Benjamin West

­­­­Benjamin is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.

Major: Computer Science

Minor: Environmental Studies

Student Athlete: SJU Soccer

 

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

Unlike most people that choose the Chile trip, I am not a Spanish major or minor, but learning a new language was very important to me and my liberal arts experience. I also wanted to be immersed into the culture as much as possible so a host family was really important when selecting a program. I truly felt like I was a part of another family. Perhaps the most convincing reason though was the fascinating and diverse natural environment that Chile has to offer. I'm an outdoorsman and love adventures. Chile allowed me to go skiing, surfing, fly fishing, trekking, backpacking, zip-lining, rafting, and more. This makes the program really unique.

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

From the pier in Viña del Mar, you can look over the edge and watch the crab fisherman pull up gigantic Jaiba (a species of crab) with their traps. Curios and eager, my friend on the trip and I decided to spend a night building our own crab trap with intent to leap out of our comfort zone and spend some time fishing with the locals who make their living selling Jaiba to local markets and restaurants. We found wooden crates on the streets, purchased some wire and rope, and somehow managed to make our own crab trap after a few youtube videos. We went to the pier to try out our crab trap with the locals, acting like we knew what we were doing even though we were two tall gringos and stood out like flies on a wedding cake. After all of our hard work, our trap floated and was not able to reach the bottom where the crabs were feeding. Meanwhile, we watched our neighbors pull up 5 or 6 crabs at a time. The pier security guards and Chileans would walk by and laugh. Eventually, some older Chilean fisherman walked over and offered to help. So they re-rigged our traps and showed us that we had to use a certain kind of fish bait to attract the crabs. It was hard understanding their Spanish due to their indigenous accents and use of slang, but we were able to understand just enough and respond accordingly. Soon enough, we were catching crabs with them, smiling, joking around, and selling crabs to locals on the pier. We became great friends with them and had the time of our lives!

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Two words. Un believable. The adventures, people, and challenges were what made my abroad experience so valuable. I was able to catch the biggest trout of my life on a fly rod with a Southern Chilean local, learned to surf on the chilly shores of the Pacific, hiked Machu Picchu, mountain biked in the driest desert in the world, ski in the Andes, backpack in Patagonia, and even dance the tango in Buenos Aires. The people were amazing in Chile. I met two Chileans on the first day of orientation who were so friendly and became my best friends down there. They were the kindest people as they took me to the coolest spots in Viña / Valpo, and brought me out with their friends on the weekends. I also loved my host family as we would spend time together making empanadas de mariscos, going to my little sisters dances, practicing Spanish and more. I found that the best way to get to know Chileans was through sports. I played futbolito (soccer) everyday after class with the Chileans and joined a competitive tournament team comprised of other Americans from around the country and Europeans. I also played on the basketball team and bonded with Chileans in a formal team setting. Lastly, our CSB/SJU group grew especially close. I didn't know anyone within our group extremely well when I signed up, but our whole group spent so much time together and we were all constantly smiling with one another. Lastly, the challenges. I discovered a lot about myself as I faced all sorts of challenges. Everything from not having a phone for two weeks in a new country, to traveling in the middle of nowhere and having our bus break down. I became a problem-solver and learned more about my leadership style while abroad.

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?

Personally, I became self-aware of who I am and learned how I act around others, which is something I never really had been especially mindful of before. Spending lots of time around others and constantly meeting new people from different backgrounds allows you to highlight your strengths and weaknesses. Academically, I learned how to manage my time with school and experiences, realizing both are just as important to any education . Professionally, I learned to speak Spanish which is an invaluable resume builder.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

I highly encourage going abroad and stepping out of your comfort zone. It could be one of the best experiences of your life!