More Than Just Learning a Language Past Review

By (Elementary and Middle Level Education, University of Northern Iowa) for

University of Northern Iowa: Arica - Culture and Intensive Spanish Program (CISP)

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I would do this program again in a heartbeat. I loved how close everyone was by the end of the trip, and everyone we interacted with was so helpful. I had so many people ask me why I was going to Chile, and my default answer was always to learn Spanish, but I have learned so much more than just a new language. Their culture is such a tightly woven mixture of popular culture, religion, and old traditions. I had no idea what I would really be learning here, but I have gotten a small taste of the indigenous lifestyle and learned that there is much more to the people here. I can now say that I came here and learned a lot more than just a language. I've learned about a special and unique group of people that I would not have had the chance to really know if I had stayed in the US.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The professors make it very clear what they expect of you and how they are planning on evaluating the work. The workload was very reasonable for the number of credit hours. The professors spoke in Spanish, so it was difficult for me to understand in the beginning, but as the summer continued, it became easier. The professors really made an effort to speak clearly and slowly to help us comprehend, and when there was a time that everything was going over our heads, the professor would stop and explain in a different way or use pictures. Our university was on a strike for the majority of our time studying there, but the program found an alternative location to hold classes and we didn't loose instructional time for circumstances outside of our control. Experiencing the strike and take-over of the university was exciting and a great lesson on how people are willing to fight for what they believe is right.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The number of people that went was just about perfect. Our group was small enough that we could get to know each other personally, but it also wasn't so small that we got sick of each other. I loved the length of the program because two months is a sufficient amount of time to really get to know an area and the language better. If the program had been longer, I don't know that I would have chosen it because I had never left the country before. This was a great first foreign experience and I would definitely choose this program again. The negative part about going with so many students from the same university is that I ended up speaking in English a lot more than I would have if I had traveled by myself. I am grateful that I had so many people to rely on and to ask questions of because we were able to help each other understand more about the class material and people in general.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The program took care of finding wonderful host families for us which I know can be difficult at times. The family I placed with was very helpful and welcomed me in their home. My mother was always asking me if there was anything I needed or that she could help me with, and when I was sick, she would bring me tea and toast without even being asked. The whole family treated me like I was an old friend. My home was in a pretty safe area of the city and short walk to the university and the place where we ended up having classes. Public transportation to anywhere I wanted to go was very easy to obtain and it wasn't an unreasonable walk to downtown. I didn't have to purchase anything special for my room because my family had already provided towels, bedding, and other typical "home" things.

* Food:

My host mom always gave me plenty to eat and would tailor the food to the things I like and didn't (i.e. I love vegetables but I can't stand mushrooms). When I mentioned that I like yogurt, my host mom started buying it for me even though I was the only one in the house that liked it. The food is actually really similar to the types of things we eat in the states, but there were also lots of new foods to try. I ate most of my meals with my family because I didn't have to pay extra for it.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Chileans tend to run on a later schedule than we're used to in the US, so their dance clubs don't usually open until after midnight. One of my favorite evenings was June 7th, an important day in Arica, because we spent the evening wandering through the fayerias eating ice cream with the primos and ended it by watching fireworks on El Morro. It was so much fun to interact with the locals and practice the language. The program arranged four excursions which were amazing. I am so glad that they took us around the area and showed us places that are important to the locals. It gave me a deeper understanding of the culture and how everything ties together. I also appreciated our week to travel. I chose to go to Machu Picchu (as did the other 15 students), and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Peru. It was one of my favorite parts of the experience because we were responsible for ourselves and had to be able to communicate with the locals on a level that we wouldn't have had to in our city. Our speaking and comprehending skills were tested, and I learned so much during those few days.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I didn't have any problems with safety in the city, but the drivers are kind of crazy, so watching traffic is a must.

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


* 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)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Language acquisition improvement?

I spoke Spanish every single day with everyone I encountered. The majority of my interactions with my professors were in Spanish with the occasional English word or two. I did speak a lot of English with my friends that were also in the program (more than I should have), but I spoke Spanish or a mixture of mostly Spanish and a little bit of English with everyone else.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Please don't get caught in the trap of speaking English with your classmates. Spanish is hard. Yes. I get it, but please challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and make mistakes. You really can learn a lot just from trying to say a few words. It gets easier as the months go on. Watch your spending carefully. It can be easy to get caught up in buying souvenirs and fun treats, but you also need to make sure that you don't go overboard. If your family invites you to go do something fun like see a movie or experience something new, go with them (unless of course you have class). It is there way of welcoming you into their family and they want to show off their culture. They really do want to help you learn more about the language and culture. Embrace the new culture, but also be willing to share a bit of your culture with your family. Especially foods. My family loved to hear about what types of things we eat in the United States.