Why my study abroad mattered to me

Jaagrit Randhawa
December 12, 2018
Student searching for self on study abroad

New Friends

I met these great looking and quite varied group of individuals and within 3 weeks of the program, I knew that I was amongst the select few who would make my study abroad a memorable experience. All the memories and the laughs that I have with my 12 friends will stay with me and the lessons and stories that all of them shared will impact the rest of my life.

New Family

I was so lucky to have been given a room in Dora's home. She treated me with all the love and care that one would expect from their real mother. Dora was integral to my time in Chile because by living with her, I gained an appreciation for her perspective on life and society. She shared her family, home, interests and values with me, and made extra efforts to help me feel integrated into the Chilean society. Every night after dinner she invited me to watch the news with her so that I would know what was going on, and every weekend she scheduled movie nights with choices ranging from foreign films to indie films. Throughout the semester she took me to orchestra events, local parks, the central market, and I felt so happy that I had a host mom who loved me and made me feel right at home.

New Foods



As a vegetarian/pescatarian, I have to say Chile was not the country for my palate, but I made it work. I enjoyed new flavors, textures and smells through my time in Chile and tasted foods I knew and loved, like potatoes, but with a Chilean flavor. The food was always plentiful and always involved bread. I ordered fish when I could because where else would it be more appropriate to try a fish dish than a country with thousands of miles of coastline. Eating foods from a different country made me appreciate the choices and flavors available to me in the United States, but also every day in Chile I got the chance to eat something new. Pictured fruit is Nispero, and the second picture is a fish called Merluza.

New School

A really interesting part of this semester was the class that I took at a partner university, the Pontific Catholic University, titled the Documental Photography of Latin America, the subject and the technical representation. I learned about the interpretation and representation of the Latin American subject in photography. It was fascinating to see Chilean people discuss the stereotypes they are put under in photography about Latin America and I realized that I also had carried those stereotypes. I learned about differences between the teacher to student relationship in Chile. I made Chilean friends and learned about their lifestyles and also gained an authentic experience at Chilean university.

New Hobbies



I discovered through my time abroad that I love spending time exploring new subcultures by attending events outside of own personal interests. A Chilean friend invited some of us to a new-age, alternative rock concert and another day we went to a skateboarding event hosted by Vans. Each one of these events showed me that there are many sides to city life where I can go meet diverse groups of people, and learn something new. I also discovered that I would like to make more time to attend intimate, indoor concerts and one day, I would love to learn how to skateboard.

New Travel Experiences

Whether it was Valdivia, Chiloe, Atacama, or Mendoza, every one of my trips gave me new memories to laugh at, but more importantly, gave me the inspiration to be more open to new experiences. Through living in hostels, I met gracious hostel owners, hilarious guests, and participated in introspective conversations. Traveling through Chile taught me the value of getting out of the comfort zone and also the importance of staying grounded. Minimalistic travel was fun, cheap, and introduced me to more locals. I learned the importance of letting others into your life and being open to people's stories.

New Landscapes

My true intention of going to Chile was to explore the beautiful landscape that the country has to offer. I walk away from this experience completely satisfied with how much I got to see and trek in the 4.5 months. Everywhere I went in Chile, I had a new landscape to take in, and I am grateful that I had the resources to visit these places to appreciate the beauty of our planet.

Language Immersion

Little did I realize how much Spanish I was learning through my time, until my parents came to visit. Taking my parents around and serving as a constant translator gave me the confidence boost that I needed to realize that I was truly accomplishing my goal to learn Spanish. The language immersion was subconscious and conscious and it was amazing to see how much I could interpret and understand within my short time abroad. I am beyond ecstatic with the level of improvement in my Spanish speaking skills, and it makes me wonder, what if I look for a full-time job abroad?

