Let Go, Dive In

Anyone who really knows me could tell you about how I can be over the top with my organizational and planning systems (just ask me about how I organize my wardrobe). But no amount of list-making or journaling could have prepared me for the whirlwind change in my life since this semester began. With a program like this, everything from the next meal we’ll eat to where we’ll lay our head down that night can be a mystery. Our itinerary can change anytime and isn’t known far in advance, thus, the predictability and routine of my old life has given way to the unknown and left me forced to embrace the moment and let go of control — quite the change of pace for me.

The program began August 29th, and since I had already spent the weekend exploring the city with my parents, I was the first to arrive at our meeting location – the colorfully decorated lounge of our hostel. Not knowing anyone was certainly what I was most nervous for, but as the 21 other members of our group filtered in one by one and we fell into easy conversation, that fear quickly vanished. Once we were all together and I had lugged my 60 pounds of luggage into my new room, we headed to our conference center classroom for orientation and to find out what our time in the Bay Area would entail.

view overlooking San Francisco

As an experiential program, IHP Climate Change has a mix of classroom days, site visits, and excursions. Our classroom days we spent learning about San Francisco’s progressive climate action plan, overviewing our 4 courses, and discussing what it meant to have the privilege to travel (and thus how to conduct our field work ethically).

As for site visits, our first field trip was to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we learned about how climate change was affecting the ecologically rich marine habitat and even got to go behind the scenes and hold some of the jellyfish, a feeling I don’t think I can quite describe. We also observed a massive feeding of the sardines, watched the coastal birds soar and dive outside, and saw sea creatures from penguins to jellies to crabs much bigger than I feel comfortable with. That same afternoon we headed to Alba Farm, a highlight for me as someone deeply interested in food systems justice. The model of this organic farm was new for me — workers are given their own smaller plots of land within the farm and learn how to become farmers at a discounted price. Instead of the traditional model where farm laborers work for someone else, here the autonomy is handed back to them, and in 5 years they can start their own farm. Still, however, climate change has brought about shifting weather patterns in California that threaten the livelihoods of all agricultural workers.

One of the most eye-opening days for me was Neighborhood Day, in which we split into groups and explored neighborhoods in the Bay Area with varying income levels to see how wealth, housing, and environmental quality were all related. Downtown Oakland, which I explored, was a historically black neighborhood built where industry once thrived. The result? Toxins in the soils, shockingly high rates of health issues, industry sites left unremediated, and a highway built through the community. A passionate and deeply caring business owner I chatted with told me how she had witnessed the decline of the neighborhood as gentrification pushed up rent prices, businesses struggled, and people increasingly turned to violence. Meanwhile, the majority of white neighborhoods were clean and experienced no such issues.

Our final site visit was to Muir Woods, home to the famous redwoods, where we learned from park rangers the power of the redwoods as well as the threats they faced from changes in the fog (a major source of their water) due to climate change. A beautiful hike with two of my sweet new friends solidified the importance of protecting places like these for all to enjoy one day.

Outside of the scheduled curriculum, our group of course did much exploring on our own. Being minutes from a Trader Joe’s meant we were able to grocery shop for communal dinners where we gathered around the hostel kitchen to cook veggie-rich dinners, discuss anything and everything, and of course, laugh. Lots and lots of laughter. Some nights we would choose to eat out in small groups instead — the highlights for me being tofu and kale ramen, dumplings in Chinatown, and an In-n-Out/Ghirardelli/cable car adventure.

Other special moments include:
– Seeing the blue moon over the city
– An alleyway full of powerful, powerful murals
– Trying to master the art of friendship bracelet making while watching Miss Congeniality
– Ferrying over to Sausalito and hiking up to a beautiful look-out point
– A morning run to Pier 39 to see the sea lions
– Solving my first Rubik’s cube in the airport
– Boba and swimming in the waves at Baker’s Beach

ferryride to Sausalito
sea lions sunbathing!!

