Student of life: Studying Abroad in Santiago

By Brenda Morales, CASA Chile Spring 2017 (Brown University '18)

When you sign up to study abroad, you are told to look forward to a semester of learning and growth. You are told that studying abroad is an invaluable experience that you will carry on for the rest of your life. After studying abroad in Chile for one semester, I can confirm that all of this is true. What I wasn’t told, partly because there was no way for others or I to know, was the people I would meet, the type of relationships I would build, and the specific learning moments that would impact me and make me grow not only as a student, but also as an individual. For me, my host family, courses at the local universities, and learning to be an observer were only some of the factors that defined and made the last five months in Chile some of the most memorable and life changing.

The CASA Chile program couldn’t have done a better match for me than the host family I was placed with. My host mother, Tía Remedios, is an energetic and warm woman, with a passion for her family, life, and culinary arts. My host dad, Tío Hernán, runs his life at a much more relaxed pace than my host mother; nonetheless, he also shares the same passion for his family.


Picture of my host parents and I

Both my host parents and host brothers, Andrés and Javier, not only made my immersion to Chilean culture much easier, but they also integrated me into their family, leaving me truly feeling like I left a second family back in Chile the day I returned to the US. During the weekdays, we usually all enjoyed dinner together, which for the most part was composed of a homemade meal enjoyed over conversations about our days and the national news channel on the side. On the weekends, if we didn’t eat dinner together, we spent time with other family relatives (who also took me in) who came to visit my Chilean parents. 


My host mother and other family relatives eating typical Chilean once

We would all gather around the dinner table and take part in the famous Chilean once, a meal before actual dinner composed of delicious bread, homemade jam made by my Chilean mother, and tea or coffee (for the most part, we would eat so much delicious bread that we would be set for dinner by the time we finished). It would be the conversations over delicious meals with my host family that enabled me to learn more about Chilean culture and social issues.

I first received the email from CASA’s housing coordinator that contained an introduction and pictures of my family for the next five months, I was told that I would have a family that would offer me a space to live in, food to eat, and insight on Chilean culture. My host parents and brothers gave me everything mentioned along with warmth and love, making the host family component of the program not another window to Chilean culture, but also an opportunity to build relationships with wonderful individuals that I know I will be staying in touch with in the future.

The courses I took at the local universities were also another highlight of my study abroad experience. The CASA Chile program offers the opportunity to take courses in three of the local universities: Universidad de Chile, Universidad Diego Portales, and Pontificia Universidad Católica De Chile. I ended up taking four courses for the semester in two of the universities, all held in Spanish. At Universidad Diego Portales, a Chilean university recognized for its social sciences courses and work, I took two courses: Criticas de la Sociedad Contemporánea (Critiques of the Contemporary Society) and Derechos de las Minorías e Interculturalismo (Minority’s Rights and Interculturalism).


Book given to me as a present by one of my professors (Derechos de las minorías e interculturalismo

As an Education Studies Concentrator with a focus in Human Development, I had the absolutely amazing opportunity to be able to take two education courses, Diversidad e Inclusión en Educación (Diversity and Inclusion in Education) and Gestión y Liderazgo en el aula (Classroom Management and Leadership), at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, recognized as an institution with one of the best education departments within the entire country. Both of the courses were lead by invested professors in the education realm, where I was able to interact with Chilean students and aspiring teachers. I was able to learn new material, in Spanish, that further expanded my professional development and provided me with new methodology styles. In the classroom, my professors taught the theoretical aspect of the material, but most importantly, they emphasized the importance of taking the material learned in class and applying it to real contexts. Through my courses, I learned how to take theory to practice by collaborating with my Chilean peers, not only allowing me to keep learning as an academic, but also serving as another window to Chilean culture and different perspectives and ideas. For any students studying Education, I would highly recommend CASA Chile, specifically the School of Education at U. Católica. Needless to say, I learned amazing material with invested professors.

Finally, one of the skills that I was able to practice and improve is the ability to observe and think critically about my surroundings. Before studying abroad, I did not know much about Chile. I had read a book that a professor from Brown had recommended as a means to learn a bit more about Chile before I left. Unfortunately for me, I only read the first three chapters, leaving me with many unanswered questions about Chilean culture, history, and society. Nonetheless, I would say that one of the marvelous things about going to a country I knew close to nothing about is that you enter as an observer, ready to learn from your host country and hope to be able to contribute something as well. I learned to observe, think critically, ask questions, and reflect on the observations I made. I learned to be a learner outside of the classroom. In the metro, during my walks around the city, or sitting down in a nearby park, I was able to watch and think critically and ask myself questions about why certain processes occurred.


Photo of street vendors

If you ask me, these are the greatest learning moments. I was able to take away that, while I was a student at Brown University, I belong to this much greater learning space that is the world. I learned that whatever I do, it ultimately has to do with the world around me; thus, I cannot think about a topic without thinking about how it fits in this greater, more complex whole.

As a student at Brown, I always spoke a lot with my peers of the awareness of living in a “small bubble” that is campus. For me, this “bubble” has always consisted of: a) classes, homework, exams and finals, b) extracurricular activities, workshops, and work, and c) close friends that I’ve made at Brown. Looking back, I can confidently say that all of these elements have been instrumental to my understanding of the world around me and to how I approach situations that come my way. I can even state that they were instrumental in preparing me to my semester abroad in Chile. Nonetheless, in the whirlwind that can be Brown, and university life in general, it can be easy to stick to theoretical learning, such that comes through books and lectures, a specific subject or content, that can be our concentrations or majors, and speaking with like-minded people, that can be the friends and teachers that we build at Brown, as I did. I guess this is where my “small bubble” comes in. However, I truly appreciate the opportunity I got to study abroad in Chile and learning how not just to be a college student, but also a student of life.