Josie M. spent a summer abroad with CIEE in Valparaiso, and is now studying for a year with us in Chile, thanks to the North Carolina DeNoyelles Scholarship. Read all about her experience in her Q+A with our staff!
What was your experience with study abroad before your year in Chile? Why did you pick Chile for your year abroad?
The summer before I began my year abroad in Chile, I participated in a High School Summer Abroad program with CIEE in Valparaiso, Chile. I chose Chile again for my year abroad because I knew it would be the opportunity of a lifetime to expand on my experience the previous summer.
There was not a day that went by after the summer program that I didn't think of Chile. I knew how much I was capable of learning in just one month, and I knew multiplying that growth by twelve would help me reach some of my academic, professional and developmental goals.
What made you feel comfortable/prepared you the most to study abroad?
During my summer in Chile, I fell in love with the CIEE staff of Valparaiso. Not only were they great educators, but they provided love and much needed emotional support. They were so loving and treated me as an individual, and fostered my growth and exploration in a way that I felt independent and supported at the same time. I knew that they were the people I wanted surrounding me this year. At this point, I have spent a considerable amount of time with my study center staff, and I consider them to be some of my closest friends. We are equals. They have walked me through the culture shock, and they have humored me with countless anecdotes and have given me a safe space to trouble shoot cultural confusions. Also, CIEE was definitely accommodating with my host family. They worked very hard and got me placed with the same host family as my summer program. Knowing I had a loving family to care for me made it much easier to kiss my natural family goodbye for the last time before starting my year abroad. I feel so lucky to have two families that love and support me.
How do you keep in touch with your parents and friends?
I video chat with my family back home twice a week and keep up with my friends on Instagram and other social media. It's important for me to not over communicate with loved ones back home because I am using this year to focus on self growth and exploration. That being said, I do still need to hear my mom's voice, and I enjoy our video chats. Another part of communication so far this year has been adjusting to the lack of constant American news. I not surrounded by 24 news channels, and as someone who loves to know all details about current events, it's been an adjustment, especially in light of recent political and social events.
What has been the biggest benefit of studying abroad for a year vs. the summer?
The simple answer is time, and there are a lot of by-products of having more time in a country. During the summer program, CIEE did a great job of balancing scheduled activities and personal cultural exploration. Unlike my summer program, there is no daily schedule. At most, I have one or two CIEE commitments a week, but the rest of the time is mine (within boundaries set by CIEE and my host family) to make autonomous decisions about my activities. After school, I am free to explore, hang out with friends, attend yoga classes, or study at CIEE, and those are just a few of the options. I am in control of my experience, and it is teaching me how to be an adult and manage my time effectively. I'm also learning how to budget money, manage my health and wellness. Although I learned a lot about myself during the summer program, I am forming more concrete habits during my longer time here, learning by trial and error in a space where I am supported by CIEE and my host family. This amount of personal time has allowed me to explore the things I'm passionate about in a way the I couldn't on the summer program.
What do you feel is the one of the biggest lessons you have learned so far this year?
Wow, I have learned so many things it is hard to pick just one!
Living withing a different culture has taught me to look at all situations through a different lens, and this cultural introspection has extended my own values. I have begun to look at myself differently.
I now see myself as someone who is capable of positive change and can grow, and more importantly, I am in control of who I want to be. Cultivating this self awareness has opened the Pandora's box of opportunities to test the waters and try new things, making me a stronger, more well rounded individual.
What would you tell other students who want to study abroad in high school?
I would tell other high school students now is the best time to study abroad for a semester or year. I can't speak for all CIEE programs but there are a few key differences between the high school and University programs here in Chile. First the program is smaller, so not only am I closer with the other high school student(s), but CIEE activities are more intimate and foster growth. Also, every high school is unique, so every student is going to have a unique experience, which means you'll make a unique contribution to conversation. Here in Valpo, college students often take classes with other English speakers, while at my high school I am the only student who speaks English, so I have more immersion and more challenge linguistically, which means more growth!! Plus, the lack of contact with other Americans (there is more American contact with larger University programs.) has helped me make true distinctions between two cultures and positively modify my actions to reflect the person I want to be. I have definitely shed some American habits in favor of American ones, and I feel much better about myself!
You received the deNoyelles scholarship, a donor-sponsored opportunity, for a North Carolina student to study abroad on a CIEE High School Year Abroad program – what would you say to other people considering supporting a student to study abroad?
You are not just supporting one student you are supporting an entire community. My family, who doesn't have much international travel experience is benefiting from my cultural stories and perspectives. My classmates back home are more curious about international relationships, and are eager to understand Chilean culture. My host family is learning about the U.S. and our impact on global events. I have sparked curiosity in my classmates, who long for a connection to the world outside Chile. Supporting a study abroad student is the best way to foster peaceful international relations where everyone benefits. I know it doesn't stop there. My future employers will benefit from a more culturally engaged and bilingual employee, and future friends from a more dynamic friend in me.
Studying abroad is not about travel or school; it's about peaceful and impactful change.