Baker’s Beach was one of the biggest highlights to me. The water was cold, much colder than Lake Michigan in September. And salty. I had forgotten that water at the beach could be salty, but it did make sense seeing as I was on the Pacific coast. The waves much taller than me looked daunting, and my instinct was to stay back on the beach, but I remembered my promise to myself to embrace the new. And so I dove in.

facing the oncoming waves

Politics, Goats, and Tea

“Why, for instance, is the ‘wilderness experience’ so often conceived as a form of recreation best enjoyed by those whose class privileges give them the time and resources to leave their jobs behind and ‘get away from it all’? Why does the protection of wilderness so often seen to pit urban recreationists against rural people who actually earn their living from the land? Why in the debates about pristine natural areas are ‘primitive’ peoples idealized, even sentimentalized, until the moment they do something unprimitive, modern, and unnatural, and thereby fall from environmental grace? What are the consequences of a wilderness ideology that devalues productive labor and the very concrete knowledge that comes from working the land with one’s own hands? – “The Trouble with Wilderness” by William Cronan

My first week in Oregon was spent enjoying and gaining knowledge about the “wilderness” that surrounds me. I am surrounded by trees far taller than I am used to, mountains in the not-to-far distance, and trails that lead me further into contemplation and sublimity. My second week in Oregon was spent reading about the politics of nature, the way that our perception and understanding of nature are deeply influenced by the history and power structures of our world.

As I process the two weeks that I have been here, I can’t help but think of how uncomfortable this experience is. It is uncomfortable to learn new information that convicts me and inspires me to change. It is uncomfortable to step out of the current pace of my life to meet new people and have an entirely new structure of daily life. It is uncomfortable to not have the pleasures of technology that I am used to. However, it is incredibly sweet to spend time in a space of people willing to be uncomfortable together, willing to learn together, and willing to evoke change in the world.

Amidst the discomfort and stretch to grow that I feel, I also recognize feelings of contentment, fulfillment, and peace. As I spend time in nature which I will learn to call “home”, I have been allowed to be an embodied participator in the “wilderness” that cannot and should not be separated from me, though I leave my mark on it daily. Some sources of contentment and fulfillment are the two cheerful and goofy goats that reside on our campus. My daily chore was to milk the goats in the morning, which was a huge source of joy for me this week.

Another source of joy this week was the delicious food that we received from the garden. We have full access to the garden and are encouraged to explore it and find foods that we want to cook with, make tea with, or eat while we explore! My cabin-mates and I have been having a cup of tea to end every day, re-capping our day together, and discussing our reading.

Our reading can feel pretty intense, especially when reading “After Nature: A Politics of the Anthropocene”, so I feel lucky to have homework-free weekends where I get to bake, catch up letter-writing, and summit mountains!! Yesterday I made beet hummus with fresh beets from the garden and today we summited Mt. McLouglin, which was about 13 miles, 6.5 straight up and 6.5 straight down. This was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done and it was very challenging and rewarding!

The End or Beginning?

I am moving into my last month of being here, and my program technically ends next week (although I will be here a bit longer). I can’t really fathom the fact that it has been a year since I came here. The best way I can describe it, being here has been like I was transported to another dimension version of myself that happens to be living in Japan. Abby in Japan seems like a separate person from Abby in the USA.

Obviously Abby in Japan is simply a continuation–an addition–to who Abby in the USA was. I can tell that I have changed in ways that I probably don’t know, and probably will continue to not know until I discover them as I move into the future to create more newer parts of myself.

Reflecting back on my experience, it was a lot different than I imagined it. I didn’t necessarily come with a bunch of expectations or anything, but I think I am experiencing what we all experience after achieving something. I feel like I had almost seen coming to Japan as a giant finale. It was like this big unachievable thing in my mind since I was a young kid, and to me, achieving that big unachievable thing was my happily ever after. I didn’t even consider that life continues on after this goal. I especially didn’t expect my response to the end of achieving this goal.

