API-Chile-RD-Karla-MaldonadoKarla Jofré Maldonado has always had a love for travel and adventure. Currently, she has the opportunity to share that love of people and culture with students as a Resident Director in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, Chile. Through her position with Academic Programs International (API), she gets to inspire students every day.


What brought you to be a Resident Director?

I thought it would be a good experience for me because it sounded really exciting and new. I love different cultures and people so it seemed to be the perfect job, and it is!

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Chile is well-known for our wine, landscapes, and fresh food- but API-Chile-Valparaísomostly for being very friendly people!  The whole country is really interesting. We have five World Heritage Sites, officially named by UNESCO, and Valparaiso, where one our programs is located, is one of them!

Vina del Mar (another city with an API program) and Valparaiso are very different ‘siblings’ that complement each other well. The first one is a beautiful beach city full of life and good restaurants, while Valparaiso is a funky, street art capital with many cafes.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I played violin for 7 years. I stopped playing when I was 13 and never touched a violin again!

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?

I love sharing my knowledge of my country, people and culture with students while learning new things from them! I also love working with API.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Sometimes students don’t embrace certain aspects ofAPI-Chile-students Chilean culture because they are afraid of trying something new. For example, they may prefer to go a well known fast food restaurant instead of trying local food. That is challenging because they want to feel at home by going to places they already know, but they are only making the process of leaving their comfort zone harder.

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
Overcoming anxiety when speaking Spanish. Typically, students know a lot more Spanish than they think, but they are so focused on trying express themselves perfectly that they don’t give themselves enough time to adjust to the language and culture.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Be open minded and understand that things abroad are not better or worse, they are just different!

It is ok not to know everything, but do some research before going abroad. Sometimes students forget that while it’s summer in the USA, in South America we are in the middle of winter!

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
I want to say hiking shoes because there is so much to do here, but I think that the only thing you really need for living in Chile is a good attitude towards adventure and new experiences.

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Be patient with yourself and others. Give yourself some time to adjust and let others do the same.

If you think that going abroad will make your problems disappear, think again! Your problems or daily inconveniences will be exacerbated by the fact you are far away from your family and friends.

You are here to learn, but that process includes mostly learning about yourself.

To learn more about attending Karla’s program, check out this link!

Rhiannon Williams is a senior at Oregon State University. She is in the College of Liberal Arts studying Spanish with a minor in Psychology. She spent a semester with IFSA Butler in Valparaíso, Chile, improving her Spanish skills, taking literature, history and culture classes, and volunteering to care for animals affected by a forest fire. Here she tells us about her journey learning Spanish, and her path to realizing that fluency does not happen overnight.

Half way through my semester abroad in Valparaíso, Chile, I experienced an important turning point in my journey. My host mother sat me down and asked if I was happy with my living situation. I never felt completely comfortable living with my host parents during the first two months in Chile but I could not pinpoint the issue. My host mother helped me realize that I had been coming across as aloof. I knew I had been very reserved in the beginning as I became accustomed to the new culture. I realized that I had put up invisible walls and did not communicate enough with my host family. The issue was how to become accustomed to living at home with a family while going to university. I was very familiar with coming and going as I pleased at university in the U.S without having to answer to anyone. Even though I lost some independence that I had in the States, I gained two caring host parents.

After that moment, I interacted more with my host family which boosted my happiness and comfort. I know that my timidity is a part of who I am, and awkward silences are sometimes unavoidable. At first I was upset that I may have wasted the first two months of my study abroad journey. Then, I realized that it was an incredible learning experience. Since then, I have been livingRhiannon W Blog photo 3 by this quote: “Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha”.

My constant struggle with the language Castellano (Chilean Spanish) closely ties with this. I would be so concerned about what to talk about in Spanish with my host family during meals that I would sit silently with thoughts whirling around in my head. I learned to just talk and not worry so much about making grammatical errors. Some days were easier than others and I could tell that my Spanish improved when I decided to just let things be.

I also had an internal struggle with English. I would feel guilty for conversing in English with my friends instead of practicing Spanish. I would then silently fight with myself instead of interacting with my friends. I put so much pressure on myself to reach a high level of fluency in Spanish while abroad. I realized that I would not magically become fluent and I needed to make peace with this. Every day I spoke Spanish, as well as English occasionally with friends. Although it was often difficult to see, my Spanish improved tremendously over the five months. It is most important to view the improvement from when I arrived to when I returned to the United States rather than compare myself to others, or wish that I were closer to fluency. So many people told me as I left the States that I would come back fluent in Spanish. I returned improved and more confident which is more important to me than the end goal. The journey is more important than the destination.Rhiannon W Blog photo 5

Lucía Robelo is a Spanish instructor at OSU, and the Program Coordinator for the Chillán study abroad program offered by the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures.

OSU students participating in the Chillán study abroad program spend the entire fall term in Chile, and some students spend additional  1-3 weeks traveling in Chile and South America during their winter break. Every year we have had 2-3 students who decided to stay longer, for one or two more terms in Chile. These students have continued being full time OSU students and received Financial Aid by taking online classes during their extended stay in Chile. A few students even decided to live in Chile for a few years! Chile has many things students really love. Many of them say that they have never been so happy when they are in Chile. During their stay, students gain confidence in their oral skills and also work on their writing skills. They learn a lot about the Chilean culture as well as about themselves and their own culture. Before departing from OSU, students are paired up with a compañero or compañera chilena, that is a Chilean partner attending the Universidad del Bío Bío, where OSU students study in Chile.

Tara Hermens and her two moms: her Chilean mom and her American mom who came to Chile to visit her.

Program participants are the best ambassadors. For many of them, this program is their first trip abroad on their own, without their family. In Chile, they are welcomed by their host family from the moment they arrive in town, and stay with them for the entire three months. Besides the language learning opportunities, host families provide the main cultural context in which the students will function.  The bonds that develop between our OSU students and their host families are long-lasting.  The program includes three excursions, and host families regularly take their OSU host children on outings during their three-day weekends. Other times students plan their own weekend with their compañeros chilenos. Every year, students consistently state that the highlight of their experience was the relationship they developed with their host family.

For OSU students pursuing Bachelor of Art degrees, this program is all they need to complete the B.A. language requirement. The program has proven to be a favorite choice for students completing their Second-Year Spanish at OSU.

Ashlin Kneeland at the Chillán market with a Chilean “huaso” (a Chilean man wearing the typical attire)

As  the Chillán Program Coordinator at OSU, I teach the pre-departure spring orientation class. In this class, we talk about their fears and anxieties about their upcoming study abroad experience and ways of coping with them.  Past participants volunteer as TA’s for the class by sharing their enthusiasm and stories from their own experience. Statements like “I never knew that learning Spanish could be so much fun”, or “This has been the best experience of my life” are repeated every year.

Caleb Green enjoying his coffee in southern Chile.

I am happy to say that every year, when I see my students upon returning from Chile, their Spanish has improved so much that they want to speak only in Spanish with me. I hear them talking about Chile with a big grin on their face, telling me how much they miss Chile (“extraño mucho Chile”). I feel very fortunate to be in this role.  Those smiles are the best reward for me.

For more information, please contact Lucía Robelo, Program Coordinator, or visit the program website.

Read a blog entry by one of the Chillán  program participant.