Back to SummaryArelys Villeda - Student Advisor Profile
MINOR: Urban Studies
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: Educational Policy
When I got back to the United States after traveling so much of the world, people would often ask me about my time in Santiago. Stanford students knew it as the Spanish student location for studying abroad. My Hispanic family thought it was a random place to visit among the twenty seven other countries in Latin America, and other friends found it extremely exotic. But to everyone I would say, “I can’t
imagine a more underrated city.” I applied to study in Chile with no idea of what Santiago would be like. I heard it wasn’t tropical like other parts of Latin America, it wouldn’t be like my usual visits to Guatemala, and that Chileans would speak ridiculously fast Spanish. Everyone was right. Chile was everything and nothing like what I expected.
Having always known that I wanted to study abroad at least once while I was at Stanford, I packed my bags and on a frigid Chicago morning in January and I headed off to the warm – more like scorching – sun of South America. It wasn’t the smooth ride I expected considering I got stuck in Miami and arrived a few minutes before orientation was set to begin. But that was my first experience with the Stanford in Santiago staff. You won’t find a group of people more eager for your arrival and more willing to help out in any way that they can.
My host family shared the same qualities. As an only child from a single parent home, I was eagerly awaiting the huge change I would experience with the six new people that I would call my family. Florinda and Fernando are beautiful people that opened up their home to a complete stranger and made me feel as though I had lived there for years. We would talk about everything! Some nights we’d discuss the political history of Chile while other nights we’d gossip about guys and dating. And whenever I had a question about Chilean history for a class, they were the best resource I had.
The courses offered in Santiago were a breath of fresh air for a student that was used to taking a specific type of class at Stanford. I was enrolled in a course about Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, another that dealt with the Chilean land, and
one that explored all types of Latin American arts. As a Sociology major, I never expected to enjoy a course devoted to learning about biodiversity and Chilean wildlife, but I was wrong. We learned many interesting things while getting the chance to be surrounded by what the class was teaching us. When we learned about a type of plant or a native bird, we’d get the chance to see the tree or listen to the bird’s call during our field trips. During another course, we learned about one of Chile’s most popular musical groups and were lucky enough to hear them play during our Bing trip in Valdivia.
In addition to everything the Stanford program has to offer, it’s important to realize that you have three months to become a part of Santiago. You have the opportunity to make friends with locals, practice your Spanish, and get out of your comfort zone. There are so many changes you’ll experience such as riding the metro to school every day with a million other people, guarding your backpack as you squeeze between people on the bus, eating a hot dog with avocado, realizing that it’s possible to have a salad with one ingredient, and having men tell you that they love you using the only three English words they know. It’s all part of a wonderful experience.
And there to share these experiences with you are other Stanford students that will become your other home away from home. I saw these people in class every day, ate meals with them, wandered the city together, and to this day, still keep in touch. We all figured things out together whether it was the best place to exchange your money, where the best places to eat were, or where to go out at night.
I recommend this city to anyone looking for an unforgettable experience abroad. I guarantee that when you come back, you’ll definitely be starting your sentences with, “When I was in Santiago…” Take advantage of everything it has to offer so that the end of that sentence shows what a great time you truly had.