Until month 10 (last month), I had extreme anxiety about going back to the USA. While everyone had been experiencing culture shock and homesickness their first 6 months here, I had felt no longing to go home. Maybe it was the fact I hadn’t imagined anything past my experience. Maybe it was just that the food was good and the train system provided a type of freedom I didn’t know in the US. However, last month, and especially now, I feel differently.

I feel really ready for the next chapter of my life. It isn’t necessarily that I prefer the US over Japan or Japan over the US. However, I know that for the time being, since I’m not planning to work here this next year, this is not the place where I can forge a path for myself. I don’t feel I can grow here anymore in the way I need to right now. Going abroad, especially for a long time, really makes you reflect on your values, and I think it was extremely necessary that I came here. I think it is also extremely necessary that my next step not be here.

Who knows maybe I’ll find myself back here in a couple of years, or maybe in a completely different country. I can’t really say where I’ll end up making a permanent space for myself, or if I ever will. Life is full of possibilities. My experience here was definitely a foundation for leaping into adulthood. I thought it was the finale this whole time, but I think it’s really the beginning of something.

If you followed my blog this year, thank you. I wasn’t that consistent, but I appreciate you taking the time to read about my experience. I hope it was beneficial to you in some way. I enjoyed writing it 🙂

The End… or rather,

The Beginning

Bittersweet Beauty: Making Friends Abroad

This post has been collecting dust for two months now (WHAT?!) and the consequence of my procrastination is that instead of finishing it on a train or in a hostel on the continent, I’m next to my little sister on the couch at our home in Saugatuck where the evening breeze tosses the song of crickets and the faint rumble of semis on the highway through the screen door. I’m home. 

I’ve been back for almost two months and the word I continually fall back on to describe the feeling is weird. It’s just weird. I could write about the reverse culture shock (why so many choices in the store? Why so big? So loud? Why do I have so much stuff?), how the reality of Dutch bingo in my small hometown is unsettling, how campus feels hollowed out in the summer, how it’s hard to know how to share months of my experiences abroad with family back. Or I could share all the beautiful parts of being home: my Dad’s homemade breakfasts, playing in the yard with my little siblings, reuniting with old friends, riding my horses again, making it home in time for Mother’s Day, Lake Michigan sunsets, so many trips ‘up north.’ But instead, I want to rewind even further, to revisit this draft to take you with me to a small town in northern France with a very special friend I made in Liverpool. 

If you’ve followed any of my posts, you’ll know about Romane. You might know her as my flatmate or my hiking buddy, but she became so much more than that. After our first weekend of orientation at LHU, I felt a little overwhelmed and out of place. I missed the familiarity of my friends from Hope, the easy way that time passed when I was with them, our comfortability with silence, the non-existence of small talk. I had met so many lovely, fun, enthusiastic people in Liverpool, but I started praying for a special friend. The next morning (literally, THE NEXT morning), while making breakfast, I (accidentally) set the toaster on fire, disrupting the delicious breakfast of the sweet French girl who lived down the hall from me. We put out the fire, choked on the smoke, called the security guard, and laughed about it all the way to campus on the bus together. And so began our friendship. Who knew burned toast, ruined appliances, and getting yelled at by a Scouser could be an answer to prayer. 

After my classes ended, I spent a month traveling around Europe, staying in hostels and Airbnbs, enthralled by history, hiking, architecture, food, and people. Yet, the nomadic lifestyle, however thrilling it is, becomes exhausting. I discovered my tolerance for solo hiking isn’t infinite, nor was my desire to spend hours exploring museums and cathedrals alone. So when Romane invited me to visit her and her family in northern France, I leaped at the opportunity.

Hiking in 9 countries was a highlight of Europe!

