Melissa Santos - Stanford in Santiago
Major: Psychology & Society
Minor: Data Science
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: A photo from our trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia - a place of surreal beauty and pristine landscapes
Questions and Answers with Melissa
Why did you choose to study abroad in Santiago?
I wanted to sharpen my Spanish skills and really immerse myself in Chilean culture. I knew that there was also the possibility of studying in Madrid to learn Spanish, but I was under the impression that many students who study there typically travel around Europe throughout the quarter rather than staying in Spain. Given Chile's length–stretching from the desert in the north to the Patagonian south–I knew I would have the chance to travel to really different places while still staying within Chile and learning more about its history.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Santiago?
Before coming to Santiago, I had never traveled internationally, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. At first, I thought that my arrival in Santiago would surely entail culture shock. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Santiago almost felt familiar; it had a metropolitan feel not too different from cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. There were even plenty of familiar companies like KFC, Starbucks, and Forever21. I was also happy to find that Santiago was wonderfully diverse: I met people from Haiti, Venezuela, and India, and when I felt homesick for Asian food I sought out restaurants and shops in Barrio Patronato, Santiago's Koreatown/Chinatown.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Santiago?
It is one thing to learn about other countries while sitting in a library on Stanford's home campus; but to learn about history–in the midst of where it happened and from people who lived through it–is an unparalleled academic opportunity. Professor German Correa's course on Chilean politics was the first class I've ever taken that was taught from a non-American perspective, an experience made all the more extraordinary and eye-opening by the fact that Professor Correa was former President of the Socialist Party in Chile and actually served under President Salvador Allende. I also grew academically by doing an independent study with Professor Ivan Jaksic, who mentored me as I researched human rights violations during Augusto Pinochet's regime, specifically using a psychological lens to analyze justifications for the use of torture against political dissidents. It was sobering to actually visit places around Santiago like el Museo de la Memoria, el Cementerio General, and Londres 38 to learn more about the victims of Pinochet's dictatorship. Moreover, I had the chance to volunteer every week at a local high school, where I supported their English department by designing curriculum, grading tests, and assisting students in classes. This was a really valuable and unique learning opportunity, not just because I'm an aspiring teacher, but also because I was able to learn about ongoing teacher strikes and protests in Chile in my conversations with the teachers and faculty.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I came to Santiago after a really challenging, emotionally draining year at Stanford. Throughout my quarter abroad, I learned that I needed to make more time for myself. After a long day of classes or a fun outing with friends, I always took time to journal in my room, read, and listen to music. I also set aside days to wander around Santiago to just soak it all in, and reflect on how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful city with a great support network for my first-ever travel experience.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I think having a small cohort of Stanford students was beneficial in that we all got to know each other quite well, but I'll admit that it was also a bit of a challenge. All of us came from very different backgrounds and had very different expectations for the quarter abroad. I think that led to some points of disagreement between some of us; at times, it got almost cabin feverish. It was valuable for me to learn how to navigate these situations without compromising my own needs and values, while still striving to be empathetic and respectful of others.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Chilean Spanish was definitely tough to get used to in the first few weeks. I found myself watching Chilean shows and intently eavesdropping on conversations on the metro in order to train my ears and learn more chilenismos. The cuisine was also a bit of an adjustment -- it was heavy on meat and bread and low on spice and veggies.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Santiago?
I loved finding little cafes around the city to do work or just sit and chat with friends - some of my favorites were Cafe Literario, Canaima Cafe in Barrio Italia, Cafe Público in the Gabriela Mistral Center, and El Taller (their ice cream = riquísimo).
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Santiago?
A trip to the magical (and very rainy) island of Chiloé - it was a trip of many firsts for me: first time planning a trip, traveling via overnight bus, taking a ferry, trying salmon ceviche, and seeing more than 5 rainbows in one day.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Revitalizing, humbling, over too soon
What was your favorite food you had in Santiago?
I LOVED sopaipillas, a fried bread made with squash. I can't decide if I liked them better savory dipped in pebre, or sweet soaked in syrup (sopaipillas pasadas).
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A phone with a T-Mobile plan, which included free unlimited texting and data abroad! Also, a waterproof crossbody which fit my water bottle, laptop, and other essentials.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Santiago?
Ana Tijoux, Niños del Cerro