do with bravery. The true challenge is being adaptable.

Before I left for Chile, all I could imagine was traversing the globe with friends, eating exotic foods and dancing the night away at raucous clubs.

Most people who’ve ever read my blogs or know me personally realize that I like plans. Life feels easier when it’s organized – compartmentalized neatly into a schedule. The hardest thing for me since arriving here in Chile is letting go of all that. Because even though grades are more important than clubbing, seeing the world will give you far more of an education than anything you learn in the confines of a classroom. Continue reading

Traveling to Chile!

February 28

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Last time I’ll be wearing a winter jacket for a while!

My journey southward has begun, and by the time you read this blog I’ll already be in Chile.

Crazy how life countdowns go. It’s almost like playing hide and seek on steroids. One second you’re sitting in a comfy hiding spot, thinking you have all the time in the world to prepare. Meanwhile, the days are slowly tick-tocking away and before you know it, you’re on the way to a different country.

But ready or not, I’m sitting in the Dallas airport, waiting to board a flight that will take me to another continent.

Thankfully my flight is at night and I’ll arrive in Chile fairly early in the morning, so it will be a good time to sleep on the plane. As flying is not my favorite activity, I’m well-stocked with drowsy Dramamine. Continue reading

Advice for aspiring study-abroaders, Part 2

SA part 2 (3)Picking up where we left off in Advice for study-abroaders, Part 1, Part 2 will review how I selected my country, university and program, and the considerations I had to make for each one.

When you study abroad, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your ULTIMATE GOAL is to graduate from college. But whether you’re determined to graduate in exactly 4 years or you’re OK with taking an extra semester to make up a few credits can play a role in deciding where to study abroad.

If you have a country in mind that seems perfect, aligning with your travel aspirations of swimming in the ocean, climbing mountains or learning French and whatever else floats your boat, head to your university’s study abroad office and see what advice they can offer you on programs and universities. Because even if you’re dead-set on going to a particular country, your decision might change depending on what universities are available and the courses they offer.

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Examples of study abroad program books

My university’s study abroad department has a little online search engine where I can enter the duration of time I want to study abroad, my major and the country I wish to visit, and it will bring up a list of options. Most study abroad advisers will also hand you a bunch of program books, such as API, CEA and AIFS that offer study abroad in your country of interest.

But to be completely honest with you, Books + Online Materials = Confusion & Uncertainty!

All of this can add up to information overload, so take it S.L.O.W.L.Y. Start planning in advance so you’re not trying to take it all in a week before the application due date. Continue reading