June 01, 2020
When It happened
Before I left for Chile, I had people tell me a lot of nevers: never keep your phone in your back pocket, never walk alone at night. Just a lot of warnings that actually made me a little scared, which was weird since I’m normally very confident. So when I arrived in Chile, I was initially cautious and struggled to feel comfortable in Santiago. The first few weeks of the program were just language and culture classes with other UC peers, and then after only one week of content courses at the university, I had to leave.
In the beginning, I was in complete denial of the possibility of returning home. I still remember hearing about the escalating severity of COVID-19 and the effects it would have on my study abroad program. It all happened within 3 days, a flight was purchased and I said goodbye to the beauty of Santiago’s streets. I left right at the two-month mark but was intending to study abroad for 6 months. I felt completely shattered as the growth and comfort were finally starting to settle in, but I was forced to leave it all behind. The program then gave me the option to continue with online classes or withdraw from the program and take online classes through UCSC. I decided on the latter. I did get to travel a bit during my short time in Chile to Patagonia in the south and some Northern beach towns. It was honestly just so crazy because no one thought it would impact Chile and the news was not covering it like the U.S. And then we got one case. And within three days, it spiked. Every pharmacy had a sign that they had no hand sanitizer, everyone was wearing masks, and I found myself scared again in Santiago.
Initially, I had no time to think about things. I came back and was immediately confined to my room. I had to undergo a 14-day quarantine and that is nothing like I have ever experienced. No human touch or contact for a whole two weeks, and after those two weeks were over once again I was immensely grateful for the little things that I realized were so big. I feel much better now that I am more incorporated into my regular routine. Returning home to a loving family that received me with such warmth has been the main reason I have been able to have a positive experience coming back home. Even if I did start to like living in a city like Santiago, I do prefer a rural area. Overall though, I’ve been really good, still processing, but keeping in touch with people from the program is helping. I experienced more in two months than I ever have in my entire life. I constantly pushed myself in little ways to go beyond my comfort zone and so for that I am immensely grateful.
Looking back at your experience
In years from now, I am going to remember the way I felt walking down the street, the sense of freedom, newness, and possibility. I am going to remember the smell overflowing the crowded city streets from street vendors. I am going to remember the activism and street art that begged to be looked at, and that made me feel empowered to be studying abroad in Chile. I believe I went into my program with a very positive outlook. Every little thing was a new thing for me. Even walking down the street was new. It was really helpful to have this mindset because it allowed me to see everything as a new opportunity.
For future students studying abroad
Despite all the uncertainties, I have absolutely no doubt, no fear, and no hesitation in recommending a study abroad program to any student. It is one of the best experiences you can get from the university. I will say that any program that is longer than a quarter is inherently better because it is set up to be more well-rounded and less stressful. I appreciated being in one place because it really creates a better sense of home. Also, practicing Spanish in Latin America is very special, and Santiago is a place full of activism, pain, history, and is geographically similar to California. Overall, Chile is a country that asks you to be more critical and appreciative of your life.