By Kangrong (Allison) Zhang, SIP Chile 2018 (Harvard '20)
While this summer in Chile is not my first time living in a foreign country for an extended period of time, I still felt butterflies in my stomach as I boarded my flight first to Dallas, and then to Santiago. The main reason for such apprehension is a lack of confidence in my Spanish skills. Interestingly, my biggest takeaway from this journey is also increased confidence in my Spanish and more faith in my ability to adjust and connect with others despite language and cultural barriers.
Before this summer, I could not have imagined myself working at a large company in a Spanish-speaking country, and this is exactly what the DRCLAS program allowed me to experience. Prior to departure, I expected to learn more about the finance industry (I interned at an asset management firm in Chile), and this expectation was semi-fulfilled. My team works on real estate investment, which is a fairly niche topic, so while I learned a lot about the terminology and theories behind real estate investment, I didn’t gain a thorough understanding of the entire industry. Nonetheless, my mentor was very supportive and gave me the freedom to choose and pursue independent projects, which allowed me to learn more about finance and investing in general on my own.
The highlight of my Chile experience was definitely my host family. I stayed with a single mother and five children, and they not only made my stay in Chile very comfortable but also introduced me to Chilean culture and society (while giving me more opportunity to practice my Spanish skills). I also travelled extensively across the country, visiting diverse places such as the Atacama Desert to the north and the Chilean Patagonia to the south. We chose to stay in Airbnb’s and had the opportunity to interact with Chileans from different regions and backgrounds. Visiting museums in Santiago and around the country also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding about Chilean culture and history. My personal favorite is the Museums of Pre-Columbian Art. The greatest challenge for me while trying to understand and connect with Chileans is the language barrier, which was only exacerbated by the wide variety of Chilean slang and difficult pronunciation.
Through this unique summer experience, I improved my spoken Spanish dramatically (mostly thanks to practice and a confidence-boost by my host family, who gave me underserved compliments regularly) and learned that the finance industry does not interest me greatly, which is valuable information to keep in mind for planning a career. I loved immersing myself in a foreign culture and am now greatly looking forward to my semester of studying abroad at Cambridge University during the spring semester. My visit to Chile also reinvigorated my desire to learn Spanish (having only taken one Spanish class at Harvard), and I plan on taking another Spanish class this coming semester.
My summer in Chile was incredibly enriching and memorable – would definitely go back if I have the chance!