I was part of the Chile: Doing Business in Emerging Markets Winter 2016 program. I chose this program because I knew it would be a great opportunity to learn about a culture I didn’t know much about, while also a chance to rehearse my Spanish and enjoy a different climate.
One of the first things I was immediately surprised by was the social norms in Santiago; from how people greet each other to the level of affection displayed in public places, you knew just from walking outside that you were not in America. The lifestyle is distinct from what I was accustomed to; everyone works and acts in a much slower, relaxed pace. The kind of stress that is visually apparent in college students here in America is not present in university students there. Classes are more conversational and interactive, with a heavy use of technology. We watched videos and made visual presentations as a way of learning material in an interesting way. Even the grading system seemed less rigid, with exams and presentations graded on a 1-7 scale.
The biggest challenge I faced while in Chile was adjusting to the language. While I am a fluent Spanish-speaker, I constantly had to remind myself to switch languages. What’s more, to understand Chilean Spanish, a way of speaking that has a unique accent, took some time. Learning how to ask for something or what they called the foods was tricky, but the Chilean students helped a lot with the communication barriers. They taught us the best places to go for Chilean food, for a night of karaoke, how to navigate the city, and so much more.
Traveling with a group was fantastic because everyone had such a diverse experience, but we could all relate to one another and help each other settle into the new environment. Those who learned how to use the subway system would guide the others, those who came across a good place to eat would recommend it to the rest of the group, etc. You end up making good friends with the people you travel with, as well as with the students from the new university.
I strongly encourage students to study abroad because on top of learning about different people and seeing what life is like outside of America, you learn to appreciate your own values, customs, and lifestyle. The initial culture shock turns into an awareness that is invaluable. But, you also realize how similar we all are despite our country of origin. Humans face similar challenges, socially, economically and politically, no matter where we are from.
Johanna Bermudez, an English major and an Art Studio minor at Binghamton University