Challenging but so worth it! January 08, 2024

By (International Relations, Bethel University) - abroad from 08/28/2023 to 12/11/2023 with

SIT Study Abroad: Chile - Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I became so much more comfortable speaking Spanish, but overall I think my biggest takeaway was how much my confidence grew. I interviewed strangers, lived with a new family, navigated a new city, made new friends, and experienced new cultures.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This program advertises itself as an academically rigorous semester, and it definitely challenged me. I appreciated that we tackled high-level concepts (ie. the complicated legacy of neoliberalism, debates about how to remember a dictatorship past, indigenous resistance movements) even though our cohort was new to Chile and all of us were learning in a second language. Ironically, I found the Spanish classes the least helpful, but conversations with homestay families and daily life in Valparaíso pushed me to grow in my Spanish more than a class could.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Karina and Tania were incredible. I truly felt like I could go to them with any problem. Especially on the excursions, they made themselves available to all students. Danilo made sure everything ran smoothly behind-the-scenes, and when you are traveling with 20 people, it's important to have a well-planned itinerary. The overall structure of this program was intense but well-planned. Thanks to the SIT team, we fit a lot into our one semester.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was placed in a small townhouse in Valparaíso and I had everything I needed: my own room, washing machine (I was able to wash my own laundry, though I know most host families washed their students' clothing for them), kitchen (my host dad cooked all of my meals for me except breakfast). The only thing I would have liked is a desk in my room, but I was able to do my homework at the dining room table or at coffee shops.

* Food:

Sadly, Chilean food is NOT spicy. But I absolutely loved my meals in Chile. My host dad was an excellent chef, and as part of the program, host families pack a lunch for their students. One of my food highlights was when we stayed with Mapuche families in the South. Since we were in el campo, we ate a lot of fresh vegetables, eggs, and meat from their farm. I also loved the classic Chorípan-- chorizo sausage with tomato, onion, and cilantro. I know some friends in my program would have liked to be able to cook for themselves, but my experience was excellent.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

This is a tough question. I felt integrated to the extent that a tall gringa from the States can feel integrated in Chile. I definitely felt like a part of my host family, and by the end of the semester, I had my favorite spots in Valpo that felt like home. I would have liked to meet more Chilean students my age.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

My only experience with the healthcare system was a couple trips to the Cruz Verde to get some medicine. It was a little tricky to navigate/find what I needed, but not terrible.

* Safety:

It's true that you have to be careful with how you carry your things and when/where you're walking alone. I know a couple girls on my program had their necklaces stolen, and people will steal your phone if you have it out in a plaza. But beyond that, I really did feel safe. I ran almost every day by the coast, and I never felt unsafe. I made sure to walk with someone if I was going out after sunset, and I always took Ubers instead of public transit in the evenings.

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

This program had everything I wanted in a study abroad experience: host family, Spanish immersion, academic challenge, in-program travel, and opportunity for independent research. I thought it was the perfect balance of independence and structure.


* 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)

With meals and housing included in the program costs, I think it was fairly easy to live on a student's budget. Public transit is cheap and there are plenty of options for low-budget food. It's a university town, so it is full of students living on student budgets. There are also a lot of open-air markets to thrift cheap clothes.


* 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

Complete immersion. After day 1 of orientation, our advisors and professors only spoke Spanish to us.

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? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Upper-level Spanish literature course
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Take advantage of conversations with your host family. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen talking with my host parents, and I think it helped me the most. The month of November is an independent month (either for an internship or for research), and I spoke less Spanish that month than earlier in the semester. You have to be more intentional in that last month to keep up your Spanish.

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

  • Americans
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?
  • Academic environment and expectations
  • Host family (and the connections to other host families! A lot of the families have been hosting SIT students for 15+ years)
  • Location! (I loved how colorful and fun Valparaíso was)
* What could be improved?
  • Spanish classes
  • Excursion to the North should have had more down time (especially with the altitude changes).
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Honestly, I think not knowing a lot before you go is better. There were times that I wished we had more information so we could know what to expect, but the reality of immersing yourself in a completely new culture is that you can't have specific expectations.