For many students studying abroad forms as a thought that becomes a reality – depending on their commitment to going abroad. Growing up as a military brat I knew I wanted to go abroad. Where? I had no idea.
Prior to choosing Chile I researched English-speaking study abroad programs. This was mostly because English is my first language and I figured adapting to a culture of English speakers would be easy. After looking at places like Australia, England and other similar areas, I decided I needed a challenge. I wanted to study abroad in an unpopular, non-English speaking destination.
After researching the various programs within my university’s education abroad department, I was unable to find a study abroad program fir for me in South America. In order to reduce my choices, I created a simple criteria.
- The location of my housing had to be near the coast.
- The country had to have Spanish as its native language.
- I preferred to be in South America.
I choose to go top school in Valparaiso, Chile with the Academic Programs International (API). Many blog writers described this destination as magical, “the Jewel of the Pacific.” After reading many travel blogs and API’s blog, I knew this was the place I wanted to learn and speak Spanish. Not only did API offer me the opportunity to be a part of Valparaiso, the program also allowed me to live in Vina del Mar, Valparaiso’s sister city. I got to experience the best of both worlds. Valparaiso, one of the South Pacific’s most important seaports decorated in political murals. The other, Vina del Mar, a city of fresh sea food, clear ocean waters and a beautiful skyline.
Studying abroad in Chile allowed me to appreciate knowing a new language. Having the ability to communicate with people from another language background is a spectacular and inspiring feeling. I met my hermanita, best friend, through Techo. Her name is Francisca or Fran for short. Fran helped me navigate through Santiago, the capital of Chile. Although she is a native Chilena, Fran she had never traveled outside of her pueblo, or community. We went on many adventures together throughout Chile. Having Fran by my side made me feel empowered, adventurous and wholesome. My favorite destination was Papudo. It is a magical place where land meets the sea. . To most Chileans, this place is a dull town. The shops close early, and lights are out before 9, but at night, its secrets shine the most. This town was blessed with a magical, beautiful beach. Words cannot describe the feeling of amazement that overcame me when I laid eyes on this beach, when I set foot on the sand. After four months of being in Chile, I felt most at home on the beach of Papudo.
While I did have the time of my life, I did face obstacles. As a young African-American abroad my experience differs slightly from everyone else. I have a deep brown skin tone and black, curly hair with black features. I went abroad to a country whose population consisted of people with European-like features. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes I attracted unwanted attention. Men would whistle at me as I walked down the street. I had to do my best not to make eye contact. When I walked onto the bus older people would stare me down as if I were an animal in a zoo. I never once experienced discrimination or racism, but the feeling of being looked at in ’awe’ is not a good one. But, nonetheless my experience in Chile was eye widening and thought-provoking. When I am able to afford to go back to Chile, I will too.