About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Public Policy and History double major, Hispanic Studies minor
Program: Pontificia Universidad Universidad Catolica de Chile; UNC Burch Seminar on Conflict Resolution and Democracy Building; UNC Art on El Camino de Santiago
Location: Santiago, Chile (Fall 2019); The Balkans + Vienna (Summer 2019); Northern Spain (Summer 2018)
Term: Fall 2019 (in addition to Summer 2018 and 2019)
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
One of my biggest goals for college was to become conversational in Spanish, so I always had an idea that I would spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country during my undergraduate career. I was fortunate enough to spend time in two different Spanish-speaking countries for two different programs that both taught me far more than the language. During Spring 2018, I knew I wanted to study abroad that summer but was not sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. While scrolling through all of UNC’s summer study abroad programs, I stumbled across the UNC Art on El Camino de Santiago program. This is rather cliche, but ever since I watched “The Way” during a high school Spanish class, backpacking the Camino had been on my bucket list. I wanted to go more than ever after a close friend of mine did the trail the summer before we started college, so it seemed like fate that I could possibly have an opportunity to follow in her footsteps the summer after. I am not an artist in any shape or form, but the program was open to all and I was up for a challenge, particularly if it allowed me to fulfill one of my dreams. Even though the program wasn’t geared toward language-learning, I figured six weeks in Spain would also be beneficial for my Spanish. A year later, after the experience of a lifetime during summer 2018, I was doing research on what Spanish-speaking country I might want to spend a semester in when I decided I might as well also apply for another summer study abroad program just in case I couldn’t find an internship I wanted. Via an appointment with Honors Carolina, I found out about the UNC Burch Research Seminar on Conflict Resolution and Democracy Building. After applying for the program and then interviewing for it, I decided that was what I wanted to do regardless of what the internship field yielded. It was such a unique opportunity that I thought would allow me to explore what a potential career in international policy could look like, while also teaching me about a part of the world I did not know very much about prior. During that same time period, I also decided to go to Chile for the first semester of my junior year. It seemed like such a geographically diverse and stunning country, with a fascinating political history and a very distinct culture and presence in South America. I chose Chile based more on intuition than anything else, but I chose to do direct exchange without affiliation with a third-party program because I wanted an immersive experience as possible that really pushed me out of my comfort zone.
What did you learn about yourself?
Over the course of my three programs, I learned that it’s the people that make any experience worthwhile. I went into the Camino program thinking the most important aspect of my summer would be the experience of backpacking itself, and ended the program realizing it was the people and the bonds I had made that truly mattered. I carried this lesson with me into the following summer and fall, which was essential after having my phone stolen in Bosnia and Herzegovina during Summer 2019 and while living through the most significant political unrest in Chile since Pinochet’s dictatorship. I needed friendship and support more than ever, which I was so lucky to receive from so many generous, kind people. I also learned about resiliency. I kept walking despite pain and fatigue, I navigated Europe without a phone for five weeks, and I persevered through a semester in a country undergoing a massive social revolution. All of these experiences have made me a stronger person with a much greater appreciation for my life here, and all the advantages UNC offers. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that I am lucky beyond measure for all of the opportunities and resources I’ve had throughout college.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
There are dozens of happy moments I remember fondly, from finishing the Camino and then getting to spend the night celebrating the summer solstice in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to kayaking through the sunset in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to stargazing in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The absolute best moment though I think was hiking up the Sun Gate in Peru, and then being able to see all of Machu Picchu in all its glory in the early morning light. We arrived to the Incan ruins at 7 am, and got to watch the mist clear up as we hiked up the mountain. I also got to make the acquaintance of many llamas, who thought the trail belonged to them. After walking about an hour, we got to enjoy the views from Intipunku (the Sun Gate). It truly was the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think I’ve ever a better breakfast bar or breakfast companion as I did that day. That memory is truly one of the happiest of my life, and what I felt was beyond words that could do the experience real justice.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
It’s not the place that changes you, it’s the work you put in. I think I went into my experiences with super high expectations and not necessarily enough dedication or commitment to what I wanted to accomplish, especially in regards to learning Spanish. I thought just being somewhere different and exciting would change me instantaneously for the better and make whatever task I set my mind to easier. Turns out, true immersion takes work and learning another language still isn’t easy even when you’re in another place. The same principle goes for trying to learn how to properly do art or for trying to write a compelling, thorough research paper. When I let go of what I thought the programs were going to be like and instead embraced what they were, I found my experiences much more enjoyable and rewarding.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! No one studies abroad three times if they didn’t fall in love with their first experience. I’ll actually be spending my 2020 spring break in Israel and Palestine on a Perspectives trip with UNC Hillel, so I’m clearly not tired of traveling yet. I love living my life in motion, and I’m so grateful to have had an undergraduate experience thus far that has empowered me to travel and learn so much.
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
My UNC-led programs both revolved around traveling, so the classroom setting was ever-changing, especially on the Camino. We would find a quiet place in our albergue (essentially a hostel specific to the Camino) and get to enjoy cookies during class. The majority of our learning experience though was about the trail itself, stopping to sketch or execute our performance art as we went, with continual support and guidance from our professors. During summer 2019, we met in lots of hotel lobbies the first three weeks for class, but also traveled all over whichever city we happened to be in to meet with different international organizations, from the EU, to the UN, to NATO, among others. There was a flexibility and a hands-on component that I had never experienced before at UNC. In Chile, my classes were more similar to my classes here at UNC. Each class met twice a week for 80-120 minutes on our college campus. All of my classes were in Spanish though (and not Spanish classes, classes in Spanish), and were much more lecture-oriented than discussion based. I took two international student classes though, so I was able to work and study with friends, which was super helpful for my comprehension. The grading scale was different - they grade from 1-7, which was a bit confusing at first, but my classes were pass-fail (unlike my UNC summer programs), so the focus was more on learning than excelling, which I enjoyed!