GVSU Student Mary Hoekje shares her experience in Chile at GVSU Partner University Universidad del Bío-Bío.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
Happiness. Studying abroad in Chile was the best ten months/two semesters of my life, and whenever I think about Chile it makes me so incredibly happy!
Why did you choose Chile?
I knew I wanted to study abroad in South America and I was also interested in studying with a GVSU partnership program. The program with Universidad del Bío-Bío (UBB) fit the bill! I also loved it because of the independence I had, and the full immersion that I would have in the language and in the culture.
What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
I was surpised at how kind and welcoming Chileans are on the whole. Nearly everyone I met was excited to help me with my language goals, show me around, or take me to their friend or family’s house for dinner. Their hospitality is unbeatable, and they are all so friendly!
Chileans also love an excuse for a party. Getting a good grade on a test, the fact that it’s a Tuesday, a soccer (fútbol) match, and not knowing what else to do for dinner are all perfectly good reasons for Chileans to have a barbecue! They are always getting together and spending time with their loved ones, and they all know how to have a good time!
I was surpised at the formality and respect intrinsic in the country and in the language. More often than not, you address people with the formal you (usted) and many people are careful not to say things to offend others. Being a language learner, I definitely had to be careful how I spoke, since it’s easy to slip up! Luckily, I never offended anyone, or at least, they understood that I was foreign and doing my best to learn! :)
What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in Chile?
Since this is a partnership program, in the semester-long programs you study in class with other Chilean students, and you won’t have a big group of international students or even English speakers there, so be ready to practice and improve your Spanish! If you are looking for a program that allows you a lot of independence and serious opportunities for language gains, this is a great one! And, even though you have a lot of independence, between the university, your friends, professors, and host family, there is a ton of support available, as well.
Chile also has a ton of natural beauty from the mountains to the ocean and north to south, so be sure to take advantage of that! Travelling by bus is inexpensive and accessible, so I encourage you to take advantage of all the outdoors activities that the country has to offer. You won’t regret it.
What advice would you offer?
I have two pieces of advice. Go into it with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and admit when you don’t know something. If you go in with an open mind in terms of your expectations for study abroad, then you can let your experience unfold in a natural way. Definitely have goals and aspirations! But at the same time, understand that it’s going to be different than the picture you have in your head, and that is totally okay…and sometimes, even better! :) And never be afraid to ask questions and use your Spanish. Chileans are so excited that you want to learn Spanish and understand their culture, and the vast majority of people are very happy to help you. Whether it’s asking for directions, not understanding a word or custom, or just wondering about Chilean history…just ask! I found that by inquiring about things I didn’t know, I made a lot of connections with people and also got to practice my Spanish, on top of getting my questions answered! Score.
What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
My goal was to master (as much as I could) my grasp of Spanish and gain a deeper knowledge of Chilean culture and of Latin America as a region. I met all my goals and then some!