GoAbroad Interview

Carly Gellman - Program Manager, Chile, Cuba, Scotland, & Spain

Carly Gellman

Carly earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied Hispanic languages and literature. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in global and international education at Drexel University. Carly has spent time studying, researching, and working abroad throughout Latin America, and has also traveled in many other parts of the world. In her work with Arcadia University, she is inspired by the belief that all students should experience study abroad.

Students in the port of Valparaiso, Chile
Carly and students in the port of Valparaiso. Photo Courtesy of Carly Gellman

What do you love most about working at Arcadia University? 

I would have to say when my teaching and advising is put into action. I am very passionate about traveling, and especially travels that involve going out of your comfort zone and doing something new, so this something I try to encourage all of our students to do when they are abroad. Once students apply to study abroad, I encourage them to “dig deeper” and really learn about where they have chosen to study, not just because their friends have decided to go there. 

I am also fortunate enough to teach a course about Chile and Latin America, a part of the world that is very meaningful to me, so I try to impart my knowledge of the area with the students. When I make suggestions on what to do in Valparaíso, for example, going to my favorite view of the city or my favorite coffee shop, it is very special to see them actually doing it!

I must admit, I also love that I get to speak or write in Spanish every single day in my job, whether with my colleagues or partner institutions in Cuba, Chile, or Spain. I am so lucky to have the ability to use my language skills every single day in my work!

How have your own world travels helped you with managing programs across the world? 

Significantly; I spent most of my life learning Spanish and got the “travel bug” after my first study abroad experience in Chile; now I get to send students to Spanish-speaking countries and have a lot of the same experiences I had when I was a student. I try to assess their language level and suggest a country that is best fit based on their language level and interests, a lot of which would not be possible without the background and experience I had in Spain and Latin America.

A good example of this is that I always lived in a homestay in order to improve my Spanish, so I can now offer a lot of advice to students who choose to live in this type of environment. I think living with a family is not only the best way to learn Spanish, but to have the comforts of home by living with a family who looks after you and even introduces you to a whole new network of people who you can also come to rely on when abroad.

Carly and students in Cerro Alegre (Happy Hill) Valparaíso. Photo Courtesy of Carly Gellman

One of the countries you manage programs in is Chile. What makes Chile a unique place for study abroad?

First and foremost, I can confidently say I think it’s one of the best places to learn Spanish. There are very few English speakers in Chile, so there are not many chances to fall into the “trap” of speaking in English. When you are in Chile, you are forced to learn the language, because if not, you will have a very difficult time getting around! I see this as a huge plus, especially for students who are studying Spanish back in the U.S.

Also, Chile is a more nontraditional location that is very, very far away! People don’t always realize how far away it actually is because it doesn’t look that far on a map. The best part about it, though, is that from the U.S., you will never be more than a couple of hours in a different timezone, so you don’t have to worry about jet lag. Because going to a country like Chile forces one to go out of their comfort zone, it is a great talking piece for job interviews as well.

Additionally, Chile is one of those “hidden gems” (well, maybe not anymore after writing this!) that people don’t know as much about compared to the rest of Latin America. There are often a lot of misconceptions about Chile and Latin America, in general. For example, when people think of South America, they often imagine hot weather and spicy food. This is certainly not the case in Chile at all, and in fact, the climate is quite temperate and Chilean food is far from spicy! 

It is a gorgeous country that extends so far south that you can find yourself in a desert, beach, lake, or mountain all on the same day! There are some parts of Chile that have so few people living there, like in some parts of Patagonia, that the land looks like a postcard, pristine and untouched. It’s quite easy to travel to the north or south of Chile by bus, and you can even venture into other parts of South America.

Finally, in my opinion, it’s the people who truly make it a unique and amazing place to study abroad; they are warm and welcoming, especially when you're trying to speak Spanish with them, and are always very curious about foreigners visiting their far-away country!

Chilean dance lesson
Carly learning national dance of Chile with students. Photo Courtesy of Carly Gellman

How can students make the most of their time in Chile? Are there any activities you suggest?

I have loads of suggestions! Some of them would include a Valparaíso graffiti/street art tour, visiting Pablo Neruda’s various houses, and taking a cueca dance class, which is the national dance of Chile. I would also encourage students to taste test different empanadas throughout Chile, but be sure to try one in Concón.

I also always encourage the students to take an ascensor (funicular) in “Valpo,” as the locals call it, and a lancha (boat) ride in the port. If you want to check out one of the largest astronomical observatories in the world, head north to La Serena. If you want a taste of Germany, head south to Frutillar. My absolute favorite thing to do is walk around the cerros (hills) of Valparaíso. It may seem easy to get lost among all of the beautiful painted murals, but when in doubt, just head down toward the ocean and you will find yourself right back in the city center. 

How is Chile’s a uniquely beneficial place for students to learn Spanish in Latin America? 

Chilean Spanish is difficult to learn, so I always tell students, if they can understand Chilean Spanish, they can understand any Spanish! Chileans have a vocabulary of their own, with words that I never even heard of before going there! There is even a book called How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle that explains what some of these words are! Because learning Spanish in Chile is so challenging, it forces students to go out of their comfort zone and learn quickly. Also, Chileans love when foreigners try to learn their lingo, so it is a great opportunity for students to embrace new friendships (and laughter!) that come along with learning Spanish there.

Do you have any final language learning tips?

Listen, listen, and listen more. The best way to learn a language is being fully immersed with little chance to speak your native tongue, and that is exactly what Chile offers. The more students engage with locals and practice their Spanish, even if they make mistakes, they will soon realize they can start speaking Spanish. The key is to listen to the tone and try to pick up on some of the grammar and vocabulary in order to learn how to speak back. I try to make students understand that it is absolutely OK to make mistakes, and the best way to keep practicing is listening to the news, music, movies, reading newspapers, etc.

It is really important to at least try talking back; Spanish will soon start coming out!
Group of students hiking in the Andes Mountains
Carly and students hiking in the Andes Mountains. Photo Courtesy of Carly Gellman

What is your best piece of advice for students considering study abroad?

Keep an open mind and try to become a local. Do not sit in your room all day on your smartphone or watch movies on Netflix. Get out and about, get involved, become friends with the Chileans - your time will go by faster than you know. It is totally OK to get frustrated at times and need time to yourself, but the more of an effort you make with others in the host country, the more fulfilling experience you will have. Don’t worry about making mistakes in Spanish or not understanding something that someone says or does. Just be patient, laugh it off, and remember what a great story you will be able to tell your friends when you get back home. 

Are there any new developments in the works for any of the programs you manage in 2017?

Arcadia recently hired a new program coordinator named Rodrigo González, who will be there to greet the students when they first arrive and serve as a guide and mentor as they work their way through Chile. Rodrigo, whose background is in education, has worked in various teaching and administrative roles at elementary and secondary schools and universities throughout Region V (Valparaíso). He will be there to encourage student engagement and answer any questions they may have, from academic concerns to where to visit on the weekend. He has a lot of great ideas on ways students can get involved and take advantage of all that Chile has to offer, and we are all very excited to work with him!