I traveled with International Studies Abroad in the Summer of 2017 and did the Service-Learning Program at the Conin Infant Clinic. On my excursion to Valparaiso, Chile I could not have had more of a life changing experience. It was the first time that I had gone abroad without knowing anybody once I got off the plane, and it was much colder than I anticipated! I had traveled alone before, but for some reason I felt so small in the Santiago airport. Luckily, ISA was one step ahead of me and a kind man directed me to my ISA driver, Gonzalo, who was so very kind. I rode with Arnell from Tennessee and it was a great experience. We spoke in broken Spanish the whole ride to Valpo and bonded through our experience thus far.
Once I got to my house, I received an extremely warm welcome from Gabriela and Jose. I knew then that I was going to be alright in my homey European-influenced Latin-American town. My host parents cooked the most amazing dishes that I still crave to this day, especially the vegetables. There is nothing like the fresh vegetables abroad that are so tasty raw that all they need is a few squirts of lemon juice to enjoy. I still think about the alfajores that we made and that I sneaked through customs…but don’t tell! My host sister from the U.S and Gabriela’s daughter that visited occasionally were fantastic as well and we still chat online. I also improved my Spanish immensely which was very important to me as I did not have room in my busy schedule to take Spanish courses throughout college but I wanted to improve. I really enjoyed being forced into the language because having no other way to communicate really did make me better.
I still reminisce about Conin and all the wonderful nurses, physicians, therapists, and dietitians I met. I also think about the babies nearly every day. I still message Nicol from Conin every once in a while to check in and see how everyone is doing, although the babies I worked with a year ago are now gone and either back with families or adopted which is a great thing indeed! I also met my now dear pal, Laura, that actually was from the University of Arkansas and I worked those hours with her at Conin nearly every day and we become very close. Since we have been back we still get together for coffee or dinner and reminisce and enjoy our new life experiences as well! I certainly got a long term friend out of my experience as well.
I also traveled throughout Chile, and went on the excursions that the program planned such an white water rafting in Cajon de Maipo and travelling to the various coastal beaches by bus that were unforgettable. I also traveled with Laura to Horcon and went on long walks throughout the beautiful city that is Valpo. If you choose this program, be sure to take advantage of everything that there is to offer.
On another note, I had been dating the man I am still with today for about six months at the time, and this was our first experience long distance. So with that said, this trip was challenging in more ways than one and it made me develop and grow a lot as a person. I realized many different aspects of my life were evolving and that my horizons were being broadened by being abroad without him and having experiences apart from him and our relationship. But to all those people that think they can’t do something like this because they are in a relationship, you most definitely can and I encourage you to!
Overall my experience was extraordinary and I will be forever appreciative of everything that I got out of it and I hope that they people I interacted with also benefited from my presence as well. I definitely would recommend this to anyone, and for those who are more resume-driven, this was a great experience that I have brought up in interviews and is certainly experience in the health field that I can use to my advantage. I also got credit for it towards my Anthropology degree as I did a research paper while I was there.
If you are thinking of studying abroad, definitely consider studying abroad in Chile and seek out opportunities to do a Service-Learning, because for me, it was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my days!
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