Sean Gallagher - Stanford in Santiago
Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights & Modern Languages
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This photo was taken in a town near Santiago on one of the day trips that we took as a cohort. We went to the home of one of the former host moms to make empanadas and play with her 5+ dogs.
Questions and Answers with Sean
Why did you choose to study abroad in Santiago?
I really wanted to study in Latin America, and Santiago is the only program in South America. Beyond that, Chile is one of the most ecologically varied places in the world, from the Atacama Desert to the Patagonia.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Santiago?
Honestly, before I went I was terrified of the Chilean dialect of Spanish. I'd heard horror stories about how the pronunciation of words and "chilenismos" made understanding people nearly impossible. I was so nervous that I could barely understand my taxi driver well enough to get from the airport to the hotel where we stayed the first couple nights (I hadn't understood how Santiago was divided into districts, so when he said we were going to Providencia, I was CERTAIN that I would end up in the middle of nowhere). But as time went on (and I had a full night's sleep), I began to realize that most of the difficulty was in my own head, and the chilenismos made my experience adapting to Chilean life more rich and interesting. I was also nervous about living with a family - I was worried that there would be some unspoken rule that I wasn't aware of, and I would end up insulting them accidentally. When I got there, though, I saw all the work that the Stanford center put in to make sure that we had all the knowledge that we needed to live in a Chilean family.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Santiago?
The biggest benefits were probably the tutorial, the small classes, and the confidence that comes at the end of the program after spending a quarter speaking Chilean Spanish. The center in Santiago has a 2-unit class you can take for a 1-on-1 tutorial in Spanish to focus on specific issues that you have - even though I'd taken through the second year of Spanish at Stanford, it was incredibly helpful. And though it might just have been because of my small cohort, class sizes were very small - for my short stories class, it was just me, the professor, and one of my friends, and it was probably my favorite class that I've taken at Stanford so far. And even though I did say that Chilean Spanish wasn't as difficult to learn as its reputation would imply, every other Spanish dialect that I've heard since I was in Chile has been far, far easier to understand - once you've mastered Chilean Spanish, you feel ready for anything.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
While I was in Santiago, I learned that I am really bad at being spontaneous - I like to have things planned out weeks in advance. However, I went with a great group that forced me to explore Santiago and Chile more broadly, and it really helped push me to experience more of the country.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging experience was probably experiencing the uncertainty of a curfew and lockdown measures after over a million people in Santiago alone joined protests over inequality in Chile. I never felt unsafe, though, and I learned about a much more complex version of Chilean society than I would have otherwise.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
It was small but very important - hot water. The majority of Chilean homes use a "calefont" to heat up their water - it works great, but it's not constantly running like water heaters in the United States. I hate bothering people, so I was quiet for about three weeks as I took freezing cold showers. Eventually, though, I asked my host mom - she literally flipped a switch, and soon there was hot water. It wasn't cultural as much as learning that if I needed something, I had to ask for it, not just suffer in the cold.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Santiago?
I loved my daily runs in Santiago. There is a path by the Rio Mapocho (which was almost completely dry when I was there), and you can follow a path for almost seven miles before it ends.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Santiago?
On our Bing trip, we went to Puntas Arenas, a city in the southernmost part of Chile. We went to an island that was full of penguins, and visited a sheep farm - it was honestly just an incredible day.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Exhilarating, adventurous, bacán, outdoors, spontaneous
What was your favorite food you had in Santiago?
It's not really a food, but there's a Chilean spice called merkén that is kind of like a mild smoked paprika. Chilean culture doesn't emphasize spices, so my friends and I piled it onto everything - and I took a massive bag of it home.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A small, super packable backpack - I can't remember the number of times it came in handy!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Santiago?
Musicxs de Chile (a group of Chilean musicians that did a cover of Victor Jara's 'El Derecho de Vivir en Paz' and I still listen to it)