Back to SummaryMargaret Tankard - Student Advisor Profile
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: Culture, social identity
I am standing in the sand looking out at La Portada, a natural stone archway just off the coast of Antofagasta, Chile. Behind me, cliffs rise up to the vast desert north of Santiago. As fellow students and I clamber along the beach, beginning to sweat in the heat, someone calls, “Hey, are those penguins?” Sure enough, a nearby rock in the middle of the water is covered with birds that look suspiciously like penguins. We later learn that this flock has migrated too far north and will soon be transported back to the cold south, so the birds won’t die in the desert.
Anyone who visits Chile quickly learns it is a land of extremes. In a country offering everything from icy Patagonia to volcanoes, beaches, the Andes Mountains, lakes, and the desert, it’s easy to become overly ambitious as a traveler hoping to experience everything. In my time studying abroad, my
favorite weekend excursion was probably to San Pedro de Atacama, where friends and I took a sandboarding lesson, floated in a salt lake, woke up at 5 a.m. to see geysers at their most active, sampled barbecued llama meat, and saw flamingos at an oasis. When I stayed in Santiago, as well, there was never a lack of activities. After a leisurely Saturday lunch with my host family, I might find myself touring Pablo Neruda’s house, taking a gondola ride to the top of Cerro San Cristobal to see the view of the city, exploring an artisan market, reading in a park, or seeing a band perform at Club de Jazz. The laid-back coastal city of Valparaíso was always an hour’s bus ride away, tempting us with the prospect of an afternoon discovering its murals along winding, hilly streets. With so many opportunities, I had to remind myself to build in down time to rest and keep up with classes!
I also loved participating in weekly bilingual colloquia with local students. At the Stanford center, we would spend an hour talking in English and an hour talking in Spanish to allow both sides to practice a foreign language. Over the course of the quarter, various local students invited us to visit their campus, took us out
dancing, and introduced us to the popular dish of chorrillanas (French fries topped with steak, onions, and fried eggs). It was great to get to know Chileans our own age and experience Santiago through a local lens.
I was fortunate to have a host family that was very open-minded and willing to share their views, so they readily discussed thoughts on everything from religion, to politics, to education. They went out of their way to make me feel at home, and couldn’t have been more patient with my Spanish. At the end of the quarter, I even got to see my two young host sisters perform at a dance performance for school.
On the academic front, my courses included a film class that often held Q&A sessions with Chilean film directors and a language class that usually culminated in singing along to Chilean music. I was amazed to learn that one of my professors was the vice president of the Christian Democratic Party in Chile. Through lectures and the several times he invited the class to visit his workplace, it became clear that we were not merely learning from an outsider who had studied the Latin American political landscape from inside the walls of a foreign academic institution. Instead, in a class of eight students, we had the unique opportunity of learning from an expert who was actively shaping the future of the very material we studied. The energetic classroom dynamic drove me to draw
connections to my own major of psychology. For my final paper, I wrote about several social, economic, and political factors that might have been contributing to a Chilean progression from focus on collective identities to greater focus on individual identities. The following summer, I returned to Chile to follow up on this topic with experimental research. Funded by a Major Grant through Stanford Undergraduate Advising and Research, this work has become the foundation of my Honors thesis in psychology.
My time in Chile showed me that studying abroad can be whatever you want to make of it, whether your priorities are exploring the area through weekend trips, befriending local university students, learning about the culture by conversing with your host family, or studying Chilean politics in class. I arrived in Santiago with little idea of what to expect. I can honestly say, though, that even every hilarious miscommunication and instance of being pushed out of my comfort zone contributed to this being one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had at Stanford.