Una experiencia inolvidable: Five months in Santiago, Chile July 02, 2022

By (Literature, University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh) - abroad from 02/24/2022 to 07/15/2022 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Santiago

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
As mentioned previously, I became much more self-reliant while here. Not only that but my self-esteem also grew because I proved to myself that I could do things I was previously scared to do like asking strangers for help. I am equally satisfied with how much I learned about Chile as a country. Between my culture classes (which are part of the program), the meetings I had with my cultural mentor, program excursions, conversations with my host family and Chilean friends and acquaintances, and time spent in places like the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and the National Historical Museum, I probably know more about the history, culture and politics of Chile than I do of any other country besides the US and Germany (where my mother is from and I have spent over a year of my life). This is not to say that my understanding is in any way equivalent to that of a Chilean, but that I now am in a position to ask myself questions that would not even have occurred to me before now and understand aspects of life in Chile that were unfamiliar to me when I first arrived. The classes at my university also covered material I don't think is covered by any class at the University of Pittsburgh. I was totally unfamiliar with any of the authors or works covered in my Chilean and Hispanoamerican theater class, and am very happy to have been introduced to this body of literature which in my opinion deserves far more attention outside of Latin America than it gets.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Overall, my educational experience was fantastic! I took four regular university courses at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, two in literature and two in history. There were some study abroad students in each of my classes, but the majority were Chileans, and the classes were taught with them in mind. If I had had difficulty understanding my professors there were resources I could have used such as individual tutors (if I understand correctly this is organized by the university's study abroad office), but that wasn't really an issue for me, and I loved the immersion. Literature classes in Chile are very rigorous when it comes to reading - sometimes professors will assign an entire novel plus several shorter texts for a single week. I handled this by reading selectively, choosing some of the texts I found particularly interesting or wanted / needed to do an assignment on. At least in the classes I was in this was something that the other students generally did too and which did not cause a problem. I can't say if that applies to every class though. Writing assignments tend to be less frequent than in the US. I had an average of three writing assignments per class (my African history class was somewhat of an outlier in that it had five, but three of them were very short). Final papers were also somewhat shorter than most of the ones I've had to write at the University of Pittsburgh - 5-6 pages, 1.5 spacing, Times New Roman 12. I had many of the same on-campus resources at La Católica as I do in Pittsburgh like printers (though I had to provide my own paper), IT support, and university libraries (more of them than in Pittsburgh) with a large online catalogue. It's worth pointing that I went to a private university. Public universities like the Universidad de Chile while fantastic academically, have less infrastructure. One bit of advice I will give is that Chilean professors are somewhat less available to their students than US American ones are and will often not come to their office hours unless they know a student will visit them, so it's best to schedule meetings with them in advance by email or by talking to them at the end of a class.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I loved all the program staff. They were very friendly and supportive and were genuinely interested in getting to know us as people. Lindsay Auger, in particular, was almost always available via WhatsApp (a messaging platform widely used in Chile) within an hour of my sending her a message. When I tested positive for COVID-19, and Middlebury had to find accommodations for me, I was put up in an empty apartment in her apartment complex and she provided me with food (including warm meals for lunch and dinner) and anything else I needed. My only issue with the program is that they tended to make very specific plans for our excursions and then not let us know about these until very short notice. When it came to the monthly cultural excursions we usually only knew a week or two in advance when they would happen, which made it harder for me to make long term plans, whether for a group project in one of my classes or with my friends or host family.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived with a host family for the entire duration of my stay in Chile. They were a married couple in their late 50s with a small dog (miniature pinscher). Other family members such as their daughter and her husband, and my host mom's mother came to stay with them. I generally got on well with them, and while we didn't become as close as some other people I know have with there host families, I will miss them and want to stay in contact with them. The room I had in there apartment had enough space to store my clothes and the other things I had brought with me from the US and for most of the time I had the guest bathroom all to myself. My host parents were willing to help me if I had any questions or concerns. The Middlebury program assigns host families based on the student's preferences and profile, which I appreciate but is also limited by the number of people interested in being host families in Santiago and the fact that most of them are in there 50s and 60s. On the form Middlebury gave, my first choice for the type of people I would want to live with was young professionals, but I don't think it was possible for them to find people like that in Santiago. Nonetheless, my host family was a good fit for me in that they were interested in cultural activities like going to museums and theater, and liked going on trips with me. These are some of the things I had said were most important in the form. They were also tolerant and respectful of my sexuality (though it almost never came up), which was another thing I had listed as very important to me.

