Posted by: Katie | June 24, 2012

Study Abroad in South America

Katie discusses her time in South America as a study abroad course.

1. How did you decide to visit South America? Was it a study abroad course for school?

I ended up going to South America with a study abroad trip from my school to fulfill the immersion requirement for Spanish minors.  Going into Luther College, I had planned on minoring in Spanish, mostly because I had been studying it throughout my schooling.  However, during my freshman year some scheduling conflicts arose and I was going to abandon that idea.  Despite this, in the spring, as people were applying for study abroad trips, I happened to look through the trips being offered and saw that one trip was going to Argentina and Chile.  I was especially interested in this trip because I have done a couple different school projects based around Argentina’s culture and history, specifically the Dirty War, and felt a sort of tie with the country.  I applied for the program and was accepted, which is when I officially decided to take up the Spanish minor again.  During that time I had also been talking with two girls on my floor, one who is from Brazil and the other her roommate, who had also applied to the Argentina/Chile trip.  We discussed the possibility of going home with the girl from Brazil and staying with her family for Christmas and New Year’s before meeting our class in Argentina.

2. What prepation was involved before the trip?

At the time, the idea was just that—an idea, and a hopeful one at that.  However, through a series of discussions with parents and the study abroad office, we soon realized that this idea could become a reality, so preparations were made.  I bought my plane ticket at the end of summer, sent many emails between the study abroad office and my parents, and scheduled an appointment at the local hospital to get vaccinations for Yellow Fever, Malaria, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid Fever.  I was able to get in for vaccinations at the last minute: 10 days before leaving, which was the requirement for those vaccines.  At the end of the semester I went home for about two and a half days, packed my things, and then boarded a bus to the Twin Cities, from where I would board a flight to Brazil and began my 6-week adventure in South America.

 3. What were your expectations and how was South American similar/different to these expectations?

Before going on the trip, I hadn’t really thought very much about what specific cultural differences I would encounter, but I assumed that I would notice some pretty big differences.  I was surprised, however, by how similar I found the areas to be to the United States.  I believe that part of this was due to the regions that I was in, as I was in relatively safe and busy parts of the countries.  From my perception, a big city is a big city, whether you’re in New York or Argentina.

There were some smaller things that I noticed, though.  For example, it took a while to get used to using the bathroom in South America, because their plumbing systems aren’t strong enough to handle toilet paper—you had to make sure you threw it in the trash instead of flushing it down the toilet.  WiFi hadn’t really become accessible in Brazil, at least, not in the region where I was, and the internet we did have access to was very slow, so I had very limited communication with people back home.  Probably the biggest thing that I noticed while abroad was how slowly people walked.  Here, it seems like everyone is always in a hurry, always has somewhere to go.  There, they take their time, enjoy the scenery, stop to chat with friends or neighbors.  I remember walking my friend’s dog with her family in Brazil, and her dad asked me, “Why do you walk so quickly? It is as if you have somewhere to be.”  My answer was, “Well, I usually do have somewhere to be!” But he had a point, and as I gradually became accustomed to the slower pace throughout my trip, I found that I noticed more of my surroundings.

4. What were your favorite memories/locations and why?

I think that probably every memory that I have from that trip is a favorite memory.  It’s hard to single out specific instances and say, “That was a great moment,” because in reality, the whole trip was an exceptionally great.  When I got back and people asked me what the most exciting thing I did was, I told them about zip-lining through the Andes.  And really, that probably was the most exciting thing that I have ever done, and it’s an experience I’m not likely to ever forget.  However, other moments stick with me on a more personal level: walking along the beach in Brazil with two girls who have come to be two of my best friends, riding horses through a hail storm in the mountains outside of Mendoza, Argentina, seeing a classmate read some of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to an elderly woman in a nursing home in Santiago, Chile—these are the moments that I think are truly some of my favorites.

5. Any other comments? Would you go back anytime?
If I ever go back to South America, there are specific places that I want to re-visit.  I loved spending time on the beach in Brazil, and also in the mountains of Canela, Brazil.  I hope that I get the opportunity to spend more time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and to visit the historical museums there.  I loved seeing all of the colorful houses in Valparaíso, Chile, and touring Pablo Neruda’s houses there as well as in Isla Negra.  There were so many things to do in these places, and simply not enough time to do them all, which I think is always the case when traveling.  While I hope that I get the chance to re-visit these places and explore new places, my biggest hope is that wherever I go, I wouldn’t be focused on trying to do everything and walk “as if I have somewhere to be,” but rather that I would take the time to really see my surroundings and appreciate each moment.




  1. I loved reading about your experience. I think every student should jump at the chance to travel abroad — it gives them a broader view of the world.

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