I didn’t know I’d said yes to what I look back on as one of my favorite memories from Europe. Romane greeted me at the bus station in Lille after I’d spent 19 hours with no sleep on an overnight bus across France. She escorted me back to the apartment where she and her sister live when attending university in Lille. Romane and her parents led me on a tour of Lille, showing me the university, the park, several charming shops, and the market called La Vieille Bourse. My dad, who very last minute booked a flight to spend a few days traveling with me, flew into Paris that same morning and took a train to Lille to meet up with all of us. We almost bumped into him downtown! Romane was an excellent translator in the flurry of introductions, hugs, and questions that filled the afternoon and evening.

Among the sometimes awkward and humorous communication attempts between my dad, myself, and Romane’s parents, our time together was full of laughter. When I look back on the days we spent together, they are marked by an overarching joy.

Romane led us on a tour of her charming hometown of Gravelines, just 15 miles from Dunkirk. We saw lovely gardens, the expansive beach, and the old city walls! Her family provided home-cooked meals (and the traditional pre-meal snack and after-meal dessert) and insisted we eat it all as was the “French way” according to Romane. And WOW. Their food was amazing!! My favorite treat was something they bought at a shop in Lille, called Le Mereilleux, which literally translates as “the marvelous.” I don’t know how to describe or explain it except that it exceeded any expectations and is, quite possibly, the most delicious thing I tried in Europe.

One of my favorite moments was when Romane, knowing my love for horses, surprised me by bringing us to the equestrian center in their town. Another highlight was going to the French side of the English Channel where we walked along the clifftops of Le Cap Blanc Nez, gazed across the sparkling channel, splashed in the waves, and visited the seaside town of Wissant. Romane and I, who both have a budding interest in photography, passed an evening downloading and editing our travel photos together.

We spent our last day together in Bruges, Belgium, thanks to the generous driving of Romane’s dad. It was a gloomy, grey day, but the delicate spring flowers, quaint brick buildings, rows of chocolate shops, charming canals, and the clatter of horse-drawn carriages made it feel like a fairytale town.

My dad and I still marvel at the generosity of Romane and her family: an authentic, warm, sacrificial kindness. They literally offered their bedroom to a stranger (my dad) and gave up their time to devote several days entirely to the comfort of our visit. This generosity marked their actions to the very last moment: they not only helped carry our luggage to the station in Bruges but waited with us until our train to Brussels arrived. Saying goodbye to Romane was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had to make. Her friendship has been a deep and beautiful blessing to me.

We text almost daily, send letters and postcards, and DM each other travel reels, daydreaming of our someday trip to Scotland together. I also text her anything I can think of that would convince her West Michigan is worth the $$$ flight to come visit (we have Tulip Time! We could basically be Europe! And the Peanut Store could be Le Mereilleux! And we have the beach too!)

Romane, if you’re reading this, July is a fantastic time to visit Michigan. My hometown may not have ancient city walls like yours, but the meadows are laden with a rainbow of midsummer flowers and the wild blackberries are ripening along the edge of the forest. The golden beaches are wonderfully deserted at 7am (assuming you’re still an early riser) and the sapphire, non-salty waters of Lake Michigan have hit 70 degrees (Fahrenheit that is). My family’s doors are always open, and I’ll be ready to welcome you with some blueberry crisp and homemade ice cream (almost as good as Le Mereilleux).

A letter to IES Santiago Spring 2023, Thank you.

As my time in Santiago reached its end, I found myself very sentimental. 

Upon going to Chile, I had a lot of doubts and questions for myself. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make friends when naturally I am more of an introvert who only has a handful of very close friends. But going to South America all alone meant that I had to put in the extra work to meet new people and form those new connections. 

I decided and made sure that I actively participated in conversations and activities, regardless of my fear of being socially awkward or anxious, so that I could continue building the relationships that I so desired. The response that I received from the Spring 2023 participants blew my mind. I was surprised to be surrounded by people who were so genuine, kind, caring and loving. It was so easy to talk to everyone and relate to many things, especially the different emotions that came with studying abroad. 

I have been thinking about what exactly I want to say, but it is so hard to put all my emotions into words. I just feel so thankful, blessed, lucky, loved, joyful, and have been able to form a new family. Despite the distances and different stages of life that we are all on, I know the magic that our group has and will forever be present in my life.

