Michael is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I have always wanted to travel outside of the country because different languages and cultures have always fascinated me. Being a student at CSB/SJU makes it almost impossible to go your four years without interacting with some culture from a different country. In my first four semesters at CSB/SJU I have met a great number of people from outside the United States who are currently fellow students. One of these people I have just mentioned is now my girlfriend and learning everything there is to know about her culture was important to me. She is from Mexico, and so part of my learning process has included learning Spanish. I pride my self in the fact that we never communicate in English. However, I still needed a lot of tweaking with my Spanish especially reading and writing and the best way to do this was of course to study abroad. After all, the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in a culture and community where you will only interact with said language. I didn't choose to go to Guatemala, because I knew I'd be going to Mexico, and have already been to Colombia. I plan to travel Europe at some other point in my life so I didn't want to go to Spain either. Plus I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country that was completely different culturally from the rest. This naturally lead me to Chile which satisfied all of the above conditions. So I went to better my Spanish in all ways possible.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I made one very good friend that was native to Chile, Pablo Vasquez. What was funny about my relationship with Pablo was how I met him. It always made a good story for people who didn't know him among my friend group or who didn't know me among his friend group. By the way, don't try this at home, in Chile, or at CSB/SJU. One day one of my fellow Johnnies on the trip and I decided to go to the beach and try to learn how to do backflips after class. There was one part of the beach where there were Chilean guys of all ages tricking all the time. This day however was a very gloomy day and no one was on the beach, so it seemed a perfect day for us to publically humiliate ourselves, since there was to public to observe our actions. A guy showed up on a bike and before we even started attempting to achieve a flip, he asked us if we were trying to learn how. However, his name was not Pablo. His name was Paul. He tried very hard but we failed miserably to learn. Eventually my friend gained the courage to try one with us spotting him. He landed dangerously close to his neck and made a strange sound and ended up getting a stress fracture in his spine. Pablo from a distance saw this entire happening and ran up to help. My friend turned out to be fine, but wasn't aware of the stress fracture until he got back to the States. So my friend wanted to try more. Pablo turned out to be a flip guru and actually succeeded in teaching us how to do a flip. I successfully did one with the help of spotters. Once lunchtime rolled around we thanked them both for teaching us, and Pablo asked for our numbers. Pablo turned out to be one of my best friends with whom I wish I had spent more time while I was still in Chile. The moral of the story is that Chileans are very friendly and it is quite easy to make very good friends, especially on the beach on a sunny day.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My overall study abroad experience was very enlightening and priceless, not just for the places I was able to see, or the events I participated in, but also the people I met and got to know. One of these people was namely myself. You go to class and learn things that you never would have beforehand in a different country or in the States about art, history, economics, and culture. Then you go on excursions with friends you meet or with your fellow Bennies and Johnnies and gain priceless experiences and see concerts, buildings, cities, and other landmarks you never could have otherwise. Not to mention all the irreplaceable "fotos" (photos) you will have afterwards. However, what really makes the study abroad experience are the people you meet, the bonds you make, and what you learn about yourself. The study abroad experience really is a large section of your pathway unto which you discover yourself, especially in relation to the rest of the world around you. You will meet Chileans obviously, but Adolfo Ibáñez is a very international school like CSB/SJU. You will meet people from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and other Latin American countries like El Salvador or Peru. More importantly these people will change you and give you perspective. You will learn that the United States of America is no longer the best country in the world by any means, and that other countries don't really give us any more thought than their neighbor countries or Canada for that matter. In my experience I grew very close to my host family, and leaving them was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was bitter sweet. In Chile, like in many Latin American countries, you are a child and live and depend on your parents until you are around 30 years old. So you lose a lot of the privileges and freedoms of being an adult that you would have in the States, not necessarily in the society (in fact you gain some), but within the family in which you live. They were irreplaceable for me, but I am glad to have moved on now that it is all said and done with.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
I believed I covered how my study abroad experience has contributed to my personal development, but this extends and branches into my academic and professional development. The Chilean professors generally grade very strictly and toughly and make you keep to a higher academic standard. For example, I discovered that what would constitute maybe an AB or low A paper here at CSB/SJU would be like a BC or B paper at Adolfo Ibáñez. This took some getting used to, but once accomplished it carried over into my studies and academic work here at CSB/SJU, which can only help me in my degree achievement and application to graduate school. I achieved a minor in Spanish while studying abroad which helped to build my resume and acts evidence of a handy tool I have that I can use in my professional life later on as a Pharmacist. Being bilingual is very useful in a medical/ healthcare field, as well as any walk of life. Our world in now an international one, and so I find it ignorant to believe that you can get by in this developing world only being comfortable communicating in one language.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
My advice to all of you considering study abroad is to do it. You've heard this all before, it's a once in a lifetime experience and its worth the cost. Most study abroad trips will have some sort of financial aid or scholarship that is specific to your program or country that you can earn if you apply early enough. It is worth the cost of going, and while you may travel internationally at other points in your life it will never be like your study abroad trip, and I'm not just talking about the amount of time you'll spend in just one area (4-5 months), but the specific living situation you'll be in while studying. The experience of studying at University level in a different country is in itself a worthwhile experience that you'll never have experienced otherwise, but that doesn't even take into consideration the many other aspects of your study abroad program. In all honesty study abroad usually fits in better with your four-year plan than you think. I could not have accomplished a minor in Spanish while being a Biology major and Pre-Pharmacy without studying abroad, all in four years, without summer classes, had I not studied abroad in Chile. Don't forget all the cool opportunities like experiential learning and internships that may or may not be available to you while you study abroad depending on the program.