Reconnecting with my “Home Away from Home”

By: Gabriela Muñoz, HSI Chile 2018 (Harvard '21)

On a blue skied day in May, I woke up from perhaps the worst sleep I’ve had in years. Within seconds of my eyes adjusting to the bright, white lights and uncurling myself from the uncomfortable position I had adopted while asleep, I remembered that I was on a plane, 5,000 miles away from home, and just minutes from touching down in Santiago, Chile, my new home for the summer. Well, I couldn’t say it was a new home exactly, given that my entire family, including myself, hailed from this narrow strip of land, rich in natural beauty and culture. Still, I knew it wouldn’t be the same place I left all those years ago, and feared feeling like a stranger amongst my own people once I returned. And yet, as I watched the breathtaking Cordillera de los Andes through the compact, plexiglass window by my plane seat, an inexplicable sense of pride rushed through me. I couldn’t help but think to myself - Chile, could I call you home once again?

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Flashforward a mere two months, and I find myself sitting in the middle of a Wendy’s with Amanda, a fellow incoming sophomore and “Matherite” that I had met through the program. As we ate the chocolate-drizzled Frosties using the last 600 pesos we managed to scrape up, emotions and memories ran wild through my mind on the eve of our return to the States. These two months had been some of the most life-changing yet.

Looking back, I can’t share my experience without first expressing my gratitude for the extensive system of support and guidance that DRCLAS offered the 28 of us, whether we were HSI or SIP, Pilo, Francisco, and Amanda and the rest of the office made us all feel welcome and facilitated our immersion into our new, Chilean lives.

The experiences that I made in Chile through the Health and Spanish Immersion program (HSI) were truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences that wouldn’t have been made possible without the coordination of the DRCLAS office. Throughout the week, I was immersing myself in the climate and culture of various hospital systems, private and public, all over Santiago, while also brushing up my Spanish through our class at the Pontificia Universidad Católica. Just speaking with the 6th and 7th year medical students at the Universidad de Chile’s hospital, and seeing their shock that first year college students were getting behind-the-scene access to what it takes to run a hospital, really revealed to me the incredible opportunity that HSI was giving Harvard students. We even spent a full week in rural Chile, branching out through volunteer projects within the community, which ended up with a medicine bottle in one of my hands, and a goat’s head in the other.

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Overall, though, I think the factor that really made my experience in Chile unique, was the other students in the program. Never in my life would I imagine that you could bring 28 people, all from completely different backgrounds and even different schools (shout out to my mates from Brown), and within a couple months they could be your newest best friends. Within the HSI itself, we spent so much time together through the program that it felt like I had gained 13 new brothers and sisters. Additionally, getting to meet family that I had previously only known from the comments they would put on my pictures on Facebook, and getting to really “meet” the country I had only known from pictures of times and memories from before I could remember, is something so special to my story. For this, I am truly thankful for having chosen a summer with DRCLAS in Santiago, Chile, my home away from home.

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