Sarah Keedy, a senior in Mechanical Engineering, spent the spring semester of 2008 in Chile. At the Pontifica Universidad Catholica in Valparaiso, she took classes to learn Spanish and Chilean culture. For her, it was a unique experience.
“My main motivation for going to Chile was that I wanted to learn Spanish and travel. I also learned a lot of about myself, a lot about the Chilean culture and the people that are there. I met a lot of people from all around the world,” Sarah says.
She explains that there is only a slight difference between courses at Chilean and American Universities.
“The grade scale is different. It is from one to seven. I wasn’t quite used to that. But the structure of the courses is the same. You have pretty regular assignments. Except one course I have taken – I had only one test so you have to study pretty hard for that one, but all through it, it wasn’t difficult. The rest of the courses were all spaced out pretty evenly so it wasn’t too much of the work overload. I took the recreation course and we talked about different games they play in Chile. We did Jumper one day and I knew how to do Double Dutch and they thought it was the craziest thing they have ever seen. They thought it was amazing. I took a Chilean culture course. I learned a lot of about history and culture of Chile. It was really helpful especially being there. I took a traditional dances of Chile course. That was the one we had to do a lot of movements and dancing around.”
For Sarah, taking classes in Spanish was not an insurmountable obstacle.
“There was always at least one more international student in classes that I took. So we could always cheat a little bit, speak English, asking – what was that?”
Back home in America, Sarah brings a lot of personal growth and development.
“I know a lot more about how I deal with certain situations and I am a lot more confident about myself. I know I can go somewhere and survive. I know how to plan things better, we had to plan trips. I just feel more confident in my abilities to do things like that and more confident in myself as a person. I feel that I know better who I am now. “
For Sarah, the most difficult thing was being away from friends and family. However, she found ways to stay in touch with them.
“I ended up getting a phone number through Skype that I could call the computer and whoever was on the other line would pick up. We had a scheduled time so I could talk to people. It is hard to be away from your friends and family for a long time. But if it’s something you really want to do, you will look back in 20 years and say – you know, I really wish I studied abroad. Even if it makes your stay in school a little bit longer, an extra semester, I think it’s worth it. “
Sarah plans to go back to Latin America. She would also like to visit Central America, Asia, Africa, and see more of Europe.