Hola a tod@s!
Since Chile is in the southern hemisphere and therefore on a different school schedule, I still have a month and a half of classes ahead of me. That said, this is an excellent time for me to reflect on my experiences here and how they have changed me.
The past few months have been truly incredible! Since arriving in Chile on February 18th, I’ve
- Had fantastic conversations with my host family about everything from food to history and politics
- Improved my Spanish and learned a large number of words, phrases, and expressions unique to Chile
- Made Chilean friends
- Gotten to know a much greater variety of Chilean literature than is available in the United States
- Thanks to introductions from one of my Pitt professors met several significant Chilean intellectuals writing about LGBTQ+ identities and queer history, a subject I’m very interested in
- Visited the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia (picture on the left) with my study abroad program as well as many fantastic sites in Santiago – museums, parks, etc. (a few are pictured on the bottom)
In addition to looking back on these wonderful experiences I also want to look back on how I’ve done in accomplishing the goals I first set for myself in February.
- Become more comfortable reading critical academic literature in Spanish – Successful. For my classes I have had to read many scholarly texts in Spanish, both texts originally in Spanish and translations from other languages, and while it was difficult in the beginning, I was ultimately able to understand all of them and I am delighted to say that this has become easier as time has passed. I have found that I don’t need to look up that many unfamiliar words when I reach the end of a chapter or a section as I thought I would. Many of them become clear from the context.
- Use what I learn in my classes to inform my BPhil research – Successful. The focus of my research is what the novels One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia) and The Old Drift (Namwali Serpell, Zambia) say about the national community in the Global South and how they subvert various kinds of determinist discourses about Latin America and Africa. Three of the classes I am taking this semester – “Chilean and Hispanic American Literature” (literature from Spanish-speaking Latin America from the 19th century to the present), “Contemporary American History” (20th Century Latin American History) and “African History” – relate to the themes of my research. I learned new things in my classes which were relevant to the BPhil, such as how the novels of the Latin American “Boom” which include One Hundred Years of Solitude subverted the themes and worldviews of earlier movements in Latin American literature like national romances and regionalist novels. I read at least one text which might serve as a source for my BPhil: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Decolonizing the Mind. I was even able to choose a topic for my final paper in African History that is extremely relevant to the historical context of The Old Drift: how did the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the political party which governed Zambia after independence define its nationalist project? One way I could take this further would be to ask my professors to expand on an idea from class relevant to my research or to discuss my research with them.
- Pick up Chilean Spanish – Relatively successful. My knowledge of Chilean slang and idiomatic expressions has expanded greatly thanks to the Middlebury program; my host family, who were happy to explain many expressions to me and bought me a book of Chilean Spanish expressions; and my cultural mentor, a fellow student at my university who meets with me once a week (this was something arranged by the Middlebury program). My Spanish vocabulary and grammar have improved as well, especially thanks to biweekly writing assignments I submit to a writing teacher for the Middlebury program. I have watched some Chilean TV, though not as much as I thought I would, and have frequently taken opportunities to talk to people such as classmates, other people in my host family’s apartment building, and employees in museums that I’ve visited. That said, I still often have to ask the Chileans I know who have noticeable accents to repeat what they said at least once before I understand them. I spend much of my days reading, writing and speaking in Spanish which has increased my fluency and my comfort with the language. Listening to and reading texts by many different people has enriched and diversified the expressions and sentence structures I use when I speak and write.
- Strike a healthy balance between learning, spending time with other people, and doing fun things by myself – My success with this varied greatly from week to week. I have without a doubt devoted more time to fun activities, both social and personal than I do in Pittsburgh, and I hope that mentality carries over to when I return to the US. On the other hand, there were still some weekends which I spent primarily in my host family’s apartment reading and writing for class. This is in part because all the courses I chose are literature or history classes, which tend to be reading intensive (there are exceptions to this – for Contemporary American History we only read one essay and one short primary source per week). I have almost always accepted invitations to go out whether to eat together, to go sightseeing or to party. I always accept these invitations when they come from Chileans – my host family or my classmates – and most of the time when they come from the other US students in the Middlebury program. The fact that Santiago offers so many fantastic things to see has actually made me more disciplined about my work. While I haven’t become perfect at this yet, I commit to working on the assignments for my classes earlier and more consistently to make sure I have time on some weekends to go sightseeing and spend time with my host family and friends.