Here, I would like to take some time to thank all of the friends I made in Santiago, Chile who have made my experience less intimidating and extremely fulfilling. 

Amelie, Beaujena, David, Eliana, Gicel, Hollie, Isaac, James, Lydia, Maggie, Malcolm, Marlen, Michaela, Sam Boehm, Sam Waller, Sarahi, Shragvi, Sidney, Tania, Uni, Victoria, and Xan. Thank you. Thank you for being there without asking for anything in return. I hope that you all know that I am always in your corner! I deeply appreciate each and every one of you. 

Thank you Fran, Benja, and Felipe for being the best Chilean friends, including us, and going above and beyond for the IES students. 

Thank you Maricarmen, Angela, and Caroline for helping with anything study abroad related but also for inviting us with open arms into your own lives. 

Thank you to all these people mentioned that supported me from a distance when I returned to the US in May for graduation. With some being present for the watch party at Livinnx, others watching the live stream wherever they found themselves, my host family tuning in as well, the surprise dinner celebration, and the surprise donuts on behalf of the IES staff!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

With love, 

Mari

To Hope Students

If you have the opportunity to study abroad, go for it! If you are thinking about it, stop by Martha Miller and talk to the peer advisors. Listen to their story, see their emotions, and ask questions. It might be something scary and filled with emotions, but taking the risk might surprise you and will take you on a journey you least expected. You are supported at Hope and abroad as well! 

My journey has now come to an end. Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs and it was an honor to have been a blogger. Thank you Hope College. Thank you IES Abroad. Gracias Chile.

Discovering Marilyn.

Spring 2023 participants: students and professors

What can I expect from studying abroad? 

Expect the unexpected. Go with an open mind. Have a goal or two to accomplish. Be willing to change your perspective and be surprised. 

I knew that studying abroad, I would participate in a program that was well-suited for me, but I never imagined the impact it would have. I was able to grow academically and learn so much about Chile. I grew a passion for public health and learned more about the disparities that may exist within the medical field. I was able to obtain new skills but also grow the skills that I already had. With this, I was able to accomplish one goal that I had for studying abroad and for the health studies program, which was gaining a global perspective on the health field. Since I only knew about the US’s health system, I wanted to be able to immerse myself in a different culture and be able to compare their health system to that of the US. With this, I would be able to better understand patients and be more personable with them. 

Being in a different country and culture allowed for me to learn more about understanding people and being genuine in the relationships that I built. Allowing myself to learn about a different culture than my own, I was able to gain a new perspective and take from the biopsychosocial approach that Chile uses within their healthcare system and implement it into how I would like to approach my own patients. This experience has made me also grow professionally and gain a better insight into what my future could look like. 

However, what has impacted me the most is the personal growth that I have been able to experience from my time in Chile. Even though I was still a student, the stress that came with academics was not as present as it was during my time at Hope. It’s something about the environment that allows you to constantly be learning and enjoy what you are experiencing. I loved the whole process and the journey had a lot of ups and downs but that made me grow into the person I am now. The Marilyn that boarded the flight felt alone, anxious, and nervous. 

Alone because I didn’t know anyone going to South America for a study abroad program. 

Anxious because it was an entirely new country and I was going to be away for a long time. 

Nervous because I had decided to miss my last semester at Hope and hoped that this experience would compensate for what I was missing. 

These feelings quickly diminished once I met the Spring 2023 students during the first week of orientation. I realized that I was going to be okay and that the experience would 100% be worth my time away. I received a pleasant surprise from the people that were a part of this program and I was able to learn so much from each and every one of them. I was able to feel loved, encouraged, accepted, extreme happiness, and comfortable with vulnerability. 

I was surrounded by the kindest, loving, caring, and genuine people, from the IES staff, to the professors, to the students. 