Cultural Immersion



Study Abroad in its entirety is a new cultural experience, but I wanted to reflect on some specific events that were important to me and my time in Chile and how they made this time abroad even more special. We were given the opportunity to visit La Moneda, or the White House of Chile, where we learned about everything from the history of the building, the presidency, and even the dictatorship that took place in Chile. It was culturally valuable and we got to hear about the story of the country from the perspective of a Chilean and their interpretation of it. Another trip that stands out is a visit to a ceremonial site of the biggest indigenous population of Chile, the Mapuche. We took the time to get to know the history of the Mapuche population, the human rights challenges they have faced in their own land, and also sat down for a shared meal and conversation. I learned through the perspectives of the Mapuche women themselves and that was far better than visiting museums and reading the facts on a plaque.

New Social Experiences

Through living in Chile, it was imperative that we got accustomed to all the customs. One of the biggest one is the Once. During this late hour in the day, Chileans eat bread with jam, butter or ham and drink some tea. My host mom encouraged me to invite a couple of friends over for Once and gave us a full feast to eat over a 2-hour conversation. Part of this meal and others like it showed me the importance of putting a pause in the day and connecting with the people around you. Chile like other Latin American countries promotes a relaxed attitude. People take time to sit in parks more often, and they take time to stop the work day for a long lunch. I appreciated this aspect of Chilean life because I realized that often, life in the United States is about jumping from one thing to the next, and rushing through it all, but Chile taught me the value of stopping every once in a while, and taking it all in.

New Academic Experiences


My IES Abroad classes involved a lot of new experiences. The Regional Trade and Organizations class involved a wine tour and wine tasting as a field trip. I mean, how else are you going to learn about the regional economy and its dependence on wine production, if you don't partake in the economy? Besides the wine tour, we got to learn about the economic impact of the wine industry in Chile and how international entities play a huge role in sustaining this industry. It gave me an authentic understanding of how countries operate in relation to one another and how international business is a network of organizations that can impact the economy of more than one country. Besides the wine tour, I was also part of a service learning and internship class, where we got to visit a local non-profit who help adults with disabilities gain skills to assist them with daily life. This experience gave me an understanding of how non-profits operate in Chile and what life is life for the underrepresented populations of Chile. This was an eye-opening field trip and made me appreciate the efforts of Rostros Nuevos.  

New Professional Experiences

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to have an internship with Microsoft in Chile where I worked with my manager, Paulina Rodriguez, as part of her philanthropy team. I learned about the impact that multinational organizations can generate and also got to contribute my ideas to organizing public relations and company events. I learned about the professional setting of Chile and the work culture and got to meet young professionals who inspired me to pursue a career in technology. This was a unique experience because something like this would have been difficult and competitive to acquire within the United States, but I was able to join Microsoft and learn about their products and technology and truly benefit from an internship with a multinational organization.

Time to reflect and find yourself

Study Abroad, at the end, is time to expand your comfort zone, horizons, perspectives and thought processes. I am walking away from this semester with a lot of gratitude in my heart and a lot of happiness to carry me through the end of my college career. This study abroad mattered to me because I felt like I was using my time productively to learn about a new culture, and a new language, but I also plenty of time to try out new activities, spend time with Chilenos, and grow as a person in a lot of ways. Before embarking on this journey, I read blogs about study abroad, and ideas related to ‘a sense of independence’ and ‘freedom that one gains from this experience’ surfaced over and over again. Today, I feel that I also embody a newer sense of understanding of the world. I believe part of this change in me occurred because I leaned into everything that was new and instead of blocking out experiences, I chose to be immersed and said yes to as many things as possible. It helped that I was always surrounded by individuals who wanted the best for me and gave me the space to change and grow. I will think about Chile and this time with a lot of appreciation and I hope for as many people as possible to be part of this journey.

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Jaagrit Randhawa

<p>I am a student eager to get immersed in the Chilean Culture and enticed by the idea of being fluent in Spanish. I am minoring in Sustainability Leadership and this minor led me to an immersive study experience in Costa Rica where I came face to face with the Fer-De-Lance (the world's 3rd deadliest snake). I am an exercise enthusiast and will definitely look for an excuse to walk to places rather than finding transportation. At the moment, I am going through a lot of changes in my life, from choosing to change my entire cultural setting and&nbsp;learning a new language, to being a vegetarian.</p>

2018 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Pittsburgh, PA
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