A constant roller-coaster of emotions and experiences, but I grew up a ton Past Review

By (Sociology and Anthropology., Hendrix College) - abroad from 07/22/2012 to 07/12/2013 with

ISEP Exchange: Valparaíso - Exchange Program at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
it was worthwhile in the sense that i learned how to live on my own, live on my own in a different language, budget successfully, master public transportation, travel internationally and navigate bus terminals/airports by myself...it was worthwhile for the skills in self-sufficiency and independence that i gained. however, i do wish i'd chosen a different university that would've offered me better academic opportunities that were more relevant to my course of study or perhaps a different city (i learned that i love larger cities, and that valpo/viña was way too small for me).

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

There are essentially two different types of academic systems that function at PUCV: the regular one, where you take classes with degree-seeking local students, and the one exclusively for international students (spanish language classes + culture classes + more specialized area-studies classes than are generally found in the regular curriculum, more geared toward foreigners). I only have experience in the former. I chose to take all my classes with local students in the name of immersion, which is both a good and a bad thing. When regular classes are in session, they are EXTREMELY demanding and definitely no joke/not your typical study abroad blow-off classes (also in my own personal opinion, they're not very inspiring/engaging classes either). You will have to work hard and read a ton (like 500 pages of readings fresh from the photocopier (no textbooks here), all in Spanish, for an evaluation is pretty standard) to merely get a passing grade (a 4 out of 7). In one of my classes, the highest grade was a 5,5 (B range), hardly anyone ever makes an A (6,0-7,0). However, if you take regular classes, you must also be prepared to be flexible, as right now, Chile is going through a nation-wide student movement that's fighting for many things, but needless to say, strikes are common. They can last up to 2 months, sometimes even longer. It depends on the faculty (the humanities faculties are more radical than the business/economics one, for example), but you will probably miss class at least once or twice due to a 'paro.' I can't talk about the international student only classes, as I have no experience in taking them, but from what I've heard, they're generally pretty easy and aren't affected by the student strikes.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

i don't know how many of the issues i had with the program administration was due to my own problems or chilean bureaucracy, but two areas for improvement particularly stand out to me. 1) i had to get my student visa in-country (if you don't get it in the US you can get it when you're in chile). somehow they couldn't issue me one for a year (only for 6 months), even though they said they would, so i had to go back and ask for another 6-month student visa (even though i was halfway done with my second semester). 2) i had a ton of emotional problems my first semester here and i really would've liked it if the international students were able to use the free counselors provided by the university (they can't - they can only go to the physical doctor there). instead they told me that they could send me to an outside counselor that charged $75 usd/session (unlike a lot of study abroad students, i don't have a ton of money, so $75 usd is considerable). since this isn't a "program" per-say, run by a separate company with its own employees (e.g. CIEE, IFSA) and more like a direct exchange with the university itself, there was no one on the staff i could talk to that could help me. i think they should either let exchange students use the university counselors or hire a counselor that works for the international office that the exchange students can use free of charge.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

i really liked my host family here. they let me have my independence/weren't overbearing in the least, but when i needed them, they were there. the structure of their family also resembled the structure of my own, which i liked. only thing i would change is location, since i was kinda far from everything but the mall (and going to the mall for everything gets tiring after a while).

* Food:

chilean food in general is really nothing to write home about. though there are some good dishes like pastel de choclo, choripan/anything you can find at an asado, for the most part it's all kind of 'bleh.' go to neighboring argentina or peru for the food.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

i made an active attempt to spend as much time with locals as possible, though i felt way more integrated my second semester than my first. my spanish is definitely chilean now. also i don't know where else i could put this so i'll put it here BUT quite possibly the best experience i had in chile was going on this volunteer trip put on by the student federation of the university for 2 weeks before my second semester started. i can't describe how much those two weeks impacted me personally, but i'd encourage any and everyone to seek out opportunities like that. not only are you doing good in the community, but you're also getting to know locals in a setting that's away from either the classroom or the bar/discoteca - and allowing to get them to know you in a different context as well. i met one of my best and closest friends in chile on this trip and got to know around 20+ other chilean university students from the region. it was also an incredible opportunity for language immersion, since it was just me and another american girl and the rest of the people were chileans, which meant 2 full weeks of spanish 24/7. if you're planning to stick around during the southern hemisphere summer (december-march), i highly recommend going on a trip like this. most universities offer a volunteer trip, so just look around and apply for it. also i'm sure there are other organizations that aren't universities that offer similar trip opportunities.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

had no problems w/ healthcare, luckily. if i did though, there was a clinic close by. however, make sure you have enough of any meds from home with you, or a prescription from your home doctor so you can get a chilean doctor to write you a new one if you need more. also you don't need a prescription for birth control and it's really cheap (~$2 usd for a months supply)

* Safety:

i've always felt very safe when i was here, even in valparaiso (which has a reputation of being more 'dangerous' than viña). and nothing bad safety-wise has ever happened to me, either.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

public transportation will eat up your money! exchange students don't get the student card for the city buses (only the metro) and though it may not seem a lot, believe me, IT WILL ADD UP (especially if you're constantly out and about and going places). however, you can use the metro, but the metro only goes a very limited number of places. prices in general are very comparable to the US, though imports are incredibly expensive ($5 usd for a box of oreos or a small bag of mini reeses peanut butter cups, for example), as is eating out at restaurants. bars are generally pretty cheap in valpo, the ones in viña are more expensive.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $30-$35 usd (i only received $75 usd every 2 weeks)
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? walk instead of taking the buses, try not to always buy snacks (especially not imported snacks), though it's definitely tempting, take the metro if you can and it's convenient


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

i took all my classes with locals, i lived with a local family that spoke no english, most of the people i'd hang out with were chilean

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? SPAN 340
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? talk to chileans, make chilean friends!!! something i noticed about a lot of exchange students was their tendency to "other" the locals and act all scared and intimidated of them...chileans are people too and you're in chile so befriend them or at least talk to them sometimes. also listen to music in the host language, read/watch news in the host language, change the language on your electronic devices to the host language, etc

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • very independent program - no hand holding at all
  • direct enrollment in local university with local students
* What could be improved?
  • maybe it was too much of an independent program? i found myself wishing that i had a person i could go to and talk to about issues i was having like the kids in programs like CIEE/IFSA did
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? that i would pretty much be on my own, especially when it came to academics, that there would be no person i could go and talk to about any of my emotional issues (i was pretty much left alone to deal with all of that myself)

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'