GoAbroad Interview

Lilian Trigo - Program Director, Viña del Mar, Chile

Lilian Trigo - Program Director, Viña del Mar, Chile

Lilian Trigo was born and raised in the small town of Quillota, located about 25 miles from Viña del Mar. She has a degree in ESL teaching and has been a teacher for over 20 years. Lilian studied at the University of Arizona and the Center of English as a Second Language, thanks to a grant by Chile’s Ministry of Education. She also received a Teacher Exchange Program Scholarship by the Fulbright Commission to teach Spanish in Indianapolis.

You spent 20 years teaching before joining CEA Study Abroad, how did you get connected with the organization?

Apart from working as a teacher for a long time, I have also been local representative of the EIL, the Experiment in International Living, a subset of the organization World Learning which provides high school exchanges and volunteering programs to Chile from different countries, such as the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Brazil, among others.

Study abroad students in Horcon, Chile

Spring 2013 students in Horcon, Orientation weekend

In 2012, EIL Chile was contacted by CEA Study Abroad to find a suitable candidate for becoming a program director in Viña del Mar and they proposed my name. I was interviewed by the Student Affairs Manager and got the position.

What does an average day look like as the program director for Viña del Mar, Chile?

My day passes four hours ahead our main office in Phoenix, so I am always in two different time zones. I check my emails, do office hours at the international campus of our partner university, University of Viña del Mar (UVM). I meet with the students and UVM staff, plan our activities. and do office hours. In the afternoon, I skype with CEA office, reply to messages, and organize coming programs.

What are the typical characteristics of CEA Study Abroad students who choose to study in Chile?

Our students are adventurous, sociable, and willing to learn and experience new things. These students come to Chile to learn Spanish and become fluent in the language, especially by living with a local host family.

What makes the University of Viña del Mar such a great place to study abroad?

The university is located in what is called “a university city” close to Valparaiso, Chile’s main port town in the Central part of Chile. Viña del Mar and Valparaiso host nearly 80,000 college students, plus over 500 international students from different parts of the world. The University of Viña del Mar hosts over 100 of them from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Canada, and France at their Internationalization and Outreach Office.

Also, living in Viña del Mar allows students to be close to the Pacific Ocean and travel to the capital city, Santiago, and to the north or south of the country very easily and safely.

Study abroad students in Valparaiso, Chile

Fall 2012 students in City Tour, Valparaiso

Your background is in teaching English as a second language, how do you apply these skills to your role as program director in Chile?

Being an ESL teacher has helped me a lot in this role supporting U.S. students who are learning Spanish as a second language. I totally understand their difficulties and praise their achievements all the way. Also, as a teacher, I am constantly answering their questions and doubts, as well as teaching them whenever they need me to.

How can students take full advantage of their program in Chile and really immerse themselves in the culture?

Students should engage in as many activities as possible, within the university and outside, to share with local people and immerse in the daily life and culture. In other words, students should make the most of the quality of UVM’s academic programs as they strive to give all international students the necessary skills to become integrated into the community and culture through experiential learning. The students get necessary tools to learn and express themselves in Spanish, but they have to take all the chances to put their abilities into practice in the real world.

Do you recommend any reading materials or cultural tips for students headed to Chile?

Some good reading material that covers a well-known guide to Chilean slang, and is very useful to understand dichos (sayings), is: How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle 1 & 2.

What sets CEA’s programming in Chile apart from other programs in Chile?

In 2013 the University of Viña del Mar’s Spanish Center became an Associated Center of the Cervantes Institute, one of two in all of Chile. Upon arriving to our center, students are given an oral and written exam to determine their Spanish level. Based on their scores, they will be eligible to take core Spanish classes and Spanish elective classes.

Apart from taking classes, students participate in cultural activities and excursions with the rest international students. Also, CEA Study Abroad students take part in monthly social gatherings with the program director and additional excursions organized by CEA staff.

La Campana National Park, Hijuelas, Chile

Fall 2013 students at excursion in La Campana National Park, Hijuelas

What has been your biggest achievement since joining the CEA team?

My biggest achievement is having been able to take over more responsibilities. Since Stephen Bird, the Student Affairs Manager, left CEA last year in May, I had to learn to prepare program dates, itineraries, and sample budgets on my own. Thanks to the Costa Rica Director, I learned quickly and now am able to publish my programs and all necessary data.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is meeting these beautiful young people from different parts of the U.S. every semester. All of them with different backgrounds, but with one common goal: to learn Spanish in Chile and to travel throughout South America. After the semester is over, reading a comment like this from a student from Colorado State University is by far the most rewarding part of what I do:

Lilian is incredible. She helped us to see a more genuine side of Chile that we wouldn't have experienced otherwise.