Helen Bolton - Student Profile
MAJOR: International Relations
MINOR: Latin American Studies
I had known I wanted to go to Santiago since I first visited Stanford Admit Weekend and scoped out all of the different study abroad programs. Having always been interested in visiting Latin America and learning Spanish, the only thing left to do was decide which quarter to go. Yet despite how certain I was about my choice, and how excited I was to skip Stanford's rainy winter quarter for a summer in the Southern Hemisphere, I found myself getting more and more nervous. I was afraid I wouldn't get along with my host family, or be able to keep up with the rapid pace of Chilean Spanish, or that my vegetarianism would mean there was nothing for me to eat for three months. Thankfully my fears were quickly assuaged when I met my incredibly warm and friendly host mother, found my first cab driver willing to slow down a bit when I struggled to understand him, and discovered how much I loved the traditional dish porotos con mazamorra.
Having grown up in a small town in Kansas, I was not only nervous about life in another country, but in a major city on top of that. While I had completed two years of Spanish at Stanford, I was still not especially confident with my speaking abilities. My nerves only increased after I heard over and over again that Chilean Spanish is spoken incredibly quickly and is full of slang. Thankfully, while I thought I would feel incredibly overwhelmed, I generally found Chilean people to be as helpful and friendly as Midwesterners, always willing to slow down, repeat themselves, and explain the meaning of a word if I was having trouble. This was especially true of my host mom, who was incredibly patient with me as I was initially struggling to adjust to her “chilenismos.” Even when the people I was speaking to were fluent in English, as some of the great friends I made while abroad were, I never felt the need to break down and speak English instead of Spanish. One of my favorite nights in the city was spent at a Universidad de Chile student's house, watching the Oscars and discussing them in Spanish. This ability to improve my speaking skills, especially in fun settings and outside of a classroom, was one my favorite aspects of my time abroad.
I lived in the Ñuñoa area of the city, in a great neighborhood filled with families. It was great to see kids playing soccer in the park every day, just a few blocks away from my apartment building. But thanks to an excellent public transportation system, I was also only a bus or metro ride away from everything else. My friends and I were able to travel all over the city to see the various spectacular views, museums, ferrias, and other amazing things Santiago has to offer. We also never got tired of trying out different restaurants, which the staff at the center were always happy to recommend. With all of these great sites (and tastes), plus the fun of events like soccer games and dancing, it was never a struggle to come up with something to do. On top of all of these incredible things in the city itself, my friends and I were able to travel outside of the city for several of our weekends. While destinations like Buenos Aires and Machu Picchu make for fantastic trips, it would be easy to fill your time with gorgeous vacation spots without ever having to leave Chile. I especially loved the Atacama desert to the north, and the beautiful national park filled with glaciers, Torres del Paine, in the very south. Thanks to Chile's length, every type of natural scenery can be found without ever crossing a border, and the beach was just a short bus ride away.
In addition to all of this exploration, my quarter in Santiago proved to be one of my favorite from an academic standpoint. As an International Relations major also getting a minor in Latin American Studies, I hit the jackpot when I got to take Latin America in the International System from Alberto Van Klaveren, who was serving as one of Chile's negotiators at the Hague. I have always enjoyed classes about Latin American politics and the role of Latin America in international politics, but the chance to learn about these things from someone who played a part in Chilean and international politics was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I especially enjoyed working on my final paper, which I decided to write about the various quota laws used in different Latin American countries that require that a certain percentage of the legislature be women. In researching this topic, I not only got to learn about an interesting aspect of Latin American politics, but it also made me reflect on American politics and the role women play in them. I also enjoyed learning about the Pinochet regime from Professor Van Klaveren. It was an incredible experience to be able to hear about the dictatorship from an expert in a classroom setting, to hear a bit of my host mother's perspective on the period, and then to also be able to visit the newly opened Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, dedicated to human rights abuses that occurred during the period. Getting all of these different perspectives on a period of history I had studied at Stanford in other Latin American Studies classes provided a unique academic experience.
While I may have arrived a bit nervous and unsure, by the time I left I felt like Santiago had truly embraced me. The city provided me with both a new and exciting cultural experience, as well as friendly and interesting people eager to discuss my new surroundings. Several of the friends I met I still keep in contact with over Facebook, and I continue to email my host mother. I know that I will forever treasure the memories I have of the amazing sites I saw and the incredible times I had with great new friends. While everyone had badgered me before I went to Chile about why I would choose Santiago over Madrid, I returned to the States absolutely certain that I had made the right choice.