Close to Departure and Brimming With Excitement

Hi everyone! I am still in the United States but my departure for Santiago is fast approaching. I collected my student visa at the Chilean consulate in New York yesterday morning. In and of itself that was a very complicated process which required collecting various different documents including a health certificate, proof of financial solvency, a letter of enrollment from the Chilean university, and a state-level background check, which needed to be apostilled. The picture on the left is of a sign I saw in Harrisburg while going to get the apostille . As a side note, the requirements for a student visa vary from one Chilean consulate to another. Most now require a national level background check from the FBI. The only option for getting that apostilled is to send it to the state department in Washington D.C. All state level documents can be sent to your state’s Secretary of State (in my case, Pennsylvania) but it is also possible to do a drop-in appointment in person, which guarantees same day service. 

My most important academic goal during this Study Abroad is to become comfortable reading critical, secondary literature in Spanish. I can easily read many Spanish novels and short stories by now, but academic literature is harder for me and I haven’t had as much opportunity to read it. Practically all the classes I’m interested in require me to read a significant amount of secondary literature, so I will have a chance to hone my skills. Previously, when reading texts in Spanish, my approach to unfamiliar words had been to immediately look them up. This turned out to be ineffective, because I was constantly interrupting my flow of reading which resulted in my losing track of the piece’s overall argument. What I plan to do now is to read each text in its entirety relatively quickly, only marking the words and expressions that are unfamiliar to me, and then return to them after I’ve finished. This is the approach I now use when reading fiction in Spanish and it works quite well there (I go back to check definitions at the end of each chapter, not of the whole book). I think it will work just as well with academic texts as it will allow me to focus on the overall argument and writing style. Reading more academic literature in Spanish and the writing assignments I am required to do in my classes will help me develop my personal scholarly style in academic Spanish. 

Another one of my academic goals is to use what I learn in two of the classes I plan to take – “Chilean and Hispanic American Literature II” (literature from Spanish-speaking Latin America of the 20th and 21st centuries) and “Contemporary American History” (20th Century Latin American History) – to inform the research I am doing for my BPhil. To do this I will approach assigned readings not only in terms of how they relate to the overall themes of the course but also how they relate to important concepts and ideas I have identified so far in my research. If I find something in the readings or in class discussion that I think is useful to my research I will ask my professor if they can expand on it either in or after class.

I would say that my most important professional goal is picking up Chilean Spanish as quickly and as well as possible. This may seem surprising, but given that the kind of work I am interested in doing in the future will likely involve visits to many Latin American countries and the diversity of Spanish spoken across Latin America, being able to understand different versions of Spanish will be crucial. To achieve this, I will try to strike up conversations with my classmates and in other appropriate settings as often as possible, I will watch films and TV in which Chilean Spanish is spoken, and study the list of common Chilean expressions or Chilenismos which the Middlebury program provided me with.

Finally, my most important personal goal is to strike a healthy balance between learning, spending time with other people, and doing things on my own such as visiting museums. In my time at Pitt, I have tended to prioritize the former over the latter, sometimes at the cost of feeling extremely exhausted and unhappy. In Santiago I want to ensure this doesn’t happen. First, the learning experience during a study abroad doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Speaking Spanish with Chileans and immersing myself in Chilean culture should be equally important parts of it. Second, being in Chile itself constitutes a unique opportunity to visit museums, historical sites, and national parks, which I may not have the chance to visit again for a very long time. I will make sure that I take the time to experience both of these things which will allow me to take a break from the rigors of academic work. From the Middlebury program coordinators and students who had previously been to universities in Santiago, I understand that the pace of academic life is much less hectic there, and that courses are structured around a few large assignments rather than many small ones. These circumstances should help me achieve this better balance. Additionally, many people whom I respect including my parents, my BPhil advisor, the Middlebury program staff, and my study abroad advisor have reminded me of the importance of having a cultural experience and also enjoying myself. When I run the risk of obsessively focussing on my academic studies, I will remind myself of their advice and dedicate time to these other things. At the same time, I want to make sure to spend at least as much time with other people (whether my host family, fellow students, or other Chileans I get to know) as I do exploring by myself, as the most important part of getting to know another culture is to actually spend time with people.

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