Back to SummaryJesus Salas - Student Advisor Profile
ADVISOR: Robert McGinn
Why Chile? This is the question I always hear from people after I tell them I spent six months studying abroad there. I am sure the question stems from a multitude of reasons, including that most people cannot fathom why I would choose Chile over Madrid as my Spanish study abroad destination. I did not regret it before going and definitely do not regret it now. As a native Spanish speaker, I wanted an experience where I would have to connect the dots instead of having everything laid out on a nice silver platter. I knew that Chile, an “underdeveloped” country, would be more of a challenge than Madrid and in turn provide me with more fruitful experiences. This was definitely the case.
As a native speaker, I wanted to become proficient in my writing skills as well as improve my vocabulary. This did happen, but the rich academic experience I received was something I did not anticipate. At Stanford, “shopping” classes usually means bouncing from one class to another during the first few days of the quarter, with the downside of having to play catch-up once you finally decide on a particular class or sign up for a new one. In Chile, the entire first week is devoted to allowing students to sample each and every class, which I took full advantage of both quarters I was there. Stanford professors are, for the most part, well renowned for their academic achievements, and the Chilean professors we had were of a similar caliber but grown from disparate professional backgrounds. They were usually national figures, some with overseas academic experiences, who have an impact on the development of Chile on a daily basis. The merit of expertise that these professors had, naturally pushed me to become engaged with the subject matter in ways that I had not experienced before. This new level of academic connection contributed to some of my best learning experiences during my undergraduate career so far.
Usually students try to fulfill their GERs while abroad, and following suit, Winter Quarter I enrolled in what would turn out to be the best course I have taken while in college. The course was entitled “Artistic Expression in Latin America in the 20th Century,” which gave me little overview into what I would learn over the course of the quarter. The course turned out to be a comprehensive study of most artistic forms to understand how they are linked to the past and are now shaping the present. During each class we were presented with a video, song, painting, or graffiti piece that was not out of the ordinary, but the lenses that the professor used to dissect these art pieces allowed me to gain a new sense of appreciation for each one. The professor’s knowledge and insight brought to life everything we did and challenged us to be more cognizant of the everyday things we see. More personally, the course put some of my family's Mexican artistic traditions into perspective.
This reflection continued into the following quarter when I took a course called “Politics & Culture” that looked at the intersection between society and modernization. The topics we covered made me look back at my upbringing as I was born in the United States but was raised in a Mexican culture. One book we read was about an eight year old boy in Mexico growing up with the Americanization of his country, and ultimately how he fit into the grand scheme of it all. Personally, I can relate to that character many times as I have new experiences that alter my view of progression and advancement as a Mexican-American. Challenging my beliefs was an interactive process throughout both quarters and fortunately the learning was not limited to the classroom. Along with academics, I was exposed to other facets of Chilean life and history that could only have happened abroad.
Prior to my abroad experience I knew very little about poetry, but being in Chile exposed me to two iconic figures in Chilean and Latin American literature: Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Both were extremely influential individuals and through the BOSP activities I had the chance to actually visit the homes of both individuals. Learning about Neruda’s political involvement, along with the tours of his three homes, and reading his poems helped me create a unique personality for him. During a Bing trip we visited the location where Gabriela Mistral was born, raised, and stayed for a large portion of her life. It was amazing to realize that the first Latin American woman to receive a Nobel Prize came from such a humble beginning. My knowledge of topics grew through political discussions, which can be a sensitive subject, with my host family and local friends over the dictatorship of Pinochet as well as Chile’s current progression toward becoming the first “developed” Latin American country. The learning curve never seemed to lessen and keeping up with the pace was a challenge I embraced with open arms.
My perception of life in Chile was something that drastically changed as I began unraveling the different social components that I was presented with in my home-stay as well as day-to-day experiences. Having a Latin American background, I naturally had some biases that made me assume a few things, but those views were challenged almost as soon as I landed in Chile. As I walked around the airport I saw very different people with different skin tones, modes of speech, and ways of communicating. Their slang was at times so heavy that I, a native Spanish speaker, could not even make out what they were discussing. After meeting my host parents and telling them that my parents were from Mexico, they automatically knew I liked spicy food, but warned me that that was one thing I was not going to get in Chile (pretty ironic considering the name of the country). I was nearly heart-broken, but realized that I could not expect all of Latin America to be the same. The next wake-up call lasted three seconds and was not an alarm clock...but an earthquake. I was aware of the terrible earthquake that occurred in Chile last year but did not know that the country was so prone to earthquakes. Fortunately, or not, living in California for two years did not expose me to any earthquakes, so for those three seconds that I was shaking along with my dresser, I had no idea what was going on. It was not until a few minutes later that I realized what had happened, while my host parents did not feel a thing nor paid any attention to it. Experiencing these types of things really made me feel as though I was learning what being Chilean was like, but the most impactful connection came from my interactions with other young Chileans.
My host parents provided a pretty clear picture of what the older generation of Chileans did and worried about, and then through a BOSP event I was able to connect with the Chilean youth. At an “asado” (cookout) with some students from a local university, I made a friend named Ignacio, or Nacho, whom I still continue correspondence with. Over Facebook we would chat, Nacho practicing his English and me replying in Spanish. Throughout the six months I was there he invited me to “carretes” (hangouts) with him and his friends, some of whom became my friends. Through this group of individuals I was able to get a peek at what the people my age were interested in. During one “carrete” at Nacho’s house, some of his friends actually began dancing the cueca, which is a national folk dance. The individuals dancing it were actually performers and had a few competitions under their belts, which made for an unforgettable experience.
During the end of my time in Chile there were student protests that were taking place to combat inequality in the education system. While walking home one day I saw a group of teens holding a Chilean flag that was colored black and white with a dollar sign instead of the usual star. Seeing this live activism that was challenging the capitalistic government, which aspired for monetary gains at the expense of the masses, inspired me to think about the power of the people. One of the friends I made through Nacho actually attended a protest and explained that he carried lemons in his pockets because it helped against the tear gas that was used to quell the riots. Through these friendships I was able to engage in the current events and learn about the issues that people my age face in Chile.
Originally, I was only going to spend one quarter abroad, but after two weeks there this plan changed completely. I was enjoying my experience too much to pass up the opportunity of staying for three more months and had to make the executive decision to stay. The experience opened my mind to the international world and has encouraged me to continue to venture abroad. While the food was blander than I expected, I still crave a “choripan” (sausage) or “empanada” every now and then. Whenever I get on a metro I think to myself “Wow, Santiago’s metro was so much nicer.” Lastly, now when I hear the Chilean rock songs on YouTube that I first heard in the artistic expression course, I cannot help but reminisce on the life-changing experience I had abroad. As I rejoice in my memories abroad I am also planning my eventual return to Chile, even without any funds or time for it currently. Until then I want to help inform anyone who is considering studying abroad in Chile about the ways in which that time abroad can be as life-enriching an experience as it was for me.