By Kelsey Carpenter, CASA Chile Fall 2018 (Cornell University '20)
When I first arrived in Chile, new faces frequently asked me, “Why did you pick Chile for study abroad?” Truth be told, I did not have a great answer to this inquiry. I did not want to go to Europe alongside the majority of my peers. An advisor recommended the country. I needed a program that supported my major. These answers satisfied the questioner, but they only left me further examining my own decision to study abroad in Chile. I thought that students were supposed to pick a country because they had some great passion for the culture or they thought that they would truly find themselves at a specific program. Did my decision to study abroad without such a poetic reason prove just how naïve I was? Maybe it did, maybe it did not. Regardless, reflecting on my abroad experience after the fact, I am glad that my answers were perhaps not so profound. Jumping wholeheartedly, even if it was also blindly, into my semester in Santiago, Chile, I set myself up for an unpredictable and exciting five months. With this freedom to explore without expectations of what my experience should look like or what exactly I should get out of it, I can now answer that question that nagged at the back of my mind the entire semester.
My semester in Santiago offered the chance to connect with and learn from others in a way that I did not think possible. I would only be in Chile for five months, I am not a native Spanish speaker, I grew up over 5,000 miles to the north with different cultural references and contexts. So many obstacles stood between me and finding people with whom I could establish lasting relationships. I am not going to lie and say that those obstacles never stood in the way of conversations or friendships. Still, I found a community of people with a willingness to communicate and learn from one another. From the day I arrived, my host family accepted me into its fold. Conversations with my host mom huddled around a space heater in July and weekly Sunday lunches with the entire family made me feel welcome. I felt at home working through multiplication charts sitting around a table or shouting, “Quemado! Quemado!” as I ran from a whizzing soccer ball in the courtyard of the afterschool program Club Domingo Savio. Gathering every Friday in the CASA office for class and somehow staying the entire day made me realize that I had made the right choice in Chile.
The people I met in Chile made all of the memories I have possible. Everything I learned from improving my Spanish to Chilean politics to discovering new parts of myself would not have been possible without the supporting and loving individuals I met along the way. By opening myself up to new experiences and exploration, I connected with people that will forever have an impact on my life. I was not satisfied with my answers for why I chose Chile, but if someone were to ask me today, “Why should I go to Chile?” I would reply, “For the people.”