Study Abroad and Global Education

Kathleen Muenzen

Ask me where I've been: Chile

Major(s) Biology and Hispanic Studies (Double Major)
Hobbies Making music, trail running, hiking, befriending dogs, exploring the weird side of YouTube
Hometown Menlo Park, CA
Program/Study Site SIT: Public Health, Traditional Medicine and Community: Arica, Chile
Kathleen Muenzen | Chile

Why study abroad?

Studying abroad is a great way to develop a new excitement for learning, gain a deeper sense of self and discover the topics of study that most interest you. Visiting another country as a tourist is a very different experience than living in another country as a student—the chances to experience life as a student in a completely different environment are limited, and I deeply value the unique perspectives, insights and life skills that I gained abroad during my undergraduate years.

Why did you choose Chile?

I had known for a long time that I wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country to develop my fluency, and I had also been interested in the health sciences for many years. So I looked for programs that met those two important criteria and found two programs that interested me, one in Argentina and the other in Chile. I eventually decided to go to Chile because the program theme aligned more closely with my specific interests, so my choice of country ultimately carried less weight than my choice of program.

What courses did you enroll in while abroad?

SIT programs are known for having a predetermined and highly structured curriculum, so my courses all addressed the overarching topics of public health and perspectives of health and medicine. My schedule included Spanish for the Health Sciences, Public Health in Chile, Traditional Medicine and Community Health, Public Health Research Methods and Ethics, and a month-long Independent Study Project.

What was your living situation?

The program involved a lot of traveling, so I lived with four different host families over the course of the program and occasionally in hotels during transition periods. We stayed with our “home base” families in Arica for a month at the start of the program, and for varying amounts of time between excursions that lasted one to several weeks. Sometimes we lived alone with host families, and sometimes in groups of 2-4 people. I made some incredible friends on the program while living with other students, and found that living in a homestay was a great way to develop fluency in Spanish.

What did you do for fun?

I spent a lot of time with other students in the program, and we had so much fun together. While we were in Arica, we spent most afternoons after class exploring the city, getting ice cream, going to the beach, shopping at the markets, going to Pilates classes, and walking and talking for hours on end. One friend and I would run together every morning on the sand dunes to watch the sun rise. We also loved going out on weekend nights, either to the disco or to parties with students at the local university.

Highlights of the program:

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the program was the Independent Study project (ISP). I lived in Santiago with one other student in the program, and we both appreciated the independence and the room for exploration the experience granted us. I felt very connected to the city and the people, and I lived and breathed the research that I was doing there. I was also able to practice Spanish a great deal during my ISP.

The most challenging aspects of your experience:

I realized quickly that the Spanish I had learned prior to the program was far more academic than conversational. Many times, it was difficult for me to convey my personality in Spanish, and it was frustrating to feel like I could not freely express thoughts or initiate conversation with my host families. However, speaking Spanish became easier throughout the program and I slowly developed my own voice through the language.

Final comments or suggestions for future participants:

I cheesily tell everybody that studying abroad changed my life, but it honestly could not be more true. I miss Chile, my families and the friends I made every single day, but I carry my experiences and insights with me in everything I do, and that brings me immense joy and gratefulness. If you make the decision to study abroad, try to keep as open and curious a mind as possible—if you do, you will be changed in the best way possible.  

 

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