In this series of interviews with current and former study abroad students, This is Chile has the word straight from the horse’s mouth: classes, friends, travel, language – it’s all here.
Each year, thousands of students wing their way to Chile for the chance to study at one of the region’s leading universities, polish their Spanish, and travel one of the world’s best natural playgrounds.
Today we talk to Jeff Harvey, a recent graduate the University of Colorado at Boulder, in the United States.
Highlight from the classroom
The Chemical Engineering major spent seven months in Chile during 2009, studying at the country’s leading public university, the Universidad de Chile. His classes covered everything from Spanish and Chilean history to economics and international human rights, but he says the best academic experience was something outside the classroom: the strike at the university’s Law Faculty.
“The circumstances were grave, but the experience was unique, enlightening, and unforgettable,” Jeff says.
Study abroad students are usually exempt from actually participating in strikes and protests, which characterize the lively university culture at Chilean universities, but getting a first-hand look at grassroots mobilizing on a Chilean-scale can be an eye-opener for students from other countries. And don’t worry if a strike threatens to cancel your finals exam – Chilean professors understand that study abroad students are working on a different schedule, and will schedule a separate exam for you so that you get your semester grades on time.
Learning Spanish, Chilean style
Every study abroad student travels his or her own bumpy road along the idiosyncrasies of the Chilean idiom. Chile’s former geographic isolation and the linguistic influences of the indigenous language Mapudungún have created a treasure trove of expressions, popular sayings, and a very distinctive accent.
So, what was Jeff’s favorite “chilenismo”?: “I remember using carretear a lot,” he says.
Carretear originally meant to haul something in a cart, but at some point, Chileans – in their ultimate linguistic creativity – turned it into a verb for partying. Now, in Chile it means “to party” – and not just a little social gathering. If you’re going to carretear, it will be at a carrete (note – not a fiesta) and there will probably be dancing. No, there will definitely be dancing.
The best of Chile, on a student’s budget
When asked how long Jeff stayed in Chile, all he said was “not long enough.” Fishing in Puerto Varas, exploring the beautiful scenery outside Pucón… Jeff saw some of the great outdoors in Southern Chile that makes the country a famous adventure destination all year round. And what’s the one that got away? “Patagonia,” he says.
But if he had to choose a favorite, what would it be? “Pucón,” he says. “Volcano, hot springs, and ice cream.”
Little pearls of wisdom
Jeff said that living with a Chilean host family is a great way to make the most of your study abroad experience. “A positive attitude, an unshakeable sense of humor, and a fantastic host family are the key ingredients to success,” he said.
Most programs set students up with a host family initially, and let each individual decide whether or not to look for an apartment on their own. Living with a family can be a great opportunity to get an insider’s look on Chilean culture, but if it doesn’t work out, see our guide to finding student housing in Chile’s main cities.