Back to SummaryKatherine Donner - Student Advisor Profile
When I flew into Santiago to begin my three months of studying abroad I was extremely excited for such a new experience, nervous about meeting my host family and hopeful that my one year of Spanish courses and watching television in Spanish would allow me to learn and thrive in this new country. The first time I walked into my new home, I was greeted by my host parents, five new siblings, extended family, as well as their dog, bird, and hamster. It was overwhelming but I have never felt so welcomed. I was instantly greeted with hugs and kisses from each member of my new family. My new little sister of 6 years loved to play card games and called herself my "profesora" because during games such as "Go Fish" she would teach me words and phrases in Spanish. I was taken away from everything that I had known but instantly after meeting my host family I felt at home and although I didn't know what yet to expect from this new country, I knew that I was going to have an experience of a lifetime.
Since coming to Stanford, I knew I wanted to spend a quarter studying abroad. I was taking Spanish language courses at Stanford and made the decision to study in Santiago, Chile and because I desired the experience of living in South America. I really didn't know what to expect of Santiago and the country as a whole. The heart of the city is surrounded by the spectacular Andes, with hills also scattered throughout the city. During the first week, our Stanford group hiked to the top of San Cristobal and were able to see the vastness of the entire city. During one of our tours of Santiago we were even fortunate enough to meet the new Presidente Piñera the day before he was elected as the new president of Chile.
I lived in the area of Providencia and the Stanford Center was three metro stops away from my house however I preferred to spend 30 minutes walking to and from the center everyday, stopping for gelato or ice cream at one of the many "Gelaterrias" along the way. A few other students and I ended up finding it necessary to taste test all of Gelaterrias in the area around the center to choose our favorite one. We would even look up places online, and travel a few metro stops away, but although we loved the gelato on the hot summer days, it was just another excuse to explore the city between classes. My experience was largely enhanced with the small Stanford group of twenty-one students. We travelled all over Chile together on the weekends and I made some of the best friends of my life.
A little over half way through the winter quarter, 11 other students and I went traveling north of Santiago 10 hours by bus to La Serena, where we were located during the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on February 27th. Santiago was located 200 miles northeast of the earthquake epicenter, and La Serena was even further north. When I returned to my home in Providencia my house was without electricity for two days until all power returned on our street. What I learned from living in Chile at the time was how strong the communities were. Chilean flags were raised and posted up in windows everywhere while words of encouragement such as "Fuerte Chile" were written on the public buses. The week following the earthquake other Stanford students and I volunteered with a program called "Un Techo Para Chile" (A Roof For Chile) and worked with local students in the area to clean up the streets and houses in areas on the outskirts of Santiago. It was here that we really made connections with local students which turned into real friendships. In the midst of a disaster people in the streets would help by dropping off food and drinks for us while we worked. During one of our breaks we set down our hard hats as goal posts and played fútbol with some local kids that lived in the houses on the street. Everyone within the program, especially our program director Ivan Jaksic were so helpful to all of us students during this time and went out of their way to make sure our families in the states knew we were safe. The entire staff including the professors were absolutely amazing.
The classes offered through the Bing program were interesting and the involvement with class sizes so small was spectacular. The Spanish class held a very important role in my abroad experience. Not only did we read literature by Chilean authors such as Isabel Allende, but also learned more about the culture of Chile. Within a small class of six students, we discussed our own experiences within Chile as well as the "chilenismos" we would hear in everyday conversations such as "Si po" and other Chilean slang. In the language tutorial I had the opportunity to spend one on one time with the our Spanish instructor to improve my grammar and edit my weekly papers. I also took an Earth Systems class and learned that Chile is a land of extremes with a dry desert area to the north and the Patagonia region in the south. The length of the country north to south is the same distance as from Maine to California. The courses not only taught the subject at hand, but also incorporated the culture and importance of Chilean way of life. To those interested, the program offers courses in different fields and those that count towards majors.
My most memorable trips while abroad were traveling the the southern region of Chile. During our Bing trip with the directors of the center and fellow Stanford students, we traveled to Puerto Montt and Isla de Chiloé. Our lodgings were at the base of a volcano and on our day off a few of us went kayaking on the lake that was beside a volcano tipped with snow. On another trip to the south, we even climbed to the top of Volcán Villarica (hiking) with through the snow with ice pics in our hands. At the end of my stay in Santiago I spent my spring break backpacking through Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region for six days during which I saw the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I think it is important to spend time and get to know Santiago the city, but also to take adventure and experience the other sites Chile has to offer.
Studying abroad in Santiago was the biggest adventure of my life to date. I gained a whole new outlook on life. When returning to the states I was in Chile withdrawal. I think my friends and family began to tire of me constantly talking about Chile and all the wonderful experiences I had. I highly recommend the BOSP Santiago study abroad program to anyone is interested, it is sure to be an experience of a lifetime!