IES Santiago Spring 2023 is the reason why Marilyn began a journey she didn’t even realize she needed. I hold each person very near and dear to my heart and I will forever be grateful to have crossed with these special people.

The Activity That Lives Rent Free in My Memories

Images of street art seen during walks in the city:

What are some things to do while abroad? Would I get bored or will I see it all quickly? 

You will definitely not get bored or see it all quickly. You will have a lot to explore and will find many things to do during your time abroad! When I was researching Chile, I started to create a list of things that I wanted to look into or do while I was there. For example, during our Easter break, I traveled with a few friends to La Serena where I got to go on a whale-watching tour. Watching whales was a dream come true, as whales are my favorite animal. When I arrived in Santiago, I also started receiving recommendations of things to visit. I was able to visit some of the museums on my bucket list through field trips in my classes.

My favorite thing to do in Santiago was walking around and seeing all the street art. I always have enjoyed going on walks, and I knew that was something that I also wanted to do during my time in Santiago. I came to quickly learn that Santiago has a lot of history and to me, the streets told that story. It was always very interesting to me how the art was not covered up – it emerged to speak and showcase what Chileans were feeling during those times. It was also very fascinating to be able to understand the perspective and have background knowledge about the setting. This is an example of what I loved about studying abroad: the fact that I was able to learn about the history of Chile in the classroom and also on my daily walks around the city. 

Exploring surrounding neighborhoods and the city itself allowed me to constantly be active, and there’s just something about being in a new and unique environment that keeps you wanting to learn and see more and more. I never found myself to be bored, and every day saw something new. For me going on walks has been an activity of self-care, and having that opportunity while also stopping to read or see the different street art was a plus in my study abroad experience. It reminded me to take it all in, allow myself to take a mental break whenever I needed one and take care of myself, no matter where I was. 

I really enjoyed having my own favorite activity that I normally do in the States and implementing that to a daily activity in Santiago because it allowed me to explore where I was, live in the moment, immerse myself, expand my knowledge/understanding, and have that mental refresher. If you currently have a favorite activity, you will be able to fall back on that enjoyment and get to have a new memory and experience with that activity, which makes it even more rewarding than it was and always have a connection or tie to your study abroad experience!

Involvement and Immersion with the Local Community!

Marilyn and 4 students from Club Chileno on a trip to Cerro San Cristobal
Benjamin from Club Chileno with IES Spring students at the IES Center.
Marilyn and Felipe from Club Chileno after a visit to an educational center on Health!

What are ways to be immersed in the local community? Can you be involved? 

The answer to both questions is yes for my study abroad program. Right off the bat, the Spring 2023 students were introduced to “Club Chileno” during our orientation. Club Chileno were local university students who would plan activities, accompany us during class field trips, and were involved in different orientation activities/trips. This was a great opportunity to be able to get to know Chileans around our age and practice hearing Chilean slang. I was able to make really good friends from Club Chileno and create a support system with them as well. 

Personally, having Club Chileno was very helpful because I wasn’t really involved with any organizations/clubs from the partner university, but I was still able to be immersed. If I ever had any questions, needed resources, or with the adjustment process, Club Chileno was always my go-to people. Thankfully, I was able to become really good friends with them and learn from them a lot about Chile.

Even though I didn’t take classes on campus, I still had an opportunity to be involved. Since clinical observations technically counted as a class, I was still allowed to actively participate on the university’s campuses.

For IES Santiago, there was also a possibility of having an internship placement. This placement allowed you to also form a part of the community and immerse yourself in different areas. Students from my program participated in these different internship placements and others found ways to also be involved – whether it be joining the soccer team, the hip-hop dance team, any organization of interest, or any sports. 

If you are looking to be involved and immerse yourself while abroad, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. Take advantage of anything that you’re interested in and try it in a new environment! Expand your horizons!!

An insight into the Health Studies Program!

Missing two students but the participants of the IES Health Program on our first day!
A silly picture!!

So what is the health studies program? 

