Traveling is in everyone’s agenda before they kick the bucket. You can either wait until after college with a massive amount of debt or you can travel while in college. The Study Abroad program is the ideal way to travel abroad on campus. Not only are you studying at an excellent university or exploring your favorite country, you also have the opportunity to learn about yourself. Ellen Grim, an Elementary Education major and Spanish minor senior, knows this experience well.
“I wrote this essay in second grade about ‘What would you do on your perfect day?’ I wrote about exploring South America,” Grim said. Her perfect day turned into a perfect semester exploring Chile. During her junior year, “I was becoming more independent,” Grim said. After meeting other student who had previously studied abroad in Chile and hearing their experiences she decided to study there as well. She also researched extensively on the Study Abroad’s website. At the Cumberland House which houses the Study Abroad program, Grim filled out an interest form. The program wanted to make sure her desire to visit Chile was strong and well-researched, “I did not know if it would fit in to help me complete the
graduation requirements for my major or minor,” Grim said.
Nonetheless, in Fall 2009, Grim was confirmed to the Chile partnership for the entire semester. When she traveled to Chile, her only fear was the language barrier. Despite her seven years of experience with the Spanish language, “I was afraid of going into shock” When she arrived, her fears were confirmed, “There was no English anywhere,” Grim said, “It took longer to get to know people well because of the language barrier.” Surprisingly, she was the only student to travel to Chile that semester. But it was not one of her fears “Because I was by myself, I became more confident, becoming part of the culture,” Grim said, “When you are alone, you have to step outside your comfort zone, and you grow a little more.” She found being the only student gave her the opportunity to communicate easier with the natives.
In Viña del Mar, Chile, Grim lived with her host family: Carmen, her host mom, and Dani, her host sister, who is four years older than her. Grim said she loved having an older sibling because back home, she has a little brother. “As for my living environment, I would say that my Chilean home was not extremely different from my real home,” she said, “The biggest differences were really the family
structure more than anything; I lived with a host mom and older sister, whereas in my US home I live with my parents and younger brother.”
The Chilean culture, contrary to the American culture, is more slow-paced and relaxed. It is also evident in the household. “Everything was a little more relaxed, a reflection of the culture. My host family did not work during most of the time I was there, so their lives did not have to be structured so much around a work schedule,” she said. Many of the differences were the type of food they ate and the experience from living in an urban environment, a strong contrast to her familiar suburbia. Grim’s host family accommodates students almost every semester, helping them to fit into the new language and culture. “They showed me how to get around and do basic things around the city, but did not hold my hand; they pushed for my independence as well, which was excellent,” she said.
“I did miss my family,” Grim said. She also missed her close friends back home. Luckily, she took full advantage of Skype and the Internet in general to keep in contact with them, both video and voice availability. Between her close friends back home and those she met in Chile, she noticed that her Chile friends were “more relaxed, more open.” Whenever she entered a room of Chileans, everyone would instantly greet her with hugs, “more contact, caring.” Because the Chile culture is slow-paced, “there is less of individualism, more of teamwork.”
The Chile partnership accommodates students’ academic pursuit through Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, considered one of the most prestigious institutions of Chilean higher education. Grim’s classes, with Chilean students, were Chilean Dance, Spanish Grammar Class, two education classes, and Chilean Culture and Language. All the classes in the University are taught in Spanish. Besides her classes, she also took advantage of the English Opens Doors program, an initiative by the government of Chile that places native English speakers in classrooms where Chilean students are learning English as a Second
Language. She worked in this program twice a week in a number of classrooms under two different teachers. “It was an amazing experience to have students help me as I taught in Spanish, and then to help them when I taught in English,” she said. “I discovered how to relate to students even though their language and culture was completely different from mine.” She did this program for the three months of her semester abroad.
But, as Grim said, “I just wanted to explore.” She stood out distinctly in the Chilean community. Her height and blonde hair color bought about positive and negative effects. There were those who were curious, and then there were predators. She had some close calls, but she stressed being cautious and aware of your
environment when going abroad.
She explored Chile as much as possible, “Class was canceled, so I explored in the streets and I found two guys smashing cement, shaping them in water, and creating tiles for this mosaic into the shape of lampposts or pillars,” Grim said. The two men noticed her and asked if she wanted to join in.
“People would spray paint everywhere!” She said. Graffiti is accepted as art in Chile, such as poetry, depictions of animals, songs, and more commonly, prophetic messages.
She also found out about an amazing tradition in the Chilean culture. A man who goes by the name of Motemei roamed the streets during odd times of the day, wearing his great grandmother’s poncho, carrying a latern, and sang to lure people from their homes, to purchase his food. Although he is a bread seller, he
also sells traditional food. Grim remembers tracking down Motemei for an entire month before getting his e-mail address. During that month, she talked to others for his whereabouts. “Everyone would have new stories with this guy,” she said. Grim, also, helped out Motemei carry on the tradition during her stay.
Grim spent her New Years in Chile as well, where she was immersed in an amazing spectacle. “There were parties in the streets,” she said, “There are twenty firework shows going on. The fireworks are coming out of naval ships in the water instead of bombs.” Chile is most known for its tall hills where houses continue to rise, but it gives the Chileans quite a view of the ocean and, the fireworks show.
Many Chileans noticed her distinct physical characteristics, and saw she was an American. To them, all Americans are rich. “They say that I had more money and I was looked down upon,” she said. Nonetheless, this barrier did not stop her from immersing herself into the culture and being accepted as a member of the community. The moment she arrived, everything she saw was seen through the lens of the American culture. It was not until she became deeply engrossed into the Chilean culture that her negative mindset changed into a positive one. When she was exploring a poor section of Chile, where houses were clearly damaged by fire, a family of about six still offered her a bottle of water as she passed by.
For those interested in studying abroad, here is some helpful advice. “I really emphasize immersing [yourself] in the culture,” Grim said, “Be very willing to explore. Step outside your comfort zone and you’ll grow a little more,” she said, “Just be open and aware to learn about another culture and language. Cut everything you’ve done before, and do what they do.”
If Chile interests you, Program Coordinator Michelle Pollis is willing to answer any questions. Not only does she coordinate students for Chile, Spain, Puerto Rico, Japan, and Australia, but she also took part of the Chile partnership in Spring 2002. The partnership with Chile is one of the oldest partnerships with
Millersville University, dating back to 1999.
Students interested in studying abroad have other options too: Australia, Chile, France, Germany, Japan, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. If your choice is not on the list, there is also an option to join another accredited U.S. institution’s programs that has your choice. When you decide to study abroad, you have the option to stay for a summer, a semester, or an academic year. The times to apply for Study Abroad are mid-February that sets you up for the summer/fall semester, whereas mid-September sets you up for the Spring semester. Applications are available at the end of this semester for the Summer and Fall semester of 2010.
Students can do study abroad anytime after completing 24 academic credits. In order to make academic progress, students must work closely with their MU academic advisor and their program abroad. Studying abroad for one semester will waive the perspectives general education requirement, but not the actual credits. Students still need 120 credits to graduate. There are also financial concerns, which can be helped by visiting studyabroadfunding.org, where you can find scholarships for studying abroad.
For detailed information to get started is the Study Abroad’s website, www.millersville.edu/~globaled, locate them on Facebook under StudyAbroad Millersville, or visit the Office of Global Education and Partnerships, located at the Cumberland House.