Emily Matheson

Emily is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Chile.

Major: Elementary Education

Minor: Hispanic Studies

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

Before I even came to St. Ben’s I knew I wanted to study abroad. It seemed like such a great opportunity to experience life in a new country and meet new people. As a Hispanic Studies minor, I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, so I could improve my language skills. I knew a true immersion into a Spanish speaking country would be the best way to get better. I struggled to decide between Chile and Spain for a long time, but ultimately ended up choosing Chile because I was interested in South American culture, Chile has diverse landscape with many things to do, and Chile seemed to be more of a unique opportunity. I was also interested in the opportunity to work with kids during the service learning experience. I’m so incredibly happy with the decision I made and can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.

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

One cultural experience that stuck with me was the celebration of Fiestas Patrias. It is basically a week-long celebration of Chile and the locals go crazy for it. I celebrated with my host family by having asado for lunch and making homemade empanadas de pino. It was a family affair, everyone getting involved instead of just my host mom cooking like normal. I also got to go to the “fondas” at the Sporting Club with my host sister and her friends. We wandered around the club checking out all the different stands with their traditional food and drinks, tried our hand at a few carnival games, and browsed the shopping stands. At night, however, is when the Chileans really come out to celebrate. Everyone comes together to drink terremotos, eat anticuchos, and dance la cueca. Seeing all the Chileans so excited to celebrate their culture was very cool. They were all very welcoming to us gringos and made us feel like a true part of the celebration.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

I don’t think it’s possible to sufficiently put into words how much I loved my time in Chile. I met the absolute best group of CSB/SJU students in the world. We all got so close—sharing the crazy experience of living in a foreign country for 4 months can really bring people together. I also really enjoyed being able to meet Chilean students and other international students from all around the world. Living with a host family was a great part of the program and I’m still in contact with them. One of my favorite parts was eating “once” with my host mom and sister (and my host cats, of course) and watching our favorite tv shows. I got to learn so much about Chile through my classes and had the opportunity to explore the places and cultural aspects we learned about in my everyday life. Every day abroad brings a new opportunity to explore, learn, and have fun. Spending the semester in Chile was the best part of my college experience thus far.

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?

There were so many benefits to studying abroad. Academically, I was able to nearly complete my minor. By taking so many classes in Spanish and living with a host family, my Spanish improved greatly. I became more comfortable speaking Spanish with the native speakers, and it wasn’t until my mom came to post travel with me that I realized how much my Spanish had improved. Another great benefit was the service learning opportunity. I was able to work at an elementary school in several grade levels. Not only did it help me practice my Spanish, it also gave me the chance to work with a variety of students and see what a classroom is like in a foreign country—a great opportunity for an elementary education major. I think the greatest benefit was my increase in confidence. Studying abroad was a big step outside of my comfort zone, but it was a great push to become more independent. I feel more confident trying new things, meeting new people, and putting myself out there.

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

I know leaving home for months to go to an unfamiliar country can be very daunting, but it was the best decision of my life. It was so much fun, and I grew so much. I would tell students to check out all their options and make the decision that’s best for themselves. Don’t feel like you need to go where your friends are going because you’ll become great friends with the people on your trip. Once you’re there, take advantage of all your opportunities. Obviously be smart with your money, but don’t let fear of spending hold you back from cool experiences. You’ll probably only get the chance to live in a foreign country once, so soak it all in!