In three days, I will be suspended over the Andes, attempting to capture the majesty of their snow-capped peaks with my digital camera pressed against the smudged window, hours from landing in Santiago, Chile. Now, however, I am in a different kind of suspension. Part of me is still in Boston – frantically trying to pack and see all my friends one last time before I leave. The other part of me is already in Santiago – having both real (email, Facebook) and imaginary conversations with my host family, and spending my spare time reading about my soon-to-be home. It is exhilarating.
Why have I chosen to spend six months in Santiago, Chile?
1) To learn Spanish. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to become fluent in Spanish, a language I’ve studied in school since 3rd grade. I speak Hebrew at home with my mother, and it has been one of the greatest gifts in my life to speak another language. Maybe it’s greedy to want three, but I do.
2) To learn about healthcare from a global perspective. The IES program in Santiago offers a class about the Chilean healthcare system, which is paired with observational visits to a local hospital.
3) To make mistakes, and learn from them. Some will be laughable, some embarassing, some frustrating. The same will happen at every stage of my personal and professional life. If I can live six months in another country, all the rest is easy. Okay, okay, the rest will still be hard, but at least by then I will be a wiser and more resilient person.
4) To see another part of the world without being a tourist. When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was open up my National Geographic atlas to a random page, close my eyes, and put my finger down. Then I’d study that spot, rolling the foreign words on my tongue until I could pronounce them, studying the rivers and mountain ranges. Chile used to be as “random” as any place I might blindly find in the atlas. But for 17 million people, and now for me during next six months, it is home. That is a more meaningful way to explore the world than visiting any number of Pradas and Colosseums.
And, most importantly:
5) To discover what I don’t know that I don’t know. Quite possibly, the most important thing I will learn from studying abroad isn’t even on this list.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Maya is a senior majoring in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to classes and laboratory research, she enjoys running, martial arts, and improvisational baking (with variable results). Having achieved comprehension of the Baltimore accent, she hopes to master Spanish as well, and is looking forward to many adventures in Chile!</span></p>