Back in 2014 I made what turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I decided I was going to study abroad for a semester. After trying and failing to keep my wanderlust at bay during university I finally pulled the trigger and applied to study abroad right before the application deadline two days after my boyfriend broke up with me (typical right?). Since I only had two days to fill in the application, I was confronted with the overwhelming question of, ‘Where should I study abroad?’ Here’s how I made that decision and ended up studying abroad in the beautiful country of Chile.
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Go Global is a program that students from the University of British Columbia and other universities can partake in via exchange programs in partner universities across the world. In order to apply you have to pick the top three partner universities that you would like to be paired with and apply to each of these via essays, transcripts and proposed study plans along with other information about yourself. With two days to apply, I panicked a bit but managed to throw together a list of three universities and hope that whichever university the program placed me in would lead me to an incredible experience.
I wasn’t originally wasn’t planning on studying abroad which is why I only had two days to apply. I was in my third year at university, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Spanish. Since I was minoring in Spanish, I decided to pick a place where Spanish is the main spoken language. I didn’t want to go to Mexico because I had been there before and although Spain would be interesting I’ve always been much more interested in Latin American culture. So then a university in Santiago, Chile became my personal first choice.
However on my application I put down Scotland as my first choice. This is mainly because I have family in Scotland and wasn’t sure I was ready to be totally on my own in a foreign country. My grandfather grew up in Scotland and his father was a professor at the University of Edinburgh. I’ve wanted to go back to reconnect with my family there for a while now. Scotland was my first choice because it was more comfortable to me as I’d be near family. As much as I probably would have loved to be in Scotland, I should have stuck with my gut feeling and gone with Chile as my first choice on my application. I had a bit of family pressure to go to Scotland (my parents wanted me to be close to family too) yet ultimately I’m very happy I ended up in Chile. When you’re thinking, ‘Where should I study abroad?’ make sure you pick somewhere YOU really want to go, not where your family wants you to go.
My third choice was kind of random. I picked a university in Malaysia simply because I had no idea what to put down as a third choice. I thought it would be cool to go to a place that I honestly don’t know a whole lot about. To be honest, I also heard that Go Global really tries to place students in one of their first two choices so I didn’t think much about the third choice.
The results came in a few weeks later and I was delighted and anxious and excited to have been placed in Santiago, Chile. This option, even though it was second on my application, really made the most sense for me. I mean I was studying Anthropology and Spanish. Not only would all my Anthropology classes be taught in Spanish, I would also get to learn a ton about Chile’s unique history, indigenous peoples and indigenous influences on the type of Spanish spoken in Chile (which is quite different than Spanish spoken in Mexico, Spain, Peru and other Spanish speaking countries). I knew this trip would be a great adventure but also great for me academically.
Below are some questions I would suggest you ask yourself as you plan where you will study abroad.
If you’re studying another language (like I was), then I would highly suggest studying abroad in a place where you can be fully immersed in that language. This will help you really excel in classes when you return to your home university. It will also look great on your resume to say that you are fluent or have studied another language in a country where it is spoken.
If you’re studying biology, by all means look into countries you’d love to visit, but remember to see what the biology programs are like in other universities. You don’t just want to go for the fun of traveling (although let’s be real, that’s the main reason), you also want to make sure your time abroad will be good for you academically. So be sure to pick a partner university that has a good program for your field.
Make sure that the place you choose to go is where YOU really want to go. Don’t pick somewhere that your parents are pushing you to go to, or that you feel pressured to go to for any reason. Go where YOU want. It’s YOUR time to study abroad and you should feel good with your decision.
This is an important one to consider as well. One of the places I originally considered to study abroad was Norway, because my grandmother is from there and I’ve always wanted to go. However, life in Norway is extremely expensive. Europe in general can be pretty pricey, and I ended up saving quite a lot of money on food and rent while I was in Chile. Of course, prices are all relative to where you’re from and what kind of currency you will be exchanging, but there’s some places that you might just not be able to afford to live. You can use this website to find out what the approximate cost of living is like in different countries around the world.
I know this question seems a bit like ‘duh’, but hear me out. While I love winter and skiing, I also crave vitamin D. Since I struggle with anxiety and depression, I like to be somewhere where the sun is shining and I really prefer warm weather over cold. It makes me feel a lot happier. Even if you don’t have the same struggles I do, it would suck to go somewhere absolutely freezing when you really thrive and prefer heat. Although this shouldn’t be the most important decision, make sure you take it into consideration as well.
For some reason I assumed that my classes at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile would be starting in September. Derp. I should have remembered that different countries start school at different times. So instead of starting class in September I actually started classes on August 4th. My orientation to the school was on August 1st and so I left for my semester around July 20th.
When I originally wrote this blog post it was just as I found out I was going to study abroad, way back in March of 2014. Afterwards I had to go through the overwhelming process of getting a student visa. In order to find out what is needed in order to obtain a student visa, you must visit the government website of the country you plan to go to and see what their requirements are. If you are planning to study abroad in Chile, you can check out this government link on how to apply for a Chilean student visa.
I also had to figure out where I was going to live during my time abroad. The best piece advice I can give you on finding out where to live is to send out a few emails. See if your partner university has student housing available as that is usually the easiest way to plan where to live when you’re not yet in the country. If they don’t (my partner university didn’t have student housing), or if the student housing is too expensive, email the country’s government consulate and see if they have any advice on where to stay. I found a place to stay with a Chilean family online but I made sure to email my consulate before sending the deposit just to make sure I wasn’t getting scammed. The worst thing would have been to show up and find out that the place I had paid to stay at didn’t exist.
The third way to find out where to stay is to book a hostel at your country of choice for a few weeks so you can ask people once you get there for advice, or go check some places out before you decide on anything. I know quite a few other people who have done this and it can definitely work out well. Just make sure you arrive to the country well before classes start so you can find accommodation before having to deal with your school work.
To plan the other logistics of my trip, I had to make sure I had insurance, an updated passport, vaccines, and more. If you want more help and tips preparing for long term travel, especially as a study abroad student, I suggest you read this article.
I was so excited to go study in Chile, that as soon as I found out I was accepted, I started this blog. Originally it was a creative way for me to keep my family and friends up to date on my travels. Since then it has transformed into a thriving website full of information for trip planners, wanderlusters, sustainable explorers and expats alike. My semester abroad in Chile turned me into the biggest travel bug ever. While I was studying there I also managed to visit Peru, Argentina, and various places within Chile such as the Atacama Desert, Patagonia, and Pucón. I wrote about most of the places I visited and helped some of my friends plan trips to Latin America as well.
I now make a bit of extra money through this blog and I have been able to write for various other publications as well. A few years after I returned from my time abroad, I met my husband Arturo, we moved to Mexico City (where he’s from), and now I write a lot of posts for travelers to Mexico and expats alike. Aside from travel writing, I am also an online English teacher with SayABC. Studying abroad in Chile was hands down one the best things I’ve ever done. It opened a ton of doors for me, helped me learn a language (and use that language to win over my husband lol), and allowed me to find my passion in travel writing.
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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