Finally, there were some other things I learned about myself and ways in which I improved that I had not considered before leaving but which were nonetheless an important part of my experience.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I became much more independent. While I still have a significant support system in the form of the Middlebury program and my host family, I was left to my own devices far more than usual. I had to plan out when to do all my readings and writing assignments for my classes in a way that was flexible, to circumvent any mental or logistical roadblocks I might come up against, while ensuring that I would get my most important assignments done on time. As I suggested above, this was complicated but also motivated by the fact that there were many other things in my life that I needed and wanted to make time for. And despite this blogpost being very late, I have generally been successful! There were also times when I had to determine the order in which I would do something I wanted to do, such as going to a particular museum; something I had to do for university, such as finishing a paper; and something I had to do for other reasons, such as replacing my US SIM card with a Chilean one because my Google Phone wouldn’t allow me to do any more data roaming since I had been abroad for too long. In the past, I would usually consult my parents about what to do. Here that wasn’t an option. Despite being nervous about it, I usually made the right choice.
I’ve become more academically independent as well. In the US, I would often consult with my professors about how best to approach a particular assignment and discuss my ideas with them. Because Chilean professors often don’t attend their office hours unless they have a previous appointment with the student, they are harder to get in touch with. That pushed me to begin work on my ideas before consulting the professor, and if I did ask them something it would be very brief. Because of this I now feel more confident in trusting my own judgment about what constitutes a good idea when I begin work on a paper or other larger writing assignment. Writing papers without getting approval first has given me the courage of my convictions and motivated me to try more daring arguments than I would have previously. This will serve me well as I work on my senior thesis and future writing projects as a graduate where there is more freedom in terms of form. In my classes I have become exposed to different philosophies towards writing papers. In my Chilean and Hispanic American Narrative class, the professor called on us to make larger arguments about a novel or short story based on close readings of one or two passages which revealed something about the text at large. In my Chilean and Hispanic American Theater Class, the secondary literature we were required to use was usually connected to the plays we were reading and analyzing not in terms of content but of theme. This called on me to look for kinds of connections between texts that I usually don’t. For example, I connected a Chilean play from the 1960s about a peasant uprising to an essay on the contemporary work of an Uruguayan visual artist about her uncle’s disappearance at the hands of that country’s military dictatorship in terms of how they both focused on the idea of women as witnesses to and preservers of history. While I don’t think I can directly use these formats at Pitt, they have given me useful ways of thinking about literature.
Over the course of the past few months, I became more comfortable asking people for help, a skill which is crucial to have anywhere in the world. It can be intimidating to ask strangers for help and sometimes people can be rude, but in my experience the people I’ve met have been friendly and helpful. Traveling around Santiago with my fellow Middlebury students, I’ve noticed that I’m acquiring new leadership skills. Because of my earlier experience travelling in other countries or because I simply had done different things than they had during our time here, I was able to advise the other students on what to do in situations they were unfamiliar with. At the same time, there were many situations that I was unfamiliar with where they could guide me. When I was younger, I often felt helpless and relied a lot on other people for help while feeling that I couldn’t provide much in return. Now the situation is more balanced, and I feel comfortable both giving and getting advice. I had already taken large steps in this department at Pitt, but this most recent development is important because it shows that I can function well as part of a group in much more unfamiliar surroundings. This bodes well for teamwork I will need to do in the future.
To sum up, I have become more flexible, independent, and willing to step out of my comfort zone. I function even better with other people my age than I did before, and my confidence in myself has grown significantly.
It has been a pleasure sharing this experience with Pitt Honors.