There are many different kinds of study abroad challenges that you will likely have to face when you start your program. Some of these challenges include culture shock, language barriers, possible sickness, general school stress and more. If you already struggle with anxiety, like I do, then you should prepare yourself for unexpected situations. While studying abroad is an amazing experience and I highly recommend it, I’m here to tell you about the biggest challenge I faced while studying abroad in Chile.
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I made sure to arrive in Santiago, Chile a few weeks before my classes started so that I could have time to explore and get adjusted to the time change. These first couple of weeks were fascinating and I got to see so much of Santiago and other nearby cities. The host family I was living with have a daughter around my age who was also in university at the time. She was studying in Valparaiso so I got to hang out with her there and let her show me around. It was a ton of fun!
In one of my first weeks in Chile, I attended my schools’ International Student Orientation and it was so exciting. I met tonnes of fellow exchange students from all over the world and we were all so pumped to start registering for courses because PUC (Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile) has a “shopping week”. This means we can try out whatever classes we want, see if we like them, and then register. Sounds fun right?
Wrong. First of all “registering” for a course wasn’t so simple. I thought I could just sign up for the classes I wanted online. Instead, everyone had to go talk to the dean of the faculty in person to register, so if you’re like me and you’re taking classes from three or four different faculties, you have to navigate the maze that is Santiago, go to different campuses, and talk to all the deans. Because there’s only room in each class for a certain number of people, all the students here actually need to make up their minds and register for the classes they need quickly so that they can get into their classes. Side note: this was all done in Spanish, meaning my broken Spanglish wasn’t making it easy.
Did I mention transfer credits? They’re these little points that need to transfer to your school back in wherever-you-came-all-the-way-to-Chile (or whatever country you’re studying in) -from. Now, being as organized as I am, I planned out exactly which courses to take before Monday morning.
However, I got all the times of those courses wrong. So I missed my first class on Monday and my second one was cancelled. On Tuesday, my alarm decided it didn’t want to wake me up. Either I slept through it (which is crazy because it was supposed to go off like five times), or it just decided it didn’t want to work that day. Anyways I missed my first class, but luckily I was still able to register for it and I was thrilled because it was a dance class that I could get credit for as an elective
Except that I came back to my apartment to read an email from my adviser back in Canada saying I probably wouldn’t be able to take that class. Or half of the other classes I had chosen. They simply wouldn’t have transferred properly and I wouldn’t have received credits for them. So then I had to go back to the drawing board. That same day I finished making up two different timetables. One was for if I was able to take that dance class and one is for if wouldn’t be able to take it.
Next I just needed to finish putting the course codes, timetables, course descriptions, and syllabuses into my Transfer Credit Portal to make sure the courses transferred properly. This sounds okay but it actually took me way too long. This is because it’s hard enough navigating a university website, but doing it in Spanish presents a whole new challenge.
The good thing is, all of us exchange students were in the exact same boat. We were all getting stressed together which means that once that week was over, we all celebrated by getting lost in the Andes, drinking too many terremotos and pisco sour, and exploring the beautiful city that is Santiago.
If you are about to go study abroad take my advice and research the courses you want to take way ahead of time. Do not leave it until the last minute. Many universities throughout the world have multiple campuses in the same city. Make sure your courses are all at one campus or that you have enough time between classes to get to different campuses. Above all else take a deep breath, the first week is the hardest and after you get through it you will be over the moon with gratitude since you chose to study abroad.
April is the founder and main author for Just Leaving Footprints. She has written for numerous blogs and publications such as Explore Magazine and Snow Pak. April loves writing about sustainable tourism, and promoting other sustainable travelers on her Facebook Group and Instagram Community, Ladies for Sustainable Travel. Currently, April is living and teaching English in Mexico City with her husband Arturo and they don’t plan on stopping their travels anytime soon.
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