Editor’s note: Daniel Garcia-Archundia ’17, a political science and Spanish double major, studied in Santiago, Chile, in fall 2015 as a Benjamin A. Gilman scholar and wrote about his experience in his hometown newspaper, the Woodburn (Oregon) Independent, republished below.
For my college semester abroad, I lived in Santiago, Chile, for three and a half months.
While there, I studied education and social justice. Unlike a great majority of study abroad programs, I did not live at a university, but was instead adopted by a host family.
When I first arrived in Chile, I must confess that all I knew about the country was where it was geographically located — that is really it. In fact, if I were given a quiz on common knowledge of the South American state, I would probably make Jimmy Kimmel’s “Pedestrian Question” segment and start trending on Twitter, possibly even get a meme made about me, all from how badly I would have performed.
I reflect on the deficiency of my understanding of Chile primarily because, upon my return, I identified several key factors showing that my lack of knowledge was not entirely my fault. I, like many Woodburnites, have lived here almost all of my life. Considering this, my scope of the world is pretty limited to the town I grew up in, the few weeks I have traveled to Mexico and the topics my history classes have chosen to focus on — I studied Latin America once. Additionally, Chile is not an economic power like China, nor a historical ally like the United Kingdom, and unlike Mexico that has a huge population in the U.S., only 0.3 percent of Latinos claim Chilean heritage — Snooki being one of them.
These aspects contributed to the fact that I knew basically nothing about one of Latin America’s most economically stable and least corrupt countries. Yet, I still could not shake the fact that I was so uninformed.
However, it seemed as though my program had come to expect a complete lack of awareness from Americans studying abroad. From the beginning, my program presented us with Chile’s entire history. An important lecture that stuck with me regarded the date 9/11. Just like in the United States, the date 9/11 also has really important meaning to Chileans. On that date in 1973, the country’s democratically elected socialist government suffered a military takeover backed by the U.S., and a 17-year dictatorship took over. Through this lesson, I realized that I was essentially only aware of such events relating to the U.S.
What did that say about me?
I do not mean to be so serious, as my study abroad experience also allowed me to have a ridiculous number of amazing experiences. The north of Chile actually has the driest desert in all of the world, and the southernmost part is home to the Patagonian Mountains, which are considered some of the most breathtaking places to visit. I got to witness Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s original works, experience an entire week of extremely fun celebrations during Chile’s Fiestas Patrias (independence week), in addition to visiting Chile’s beach resort, Viña de Mar, which hosts Latin America’s best artists throughout the year. Further, I had the opportunity to dine at the country’s best steakhouse, while also having famous Chilean dishes daily such as empanadas and chorrillanas (fries with grilled beef). If those few things were not awesome enough, my entire experience was funded through my college scholarship and the federal government’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship.
Yet, even with all that in mind, I could not help but be stuck on what my Chilean adventure revealed: my general obliviousness of the world outside of the U.S. To a great extent, what this intense epiphany has taught me is that I must not allow my immediate circumstances to define my education of the world. I must be an active and engaged citizen, and that requires making travel a possibility. I cannot pretend that I now know how many facts or dates I have been ignorant or unaware of throughout my life, but I can acknowledge that the knot on the back of my blindfold is now in the process of being untied. In order to continue the progress, I must continue to have contact with people and surroundings genuinely different than my own.
Youth of Woodburn, college has granted me an innumerable amount of opportunities, but the fortune to travel and develop my own understanding of humanity is one that I hope you also try to take advantage of during your collegiate career.