As I’ve mentioned many times, I studied abroad with IES, specifically participating in their health studies program. I knew that if I got the chance to study abroad, then it would be somewhere in South America. I also wanted to go on a program that felt unique and special to me. I had heard about the health studies program since my freshman year, so I decided to research it once it came time for me to apply to an off campus program. 

Since I was on the PreMed track at Hope, I realized that this program was perfect for me. It checked many things off of the list that I had created to decide on a location to travel to for a semester. This program was in a country in South America, it allowed me to learn a different culture/dialect than what I know about Ecuadorian culture, and the most intriguing part – it offered clinical observations. 

If you are someone interested in public health or in a pre-health profession, then this program should be on your radar. Every week, I was able to partake in a clinical observation. Clinical observations can be compared to job shadowing different doctors, units, and hospitals/clinics. As part of the program, you take two classes in Spanish which go hand-in-hand to help you learn about the Chilean health system and support your learning so that you are prepared for clinical observations. I was able to learn about the Chilean health system but also be immersed in it, which allowed me to fulfill my goal of obtaining a global perspective in terms of public health. 

The knowledge that I have been able to obtain from the courses and clinical observations allowed for me to get job shadowing experience, have a professional experience in a medical setting, an insight into disparities within healthcare systems, and medical Spanish that will be helpful now and in the future!

Being a student abroad

Museum field trip with my Social and Political Role of the Arts class
Inside the Palacio de La Moneda, field trip for my Spanish class!
Picture of Campus Casa Central PUC (partner university with IES)

So what are classes like abroad? What is the difference to the classrooms at Hope? How will I be able to manage everything that may come with studying abroad while also being a student? 

To those who are thinking about studying abroad or preparing for their study abroad program, don’t worry – you can do it! The experience I have had with classes in Chile has been the best I could’ve asked for while in a completely different country and curriculum that I was used to. First off, I was able to have many Zoom meetings with the academic director for IES Santiago before I left the States, as well as a Zoom interview with the Spanish classes coordinator so that my Spanish level got assessed. All the questions I had, especially with making sure that classes/credits transferred over, were always answered within these Zoom meetings. This helped relieve the stress I had about choosing classes and making sure that everything was all set even before I left for the program. Within the second week of orientation and being in Chile, the academic director, Angela, required each student to meet with her so that we can all sit down with her and talk about all things academics in order to smoothen out the process of registration for those taking local university classes. Since I did not need to take local university classes, due to my clinical observations counting for credits, my registration process was very smooth-sailing. 

I was able to choose from the IES courses that were offered for the Spring semester, which made a lot of my academic decisions pretty easy. I was able to take classes that I normally would not take at Hope and got to really enjoy what I was learning. At Hope, I was used to either only taking classes to fulfill a Spanish requirement, a chemistry requirement, or a pre-med requirement. For my semester abroad, I was able to take a history course and an art course in addition to the required Spanish course and the classes needed for the health studies program. What I was most excited about were the history and art courses I was taking because the curriculum seemed very intriguing. There was the classroom setting, but there were also scheduled field trips built into the course. The opportunity to learn outside of the classroom and put into perspective everything that I was learning helped me to dive into the culture and really immerse myself to understand Chile. 

It is important to note the key role that professors played in my learning experience. They have really left an impact on me with all their wisdom, passion, understanding, charisma, and kindness. Honestly, the relationship that I was able to have with my professors at IES Santiago reminded me of the relationship that I was able to have with my professors at Hope. Since the classroom sizes were pretty small, we were able to build a tighter relationship between classmates and professors, which is what I really loved about the small classroom sizes at Hope. I really do appreciate the small size similarities with Hope because I was able to have a sense of belonging and familiarity that helped to be a student in a different country and with a different grading system/curriculum. 

What this whole experience made me realize was that, in a way, being a student at Hope prepared me to get adjusted and know how to be a student anywhere I go! I am more than positive that anywhere you decide to go, you are well equipped and prepared to go beyond the classroom to acquire life-changing skills.