Mary Johnson is a student at Southern Illinois University and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures blogger corresponding with the International Studies department at SIU. Mary is currently studying in Valparaiso, Chile on an ISA Fall 1 program.
It is absolutely crazy to think that in one month I will have finished my first semester abroad. I think I’ve come a long way. I have seen and experienced so much since I arrived. Here’s a little top five countdown for you of some of my favorite things.
5. THE BEACH – I knew I would love this aspect before I arrived. I can see the ocean from my bedroom window, walk there in 10 minutes, jog along the endless coast in the morning (I’ve never actually enjoyed running until being here), and just be able to relax for a day on the beach with my friends. ISA took us on a excursion to the beaches north of here this past weekend. A friend of mine made this wonderful video. Those are my feet at the beginning!
4. FRIENDS – I’m sure it’s like this anywhere you study abroad, but I have met the most wonderful group of people. ISA’s group here in Chile is about 70 people. Every single one of them has a wonderful personality, a strong drive to see the world, and a love for meeting new people. Of course, this makes it hard to push yourself out there and make Chilean friends. I myself am still having an extremely rough time with this, as my Spanish skills are still pretty slow.
3. ENVIRONMENT – This one goes hand in hand with my first two points. I am so free to see new things here. From the tops of mountains down to the beaches. From Chilean torture camps from the Pinochet regime to a festival of art in the streets of Valpo. There is so much here. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never been so lost, but I’ve never felt so much as home.
2. FAMILY – My Chilean family is awesome! My mother is loving and spunky. She makes wonderful vegetarian meals for me and includes me in as many family events as she can. My father helps me practice Spanish every night and is constantly telling my about the culture here. He lent me all of his classic rock albums and gave me a sound system for my room. He talked me through politics in Chile and how their education system leaves some people much less fortunate than us. My eldest brother, Anibal (12), is such a boss. He seems to be much like his father. He lent me his computer and helps me with absolutely anything (and with a smile), and is willing to kick a soccer ball around with me.
1. SPANISH – When it comes to Spanish I am a very slow learner. When I was in the States I knew that in order to become as fluent as I wanted to, I would have to leave the country. I have to admit, it is still a much slower process than I anticipated. It is still almost impossible for me to hold a legitimate conversation with any Spanish speakers. HOWEVER, I am moving forward. Every day I get a little better. I am so much farther now than I could have possibly been just studying language in my home university. With that said, I am really happy with my decision to stay here for a year. Hopefully by the time I leave I will be able to speak the language without hesitation. Not to mention make more Chilean friends, spend time with my Chilean family, relax, at the beach, and climb more mountains.