Savannah Stanton studies Renewable Materials with a Spanish minor. She completed an internship in Concepción, Chile with the College of Forestry in the summer of 2016. Read on to learn what memories highlighted her experience:

The fire is alit and dancing with fervor, feeding off the energy that radiates throughout the small quarters of the living room. Biting air slips through with each greeting at the door, and bundled faces filter in, receiving me with warm embraces and cheek kisses. Countless dishes pass through the narrow breezeway from the kitchen to awaiting mouths as everyone claims a chair or spot on the couch, arcing out like amphitheater seating in front of the television. Our boxer Tara makes the rounds, weaving between bodies, wiggling with excitement and grinning from all the attention. Laughter and the embellishing of old stories fill the air like jumbled clouds—a clamoring cacophony for my untrained ears, so I focus more on visual cues to traverse this new terrain. The crinkle of crow’s feet, a deep belly chuckle, the uncanny resemblance between certain attendees.

Just two days prior I was thousands of miles away. Tonight my surroundings so foreign and yet, I know I am home. I know that my journey is just getting started, and this is the first page. Refocusing my attention outward, I see the hour is nearly upon us as my little sister ties the Chilean flag with care across the window for good luck, the TV is switched to the proper channel, and drinks are in hand. The Copa America final is here, and Chile plans to defend its title against Argentina! Viva Chile!

(Left to right) Younger host sister, host mom, Savannah

Last summer, I flew south for the winter and roosted in Concepción, Chile for a 10-week internship experience with Alto Horizonte, a forest products company that aligned with both my degree in Renewable Materials and minor in Spanish. My second evening in the country was spent cheering on the Chilean national team to its second consecutive victory in Copa America with my new host family—a family from another hemisphere that excitedly embraced my presence and residence for the next three months—and their relatives and friends. I had plunged into a vibrant, bustling culture, and as I walked from baggage claim to meet my family the night before, I had smiled with a hope that the current would carry me on a spectacular journey. Looking back on that first full evening in Chile, I find myself reminiscing the connections, laughs, learning experiences, and hardships that unfolded throughout the weeks to follow.

Weekend vacation to Parque Nacional de Huerquehue

From an academic standpoint, I of course learned a plethora of things: from in-country language skills and industry terminology (in both English and Spanish), to the company’s operations, how their sawmills process, how international commercial trade functions in purchasing markets across the globe, and Chilean business regulations, to name a few. However, what I’m reminded of over and over are the stories I heard and the conversations in which I partook. It was these experiences that continue to shape my interactions and understanding in nearly all facets of my professional and personal life. Stories are meant to be experienced, not just listened to. They provide a window into the lives of others, and good storytellers can reach into your soul and evoke wonder, reflection, and understanding.

For me, there was one coworker named Juan Carlos, and although introverted in every sense of the word, he became my ‘buddy’ at work, making sure that I always had someone to go out to lunch with, providing support and feedback on my projects for the company, and being generally interested in listening to my story and sharing about his country and culture in exchange. We spent hours each week discussing politics and government policies, historical events, literature and the arts, wars, science and astronomy, culture, favorite foods, languages, the minutiae behind certain slang phrases—you name it!  He was a wealth of knowledge and sparked discussion over controversial topics between our fellow coworkers. He and my host family were such key parts to my integration into Chilean society, and were influential in shaping my holistic understanding and empathy for Chile. This family, these friends, and that company will always be a cherished part of my life, where I was introduced to a different perspective on the world and how things work.

Knowing what I do now about Chile, I’ll leave you all with this quote, written one day on the wall of the café we frequented for lunch when at the office in Concepción:

“It is far more important what you think of yourself than what others may think of you.”

It reminded me that this international internship was a chance for me to see how far I could go, and that the only limits that are imposed upon us are the ones we decide to apply. Live limitless and stray from the path on occasion. Sometimes that’s the only way we can see how far we’ve come and what might lie ahead!

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