* Food:

I payed my host family for food as well as housing. My host mom gave me a warm lunch to take to the university, and there was always food in the house for breakfast and "La Once" - a smaller meal, usually bread with toppings which Chileans have instead of a larger dinner, (I would sometimes have leftover lunch in addition) - as well as snacks. My host parents would occasionally also take me to eat out and bring back special treats such as pieces of cake (a lot of Chilean cafes sell individual pieces of cake). The only thing that was a bit of a problem was that my they ate less than I did, so even though they provided food for all meals, the portions could be somewhat small, which I compensated for by sometimes buying additional food on the side (for example, at the university there were many places which sold affordable sandwiches or empanadas).

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Of all the categories here, this is one I think is most down to individual initiative. I believe the program provided with all the resources necessary to get 5 out of 5 stars in this category. There were just some things that I could have done to get more immersion that I wasn't comfortable doing early in the program. That said, I did feel quite integrated. The program found each of us a cultural mentor, a student our age who goes to the same Chilean University as we do. This way I was able to learn about the culture of people my age in Chile. All of my classes had group projects which enabled me to get to know some of my classmates. I made one very good friend through my classes and working on group projects together was one of the things that cemented our friendship. My host family was also an important source of cultural immersion for me.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The program did everything in their power to assist me when I tested positive for COVID-19. Juan accompanied me to my PCR test (since my home test could have been a false negative), Paulina began searching for housing where I could self-isolate as soon as the PCR came back positive, and Lindsay, who to make things easier had initially paid for the PCR test which I later paid her back for, was able to find me an empty flat in her apartment complex, after the process of finding official housing for self-isolation took to long, and provided me with food and anything else I needed. A perk of the Middlebury program is that they enroll all their study abroad students with GeoBlue, an international health insurance, which covers all of the students medical expenses. The minimal experience I had with Chilean healthcare has been generally positive. I was able to get the rapid PCR test within hours of when I first scheduled it. The two TeleHealth meetings I had confirming when I could enter and leave isolation respectively could also be scheduled on very short notice. Most impressive of all, when part of one of my gums became swollen because there was a bit of plac stuck in them, my host mom was able to schedule a consultation with a dentist for the following morning, and said dentist operated on me immediately after she diagnosed what the problem was and I paid for the operation. The only thing that took longer was allocating housing for my self-isolation when I had COVID. This would have taken two days because the relevant authorities needed to review my case to make sure I was eligible. I understand why this is - there are a limited number of spaces available for this purpose and the priority is to give them to people who can't self-isolate at home - but I think it's good to know about it in advance. I don't know if the program required any vaccines but there are a few the US government recommends for going to Chile that are not requirements for living in the US - I got a typhoid vaccine for this reason. I recommend consulting passporthealthusa and your primary care doctor.

* Safety:

The above is a rating for how safe I was while in Santiago, not a rating of the city's overall safety, which varies from area to area and based on time of day. Places like Plaza de Armas and the Bellavista neighborhood are fine during the day but should be avoided at night; Estación Central at all times. Generally, it's preferable not to be walking outside alone after 11pm. Consult with locals or with your program staff about where you need to exercise caution and you will be fine. On another note, of all the people in countries I or any of my family members have been to since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Chileans are by far the best when it comes to getting vaccinated and wearing masks, which I consider a definite plus when it comes to safety.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Because it places students not only with host families but at Chilean universities in classes with primarily Chilean students, the Middlebury program offers a degree of immersion that I found to be quite rare in the programs I looked at. The program staff was always there to support us if we needed it, but also encouraged us to take on more responsibilities and take care of things on our own. I am proud to say that I have greatly increased my self-reliance during this study abroad and I consider that partially a result of how the program was designed.


* 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)

This category is somewhat difficult for me to evaluate since my host family provided most of my food which as part of the payments I making to them. As a result, my only regular expenses were the additional food I bought for myself and public transportation which did not come to very much. If I had needed to take care of a larger percentage or all of my food, it might have been more difficult for me to stay within budget.


* 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

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Advanced

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?
  • The culture classes (biweekly meetings were learned about the most pressing issues facing the country today and the history that led to them) etings
  • The degree of immersion at my host university
  • That the program prearranged for me to have a cultural mentor
* What could be improved?
  • I think it would be better if the program communicated the dules for the various events earlier, that way we would know e various
  • I would not make this a requirement, but in retrospect I would have liked it if the program had recommended more strongly that I meet my host family over Zoom or a similar platform before coming to Chile because I think that would have eased the process of moving in with them
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I'm not sure if this can be described as something I wished I'd known in advance, but I think that some of the information on the Middlebury preparing for Chile guide is not entirely accurate anymore. I had chosen which clothes to take based on the advice that Chilean students tend to dress more stylishly than their American counterparts, but even at La Católica, a private university I went to, people dressed relatively informally. One of my fellow students was actually curious about why I never wore jeans like most of the others did. Similarly, while there is some truth to the fact that La Católica is more upper class, the tendency has become significantly less pronounced The number of people attending La Católica on scholarships has increased in recent years so there is more diversity in terms of social class among the student body.