True stories from study abroad in Chile: Miriam from GWU

Miriam Freeman on learning politics and human rights from former political prisoners, stumbling upon hidden treasures in ‘Valpo’ and the many meanings of  ‘weon’. 

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 Miriam Freeman, a graduate from George Washington University (GWU) in the United States, who studied abroad in Chile from July to December, 2010.
Highlights from the classroom
For the GWU student, Chile offered a unique perspective on her field of studies, International Affairs.
Studying in the country’s two leading universities, Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile, Miriam took classes in “Historical Memory and Human Rights in Chile, History of Latin America and Chile in the 20th Century, Artistic Discourse and Politics in Latin America, Latin American Politics.”
“My Historical Memory and Human Rights in Chile was incredible,” says Miriam. “Taught by a former political prisoner, the class artfully wove together the political history of the country leading up to and through the dictatorship. This understanding informed my whole experience here, providing me with a much deeper understanding of contemporary Chile.”
Learning Spanish, Chilean style
They say if you learn to speak Spanish in Chile you will never have any troubles adjusting to any of the regional variations of the Hispanic world; the country’s geographic isolation and the influence of the indigenous Mapudungún language have created a treasure trove of colorful expressions and slang.
At times it is amusing, and others frustrating, but at the end of the day everyone walks home with their favorite “chilenismo.”
For Miriam, it’s weon, the ubiquitous word that seems to defy definition – though many have tried.
“At our orientation, our director used weon to mean three different things in one sentence. It really is such an important word in the Chilean vocabulary,” she says.
The best of Chile, on a student’s budget
“Chile has such an incredible variety of climates and experiences,” Miriam reminiscences of her travels in the Andean nation.
“Though my trip to San Pedro de Atacama was the most impressive, I really enjoyed the easy trip to Valparaiso where we wandered among the colorful houses, stumbling upon delicious food and hidden art,” she says, when pushed to pick a favorite.
And what about that the one that got away? “Chiloé,” says Miriam. “Everyone has told me it’s beautiful and the long ride is well worth the Southern hospitality and seafood feasts.Someday…”
Little pearls of wisdom
“Seize the day,” is Miriam’s advice to incoming exchange students to Chile.
“This is a unique opportunity to learn and explore and you should make the most of it,” the GWU graduate says. “Make friends with Chileans, branch out from Bellavista, plan your feriados to take advantage of the cheap and extensive bus system.”

“It’s tough to strike a balance between maximizing your academic opportunities, using your location as a launch-point for travel, and really getting to know Chilean culture, but try to do all three.”