Joe Dingmann is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile
Major: Political Science and Hispanic Studies
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I have always known that I wanted to study abroad. I grew up in a small town and I knew from a young age that I wanted to explore the world when I grew up. Study abroad presented the perfect opportunity for me to do this. Initially I had my heart set on doing the Spain program because going to Spain has always been a dream of mine, but as soon as I started looking at the Chile program I knew it was the one for me. South America was so different than anything I had ever experienced before and I really wanted to push myself and experience something that I would never expect from myself.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
During my time in Chile I stayed with a woman who had three grown daughters. The eldest daughter, Lore, was the first daughter I met and was one of my favorite people I met during my time in Chile. Even though she lived in Santiago (2 hours south of us) I immediately bonded with her when we met and we became like real siblings. I loved her like I did my real sister. About a month after I first met Lore my host mom came into my room and told me that Lore, who was pregnant with her first child when I met her, had lost her baby. I was immediately devastated. I felt like it had happened to my own sister. As a Minnesotan, my first instinct was to back away and let them have family time without me intruding. I felt like an outsider or an intruder and I wanted to give them space so they could deal with their grief privately without a stranger there. However, this is not Chilean culture. I was a part of the family now, and they wanted me to grieve and work though everything with them. Almost everyday for the next three weeks my host mom and I would have these really in-depth conversations on how she and Lore were doing and how they were going to get through this situation. This really struck me. I had been in Chile for a month and they were treating me like a part of the family and wanted me to grieve with them. They would ask me for my opinion and make sure that I was doing ok. I wasn't just some strange gringo that was only in Chile for four months. I was a part of the family. This trust and immediate openness is definitely something that I brought back to the US with me and something I want to practice more in my own life.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
I have spent probably 10 minutes staring at this question trying to figure out how to answer and where to begin. This is definitely the hardest question you get coming back from study abroad. I learned that the best way to answer this question is the most cliche: it was amazing. I loved almost every moment of my study abroad trip. Studying in Chile was probably the best decision I have made since I decided to come to CSBSJU. Not only did I get to meet a bunch of great Bennies and Johnnies, I got to learn a ton of Spanish. I climbed an active volcano. I spent 5 days camping at the end of the Earth. I explored one of the biggest cities in South America. I rode a horse through the driest desert in the world. I met people from Canada, Spain, Slovakia, Argentina, and Germany. I learned so much and had the time of my life. My study abroad experience was beyond belief.
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?
For me the biggest benefit of going abroad was being able to learn about myself. I always knew that I was introverted and not very outgoing. Going into my trip I was very worried about becoming friends with everyone and how I would get along with my host family. Throughout my time in Chile I learned how to push myself outside of my comfort zone and do things I never would have imagined myself doing. I learned that it is ok for me to be introverted, but I need to push passed it sometimes and try new things.
Another benefit of study abroad would definitely adaptability. I like to have a plan and like to have things organized, but Chile taught me how to just roll with the punches and work on the fly. The perfect example of this would be our first group trip to La Serena. We planned this trip 3 days, which definitely freaked me out a little bit. (What do you mean we only have three days to buy bus tickets, purchase a hostel, pack, and organize what we are doing. THAT IS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TIME.) Then on Thursday nigh, we learned that the hostel we thought we booked had declined our request....so we had no place to stay. And our bus was leaving in 3 hours. I almost had a panic attack. It was 8:00 at night, we are leaving in 3 hours and we don't have a place to sleep when we get there!?!? It was too much for me to handle. Luckily, we scrambled and got a hostel organized and I learned that not everything needs to be planned out a month in advance.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
The number one piece of advice I can give would be to go in with an open mind and be ready to change. You are going to experience many different and odd things that are so far out of your comfort zone. Just go with it. Try new things. Eat the weird food. Go to a new restaurant. Talk to someone new. How often will you be in Chile? Try to experience as many things as possible. Make the most of your time abroad because you don't want to look back on your trip with regrets.