AU Ambassadors

Student Life at American University

Spring Semester in Santiago, Chile

March 21, 2016|Posted in: Abroad Adventures

Alissa Platz is a senior majoring in international studies from South Brunswick, New Jersey. She studied abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile. While there, she held an internship and traveled extensively. Alissa also became skilled at speaking Chilean Spanish.

In the spring semester of 2015, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Santiago, Chile. I am an International Studies and Spanish double major, and I would consider myself advanced proficient in Spanish. In this abroad program I was able to take classes in Spanish that were pre-approved through American University, as well as a direct enrollment class through the university where I was studying. I also had the opportunity to intern for credit and have that count towards my major. I lived with a host mom in one of the ‘barrios’ of Santiago called Providencia, and commuted to Universidad Diego Portales. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I had class and I interned on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I took classes that double-counted credit-wise for both of my majors. These classes were about development, Latin American politics, indigenous people in Chile, and a grammar class in addition to my internship. There were also three trips built into the program, during which we visited Valparaiso, Isla de Pascua (Easter Island), and San Pedro de Atacama. In addition to the program trips, people in my program planned excursions to various places in Chile and South America.

My favorite part of being abroad was being able to immerse myself in the Spanish language. I have been taking Spanish since middle school and at the beginning of the last semester, received my Spanish Translation Certificate through AU’s Department of World Languages and Cultures. I am a self-proclaimed language lover so when I was choosing a place to study abroad, I knew that one of my goals was to become more proficient in Spanish. My regional focus within my IR major is Latin America, so Chile was a perfect fit. Chilean Spanish is very different from the Spanish that I had learned up until I left for abroad. They have a lot of slang that they use, speak very quickly, and cut off the ends of some of their words. I basically had to relearn how to speak Chilean Spanish or ‘chileno’ as they called it. It took me about a month to master all of the important slang, and by the time my semester was over I was able to speak ‘chileno’ with only minor pauses. I really think that ‘chileno’ defined the culture that I lived in, and I was very happy that my Chilean friends and co-workers at my internship took the time to teach a part of their culture that was so inherent to them.

I loved travelling during my time abroad. My favorite places to travel were to San Pedro de Atacama, the desert in Northern Chile, and Valdivia, which is in the lake district in Southern Chile. While I was in San Pedro de Atacama, we did a lot of tours of the sand dunes, went to hot springs where we floated in water with a very high salt content, and saw dormant volcanos.  We went to something called the ‘altiplanicos’ which was 4,000 meters (about 13,000 ft above sea level). Thanks to the high altitude, the views of the mountains and water were breathtaking. My favorite memory from that trip was going on a 5am geyser tour that I planned on our free day in the town. I wore 13 layers of clothing in the below freezing temperatures. Seeing geysers and other natural land features was so beautiful and serene at such an early hour of the day. I felt like I was one with nature.

Alissa was able to travel extensively while abroad.

Alissa was able to travel extensively while abroad.

My other favorite trip that I took was to Valdivia. I affectionately describe this place as my ‘happy place’ and ‘heaven on earth.’ I went with my best friend from my program, Kim. The town itself was very quaint with a main square and small downtown area. The day we arrived we went to a brewery and hung out in our hostel where we met backpackers from Germany and France who we traveled around the next 2 days we were there. My favorite part of the trip was going to Parque Curiñacao, an old growth forest on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The hike was supposed to take an hour, but my friends and I stayed in the park for 3 hours, admiring the beautiful scenery and taking pictures. Towards the end of the hike, there was a path leading out to a cliff that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The only sounds that you could hear were the wind and the waves crashing on the rocks below up. It was the most peaceful and beautiful thing that I have ever seen.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about my internship. As a part of my study abroad program, I had the option to intern for credit. The internship coordinator placed me in an organization called Youth for Understanding Chile. It has locations in over 100 countries worldwide, ironically, with one of the locations being in Washington, DC. This organization provides high school students with the ability to study abroad in another country for 6 months to 1 year. The students are immersed in a new high school and culture. My focus in IR is intercultural communication so this organization was right in line with my interests. I had a lot of culture shock when I first traveled abroad and the people at my internship were just so nice and welcoming to me. They wanted to know just as much about American culture as much as I wanted to learn about Chilean culture. I was the intern in the outbound department (Chilean students going to other countries). I did a lot of administrative work to prepare documents and programs for the pre-departure orientations for these students. I was also able to use my translation skills to translate documents sent by the US offices. The office had about 15 people and there were 3 other interns from other countries as well. On the first day of my internship, the director said ‘todos somos un equipo,’ which means ‘we are one team.’ I instantly felt accepted and loved, and this feeling continued throughout my time with them. The whole office always ate lunch together, a custom in Chilean culture. We discussed current events, shared stories, and had many laughs. I was also able to help out with the costume party and international dinner that the office held for the exchange students studying abroad in various parts of Chile.

Alissa interned at Youth for Understanding while in Chile.

Alissa interned at Youth for Understanding while in Chile.

It’s been a year since I went abroad and I miss Chile and all of the friends that I made there every day. Through the power of social media and Skype, I’m able to keep in touch with everybody. I hope to return to Chile one day to see all of my friends again. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions that I made in college so far. I learned a lot about myself and was able to grow as a person. I highly recommend studying abroad or doing some type of exchange program or long-term travel trip.

To learn more about Alissa and the rest of the Ambassadors, click here.

Posted by Amelia Crabtree

Cacti, cows, and science lover