3 Nontraditional Cities for Study Abroad in Chile

by Jennifer Ramos

Santiago no es Chile, which means “Santiago isn’t Chile,” is a common phrase you’ll hear squabbled between local Chilenos in Chile. Interestingly enough, Santiago no es Chile is also the name of a television show aimed at teaching Chileans about subcultures and life outside the capital. Since roughly 40 percent of the population resides in Santiago, Chile is a very centralist country (but that doesn’t mean the other 60 percent don’t have something to offer, too!). There are plenty of alternative locations for studying abroad in Chile, aside from the most popular (and thus extra touristy) locations of Santiago, Valparaíso, and Viña del Mar.

Street market in Santiago, Chile

What better way to get off the beaten path, perfect your Español, and get out of your comfort zone than by taking the road less traveled?

We know you’re already heading pretty far south, but challenge you to go even further! The sur of Chile is known for its hospitality, friendly locals, and ridiculously beautiful landscapes (Patagonia, anyone?). While we’d love to keep these locales a secret, they’re just too fascinating not to share. So, for students in the mood for a nice bowl of Chile served up fresh, check out these non-traditional places for study abroad in Chile.


Better known to locals as Conce (and easier for gringos to pronounce!), this city is located 270 miles south of the capital and is the largest city south of Santiago. It’s considered a straight-up college town, as it’s home to several universities, and a haven for students (over 30,000 students live in Conce!). Concepción is also a historical city, due to its role during the nation’s dictatorship and colonial past; the city was actually designed to be the capital of the country, but the government ended up changing locations.

Universities in Concepción frequently host exchange students from the world over, giving the city a marked international flair. Study abroad students can anticipate making friends with the locals, but imagine having friends from 10 plus nationalities from one semester of study abroad! Bacán or what?

The campus of the Universidad de Concepción is one of the largest and prettiest universities in all of Chile (can you see the Instagram photo waiting to happen?). International students who choose study abroad in Concepción often take classes in education, history, business, political science, and international relations, among others.

Public transportation in Conce makes it very easy to get around, and the city even has what some would describe as a homey feeling. There are a plethora of cafes, small local art galleries, a few museums, venues with live music, and (as one would expect in a college town) many places to go out and meet locals and international students alike.

Did we mention the gorgeous Pacific coastline is only 30 minutes away by bus? With mild weather and a growing economy, Concepción is a great place to not only study abroad, but also to pursue for internships and volunteer work.

Beach in Vina del Mar, Chile


If you’re a student with interests in Latin American studies, literature, history, or indigenous and human rights, the city of Temuco is a perfect fit for you. #FactDrop: the name of the city is not even Spanish! It is derived from Mapudungun, the official language of the Mapuche tribe and translates to “Water of Temu,” which is a medicinal plant.

Approximately 416 miles south of Santiago, Temuco is home to 270,000 people. The urban area is situated between the coast and the mountains, and is very accessible to the Andes and nearby Pucón, making it an outdoor activity mecca loved by Chileans and foreigners alike. The green, lush flora and fauna present in Temuco comes from the humid and temperate rainy weather.

Temuco also has influences and roots from Switzerland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K., dating back into the late 1800s and early 1900s. Home to the famous Nobel Peace Prize Winner of Literature, Pablo Neruda, and where another famous Chilean writer called home for many years, Gabriela Mistral, Temuco beats its drum to a different rhythm than the rest of the country. Streets are filled with local Mapuches traveling from their homes in the countryside to sell fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs and spices at markets that are not to be missed.


Valdivia has been considered by some to be the Chilean version of Portland, Oregon. Similar to Portland, Valdivia’s river splits the city in two, it’s near the coast, and has rainy and overcast weather. You’ll find bikers, a café culture, young people, and students recognizing the importance of being green and conscious throughout Valdivia. Last, but not least, as in Portland, there is plenty of delicious, local German-Chilean beer in Valdivia.

The Germans and Spanish, among other European nations, migrated to southern Chile in the late 1800s, and to this day, there are more breweries in the Region Los Ríos than in any other part of the nation. The unique architecture, cuisine, frequent performing arts and events, cultural activities rain or shine, and very friendly and hospitable people who are always keen to learn more about foreigners all make Valdivia an interesting place to study abroad in Chile.

A much smaller city, Valdivia is home to only 130,000 residents. However, one of the eight original Chilean universities can be found here, namely the Universidad Austral de Chile. Students drawn to disciplines such as history, green tech, politics, and anthropology will find study abroad in Valdivia to be the best fit. 

Valdivia, Chile at night

4 Pro-Tips for Study Abroad in Chile

You might be asking yourself if study abroad in Chile in general is right for you, or even considering alternative locations, like Argentina or Spain. But it won’t take more than one bite into a Chilean Beef Empanada to know you made the right decision when you chose Chile, no matter what city you end up calling home. So if the question of where to study abroad is checked off your to do list and you’ve decided Chile is where you want to be, here’s how to study abroad like a pro down south:

1. Check the seasons. If you’re a snow bunny, seek summer study abroad programs in Chile, so that you can hit the slopes! Alternatively, if cold weather makes you sad, consider a semester program or a short-term winter program. Regardless, be aware that given Chile’s low climb up the latitude chart, it will be colder than you’re used to (no matter the season).

2. Do a homestay. Living with a local family will give you an unmatched experience that no other study abroad student could ever claim as their own. Besides giving you ample time to practice your Spanish language skills, you’ll develop REAL relationships with locals, get a glimpse into their everyday lives, and enjoy daily home-cooked meals (#perks).

3. Be outgoing and make the first move. Chilean students (your peers) are notorious for being conservative and shy. It’s not that they don’t like you (we promise!), you’ll just need to be the one to strike up the first conversation and break the ice.

4. Bring multiple camera batteries and memory cards. Seriously. This country is stinkin’ beautiful. You’ll be bummed if you run out of space mid-rainbow over Torres del Paine!

En conclusión...

Studying abroad isn’t easy, and getting outside of your comfort zone is challenging. However, the advantages of taking the road less traveled are plentiful. Living in an area that is not as popular among study abroad students will expose you to a different lifestyle and many more opportunities for language immersion. While visiting Santiago, Valparaiso, and Viña del Mar is a must, consider spending the bulk of your time studying abroad in Chile in a smaller, off the beaten path destination.