An Enlightening Experience

Isabel Morales León, ISA Spanish and Latin American Studies in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, Chile Summer 2022

At the end of sophomore year, I started to feel like I had an idea of what I wanted to do after college. I had already decided my major was Economics, and I was taking Latin American Studies classes to fulfill requirements for my certificate by freshman year. Yet, sophomore year was crucial because I found a way to complement the things I was learning, and I developed a strong interest for economics in developing countries and the role international organizations play in this field. Though I have had a somewhat clear idea of my academic and career goals for a while now, studying abroad in Chile reinforced that and allowed me to have a more direct experience with those goals. 
I took two classes during my study abroad program in the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV). One of them was Latin American film and literature, and the other was socio-political history in Latin America in the XX and XIX centuries. I could have probably taken these classes at my university in Pittsburgh, but taking them in Chile was an even greater and more rewarding experience. I had not taken a class in Spanish in about 7 years, so my Spanish in terms of academic writing and speaking was not great, but taking these classes definitely helped me learn and improve it. They also taught me key cultural components about what it is to be Latin American and the social issues that characterize the region. This was huge for me because it was not just about how these classes reinforced my academic interests, but also my personal ones. I watched great movies in my film class that I would have not seen on my own, which reflected Latin American social conflicts, and in my socio-political class, I learned about events that are crucial in Latin American history which I did not know about because I have mostly gone to academic institutions in the United States my whole life. Having classes where I learned about these important cultural elements and then directly seeing what I was learning was an incredible experience. I think besides bringing me closer to my professional goals, it really made me get in touch with my own culture and the importance of it for my identity. 
Though I was only there for a month, I think being in Chile helped influence my strong desire to keep educating myself about the social issues that people in Latin America face and spreading awareness about them to those around me. It is easy to learn about other countries, their people, and their culture by just searching it up on Google. However, having the opportunity to directly see these things through a study abroad experience enlightens you in a way that just reading about simply cannot fulfill.