Danielle Amundsen - 2015 Program Participant

Piedra del Coyote in Chile

Piedra del Coyote

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I knew that studying abroad is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in another country and really experience the culture in a way that isn't possible when you only visit for a week or two. I was itching for a new adventure! I also wanted to improve my Spanish-speaking abilities more than I was able to in a classroom, and I knew that immersion would be the best way to do it.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Santiago?

IES Abroad's Summer Health Studies program in Santiago, Chile had everything I was looking for. I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, preferably in South America, and I was hoping that a course or two would count towards my Spanish studies minor. Although it wasn't a requirement during my search, I was also looking for programs that would benefit me as a pre-med student. The two courses, medical Spanish and a healthcare seminar with observations, definitely met the bill. I also had a friend who studied with IES Abroad in South Africa the summer before and loved it, so I knew the organization would be good.

What was your favorite part about the capital of Chile?

There is always something to do in Santiago for everyone! There are tons of plays, movies, and performances around the city and in the universities. For shopping, there are lots malls, including one in the tallest building in South America, street vendors, and several artisan markets that are perfect for buying gifts for your friends and family back home. The soccer games are incredible to watch, even if you don't have tickets! Head over to Bellavista, the neighborhood famous for bars and clubs, and watch the games with thousands of Chileans.

Reverva Nacional de Flamencos, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Reserva Nacional de Flamencos

For history buffs and museum goers, there are tons of museums to check out as well as many sites to visit that were important during the Pinochet dictatorship. The wineries are fun to visit, and some have bike and wine tours. Speaking of biking, the city has a bikeshare program, so you can easily rent a bike. On Sundays, a lot of main roads are closed for people to ride around the city.

For a great view of the city and mountains, you can hike up Cerro San Cristobal. And if you're really into the outdoors, you can take a city bus to Cajon del Maipo, a huge region just outside of the city with hiking, ziplining, bungee jumping, and more. In one day, I saw glaciers and volcanos, hiked a mountain, and swam in hot springs! Weekend camping trips in the Andes just outside of the city are easy to arrange, and there are lots of resorts for skiing and snowboarding. We never ran out of things to do!

What aspects of your program made it unique?

When learning about the Chilean health care system, I didn't just read and go to lectures. I got to observe it firsthand almost everyday. I got to ask patients, nurses, doctors, and other medical staff what they thought about it, how it affected their lives, and what they would like to have changed. My professor brought in students studying different health professions and policyholders of both the private and public system to share their perspective. We got to learn about the indigenous people's view on health and medicine, not from powerpoint slides, but from going to a ruka (medical hut) and learning from a machi (the medicine person and leader). We observed in every setting from birth to hospice care and everything in between. We got to watch surgeries, including a brain surgery!

The amount of exposure we got to the Chilean health care system was incredible.

How did the local IES Abroad staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff starting helping us before we even stepped foot in Chile. Before the program, we had Skype interviews with the Spanish coordinator and had the opportunity to ask any questions we might have. When I arrived at the Santiago airport, the staff was waiting for me with signs and smiling faces, which was exactly what I needed after 14 or more hours of delays and spending the night on the airport floor.

In our two days of orientation, they didn't just inform us of the rules and expectations, but they also helped us navigate the metro, explore the city, and learn Chilenismos, the words and phrases only Chileans use. The first weekend they took us on a field trip to Valparaíso and Vina del Mar, two cities on the Pacific coast. One professor took us on a walking tour of Santiago another weekend, and another staff member offered cooking classes.

The staff were constantly there if we needed help with anything ranging from illness to problems with our homestays, academic concerns, or even advice on what to do on the weekend. The center director even helped us book flights for 33 students to visit the Atacama desert during a long weekend! We were also constantly updated with emails about things to look out for in the city and were given several staff members personal phone numbers in case of emergency.

Machu Picchu in Peru

Machu Picchu

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have explored the city and met more people at the beginning of the program. By the end, we picked a new place to check out nearly every day after class, but at the beginning, I think we were all a little nervous to branch out and go new places and meet local students. The city is full of things to do, and I wish I would have done more!

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Classes normally ran Monday to Thursday, but we also had a few Mondays off to allow for extra travel. My classes normally started at 9 a.m., but I liked to get there a little early to grab a cup of coffee and some cookies and talk with classmates. Depending on your homestay, you could either walk or take public transportation (buses and subways) to get to class. Our classes were at the program center and at the Universidad Católica. We usually had one class from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., but we had several breaks. After class, we had a lunch break. Our host families packed us lunches everyday.

After lunch, we would split into our observation groups of seven or eight people and head to our assigned healthcare center for the day. Most of the time, we took public transportation to the locations, but for a few of them, IES Abroad organized vans to take us. A nursing student accompanied us in our observations. Usually we split up further into pairs to visit different specialties or talk to patients. The observations usually were about three to four hours long, and ended around 5 p.m.

After classes ended we would pick a new place to check out before heading home for dinner. Chileans eat dinner late, so depending on the host family, dinner would be anywhere from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. My host family ate around 8 p.m., and after dinner I would do a little bit of homework, talk to my friends and family back home, or look up places to visit.

What was your favorite thing to do on your free time?

I loved traveling on the weekends. Nearly every weekend I traveled with a group of my friends to a different town or city. Usually we took buses, but one long weekend 33 of us flew up to the northern part of Chile to visit the Atacama desert. Some of my highlights from weekend trips include surfing, having a huge BBQ, relaxing in hot springs, hiking up a mountain, taking a historic elevator up the hills of Valparaíso, biking through the desert, exploring ruins, and stargazing in some of the best places in the world. At the end of the program, I traveled to Peru for a week with three other students that I met from my program as well, and it was amazing!
Punta de Lobos, Chile

Punta de Lobos

Tell us more about your accommodation. What did you like best about it?

I stayed in a homestay and loved my host family. My host parents had two grown daughters and one had kids of her own. Every Sunday, they would all come over for a huge lunch that started around 2:00 p.m. and lasted until 5:00 p.m. I wasn't there every weekend, but when I was, it was so much fun to talk with them and play with the grandkids. Their family is so close, but they included me as if I were always a member of their family.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Well, for starters, I caught the travel bug. I would love to go back to Chile, and I also want to travel to other countries in South America and around the world. I also have a lot more confidence now. I learned a lot about what I am capable of doing and grew a lot over the course of my program. I know I can communicate and express myself in Spanish, navigate foreign countries and cultures, and make new friends no matter where I am. I feel as though I have a better understanding now of different cultures and can view our own culture through different lenses.

I am even more excited about my Spanish minor and am looking forward to be a part of the healthcare system here in the U.S. I know I will keep in touch with the friends I made, both from other universities in the U.S. and from Chile.