By Hannah Lussier
Since I decided to study abroad in Chile about a year and a half ago, I have been excited to announce my plans to anyone who would listen. In the process, I learned that I had unknowingly placed myself among a unique group of students. My new reality is that less than 2% of American students pursuing higher education participate in study abroad, and of that group only 16% end up studying in Latin America. So while my friends have already jetted off to their well-photographed host cities in England, Ireland and Spain, I remain at home waiting for the date in February when classes in the Southern Hemisphere begin and my life changes forever.
In the meantime, I would like to share some of the reasons why studying abroad in Latin America is different than studying abroad in Europe before you even get on the plane.
- The Timeline
As I mentioned above, the start date for international students studying during the spring semester in Chile is much different than the start date for programs in Europe. While my friends who are studying in the UK started their classes in early January, I am set to begin mine in late February. In Chile, students begin their school year in February due to the fact that December and January are the country’s warmest months.
- The Questions
When you decide to study abroad in Latin America, you will notice that some of the questions you receive from friends and relatives will come from a place of genuine curiosity. Many people living in the United States do not know a lot of information about countries in Latin America outside of what they were taught in their high school Spanish class. So, often when a friend of mine asks me where I will be studying their immediate follow-up question is “Okay, where is that?” These types of questions make me feel even more confident in my choice to study abroad in Latin America because it is already clear that studying there will give me the opportunity to educate myself and to share my experiences with others around me.
- The Research
In order to prepare for my upcoming trip to Chile, I have sought out as many resources as possible on local culture. Whether it be the best places to eat or the fashion worn by locals, I have tried to find it all. The good news is that the information is out there! However, some of the information I found required a lot of digging, and usually the best information I could find was located on the blog of another study abroad student. For some students going abroad to major cities in Europe, finding this information was as easy as typing a few key words into Google. But I wanted a challenge, and I have been given one.
So far, my choice to study abroad in Chile has challenged me in the best way. It has engaged me with information that is new and exciting. Places I had never heard of are now on my list of sights to see. Historic and cultural icons that never made it into my textbooks have become my new inspirations. The reality that I will begin my journey in a matter of weeks is starting to come into focus. So, I invite you to encounter more challenges with me as I start my adventure in Chile. Check back for more posts in February!