How to Make Local Friends Abroad: IES Abroad Ambassador of the Month Nina Muller

We’re happy to introduce Nina Muller, our April 2017 IES Abroad Ambassador of the Month. Nina is a Psychology major and Spanish minor in her junior year at Carleton College.

Nina studied abroad on our Fall 2016 Santiago - Health Studies program, and she also enjoys teaching freshman Spanish classes, singing in her a cappella group, seeking out dogs on campus to pet, and occasionally…sleeping!

Nina doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is, whether it’s the unique way she integrated into Chilean society during her semester abroad or the challenge of summarizing a world-changing experience into one sentence upon return. Read what she has to say about meeting Chileans abroad and interning part-time at an impactful community organization.

IES Abroad: How did you meet local students abroad?

Nina Muller: I always joke that all of my Chilean friends are either babies or middle-aged women - and it's totally true. I was lucky enough to be an intern with an amazing organization called El Sembrador, a community center that also runs a nursery and pre-school. For about 17 hours a week (I was only supposed to do 14, but I loved my babies so I stayed longer most days!), I engaged with these tiny humans in a really special way.

There's something really special about taking a step out of the real world of most college students and stepping into a world of joy, silly fun, and sticky hands. The women who worked with these kids are some of my favorite people in the world. I'd never met anyone so fully invested in the children with whom they worked. I still Whatsapp message these women regularly - they are kind, caring, and they repeated the word for "paper towel" to me about 90 times without becoming frustrated. (The word is Nova, which is a brand name like "Kleenex" is for us and tissues. I don't know why it took me so much energy to learn that word. It really shouldn't have.).

I definitely didn't meet local Chileans in a normal way, nor did I end up close with Chileans near me in age, but I absolutely adore them.

IES Abroad: What one piece of advice would you share with those who are returning home from study abroad?

NM: I would recommend making some sort of stump speech. A lot of people you don't know very well are going to see you and say, "Oh my gosh, hey! How was study abroad? You were in ____, right?" You have to figure out a concise way to summarize the most wonderful, challenging, complicated, and life-changing four months of your life in less than 20 seconds.

IES Abroad: If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing before studying abroad, what would it be?

NM: I think one very important thing to remember is that study abroad, like life in general, is going to be a mixed bag. IES Abroad was great about making it clear that there are going to be ups and downs in your time abroad, and that definitely made it easier to understand and feel okay about it. Oftentimes you hear people saying, "College is the best four years of your life!" or, "Study abroad is the best four months of your life!” For a lot of people, this can be true. In college, you live near your friends, learn amazing things, and discover yourself. On study abroad, most people gain independence and confidence in themselves, gain near proficiency in a language, make amazing new friends, or fall in love with a place, a person, or a way of life.

These things are amazing. But studying abroad can also be really challenging in ways you can't totally predict. Part of the experience is finding the people who make you feel stable and supported even in the midst of this. For me, the women who ran the IES Abroad Santiago Center were the most grounding, loving, and kind people I could have ever wanted. They helped me through my downs and celebrated with me during my ups. I would encourage everyone to find those people for them when they go abroad. For more information, check out my blog from my time abroad.

Thank you, Nina!

What type of adventures will you experience while studying abroad? Say hola to your semester or summer of study abroad in Santiago.

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