Name: Mariela Castillo
Major: Social Welfare
Location: Chile - Pontificia Universida Catolica
Program: UC Education Abroad Program
Why did you study abroad?
I always knew that I wanted to study abroad; I never really knew it would happen though. What motivated me to finally take the initiative to study abroad were actually a variety of things. First off, hearing others' experiences made me really want to take the opportunity to go experience reality in a culture different from mine. It sounded so amazing that I just knew it was something that I had to take advantage of during my time here at Berkeley. I also wanted to become more independent. I knew that being abroad, in a country I had never been to, would make me get out of my comfort zone. I also knew I would get to speak Spanish on a daily basis, get to know different people with different perspectives, try new foods, visit new places, experience new things, overall face a different reality than mine. I was also inspired by my major, which is social welfare. I know that my future career as a social worker will definitely expose me to other people with many different backgrounds, and I knew that immersing into this culture would be an introduction to what I will be facing in the future.
What did you learn from your study abroad experience (e.g. in and outside of the classroom)?
Studying abroad taught me that my reality is not the only reality. That there are so many places and people all over the world that I can learn from. I learned that everybody has something to give and something to say, and that it is ok to reach out to people to give and get help. I also learned that opening up to people instantly can build some of the greatest friendships. One of the most valuable things I learned in Chile is to take advantage of time and just live it up because many opportunities only come once in a lifetime, and if an opportunity is thrown at you then get it, and if it's not, then go look for it and keep insisting if you really want something.
What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?
Everything and everyone I met while I was abroad was meaningful, not only because it was something new, but because I felt welcomed, I felt like I belonged there, and like I was at the right place at the right time. However, I must say, that one of the most memorable things of my time abroad was my internship in Chile. The self-esteem class I taught at two schools, one with students who have special needs, and the other at a very low performing school, taught me so much about the community and a lot about myself. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to interact with these students who allowed me to get to know them at a more intimate level. Opening up to me, and hearing about their experiences and their daily lives definitely allowed me to see Chile through their eyes, with a different perspective. Teaching this self-esteem class was definitely something new and challenging, and being committed every Tuesday to wake up at 6am and not be back home until 8 or 9pm definitely made me realize that I truly am passionate about helping others. I loved offering support and motivating these youth to look forward to their future. It was amazing how strong of a relationship I built with my students, and I was so amazed from their goals and aspirations. I could see how these students were looked down on. Neither the school nor even their own families had expectations or hope for their future. However interacting and conversing with them made me see past everybody's prejudices against them. They showed me how they truly want something for their future, and this definitely touched my heart. This experience was very meaningful and memorable because of the fact that it made me get the hands on experience and realize how much being there and offering support helps. This definitely inspired me to look into teaching abroad, or even going abroad again. It feels great making a difference in someone's life, and I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to do my internship at both of these schools. Another very memorable aspect of my time abroad was the opportunity I had to travel inside and outside of Chile. Being able to see how people live in different regions and being able to interact with them is such an amazing experience that I am so thankful for. I think that when we students are abroad, we often find many memorable things because of the fact that we are welcomed into this country, despite the fact that we are foreigners.
Describe a typical day for you abroad.
A typical day abroad is definitely hard to describe because everything depends on the day of the week. Mondays and Wednesdays I had school. I would wake up around 10am to shower, eat breakfast (eggs and ham, bread and butter, coffee or tea), then leave at around 1pm. Walked two streets to catch metro, known as BART here in the Bay, which took about half hour to get to campus. I had class from 2 to 6:30 with a 10 minute break every hour and 20 minutes. First class was Orientacion Educativa, then Mujer y Sociedad en Chile, and finally Pedagogia para la Diversidad. After class I would get my readings, since there were no readers at our school and we had to get our readings weekly. I would then head home, sometimes buying groceries on the way to cook (rice, pasta, chicken, vegetables was the usual), and finally at night, I would meet up with another EAP student to prepare for our self-esteem class the following day. Tuesdays were actually my favorite day, it was my longest day, but my favorite. I would wake up at 6am, shower, get ready, and eat (piece of bread and a cup of coffee). I would walk out of my apartment at 7:00 am, take metro (about a half hour ride), then catch a bus (one hour ride) to get to a town named El Monte, which is where I decided to do my internship. I would arrive at around 8:30 am to start off at my first class at a school for students with special needs. My self-esteem class was taught to middle school students, between the ages of 13 and 16. It was an hour and a half so it would finish at 10am. I would then have tea at Magdalena's house. Magdalena was one of the main staff for the organization that I did my internship through. Between 10:30 and 11:00, I would get picked up and get a ride to Benjamin's and Evelyn's place. Benjamin is Evelyn's son, an 8 year old who I helped with his English. At round 2, I would get a ride back to the organization and finish preparing for my second self-esteem class at a high school nearby, known as one of the worst around the area. The class was from 3:30 to 5:30pm and this was usually my highlight of the day. Seeing all my students, especially at the High School, since the class was after school therefore optional, made me feel so accomplished. I was super happy to see the faces of these young teenage boys showing up to my classes week after week. I loved being there and I truly cared a lot about my students. The class was 2 hours, but it felt really short. Even my students complained that it was too short. After my class, I would go back to the organization, have tea with the staff and finally head home at 7:00pm, getting home at around 8:30pm. Wednesdays were pretty much the same as Mondays. Thursdays and Fridays, usually consisted of some homework, exploring around the area a bit, and partying throughout the rest of the weekend. The nightlife was crazy, especially since I lived in Bellavista along with 2 other EAP students and 8 other people. Bellavista is known for its nightlife, with its streets filled with bars, clubs, Chilenos and Chilenas, and an amazing environment! This was close to my typical days, but in reality there was no typical day because every day there was something new, whether it was new food, a new song, a new drink, a new club, a new bar, new friends, new jokes, new words, new something. I just loved it!
What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country and program?
To students considering studying abroad, just do it! Don't be afraid to try out something new. Studying abroad definitely exposes you to things that you have never been exposed to, and it allows you to be independent as well as to step out of your comfort zone. Talk to students who have gone abroad before and ask questions, or tell them what you're worried about, we might have just gone through the same thing. If you are considering Chile, I definitely recommend it! I loved it and I wouldn't change it for a thing. It's an amazing experience to practice your Spanish whether you are an intermediate or a native speaker, and it allows you to get to learn and experience South America at a more intimate level, an experience I assure you, you will never forget.