Grace Nelson

Grace Nelson

Major: International Development

“I would tell students considering to study abroad to absolutely do it! I was a transfer student, facing steep out of state costs and strict university and department rules that limited transferability of my courses from abroad, and I still made sure I had the opportunity to study abroad. I think studying abroad, regardless of the major you are in, is the single most impactful thing a student can do for themselves.”

What led you to study abroad? Why did you choose your country/program?

     I have wanted to study abroad since I was 10 years old and I discovered from my sister in college that it was a possibility. I know I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country because becoming fluent in Spanish has been a lifelong goal of mine. In high school I was sure that I would select a program in Spain but once I actually got to college and selected my major (International Development Studies) I decided it would make more sense not only for my major but for my general life and career interests to study abroad in Latin America. I started getting interested in Latin America through my major and also through dating a Brazilian and I wanted to become more aware of all the beautiful cultures, cuisine, and nature that South America has to offer. Once I had that and my other criteria determined (Latin America, full immersion Spanish program, at least five months, option to take courses in my major) I looked at the programs offered through UCEAP (knowing that my this was the best possible choice for me financially) and that left me with Chile. I was initially bummed that the program in Argentina did not fit my criteria but after having studied in Chile I feel very blessed that I got to live in what I came to discover is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

 I think one of the most interesting cultural experiences was just getting to interact with Chileans from all regions of the country. I lived in Santiago and spent the majority of my time there but also had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. I traveled to the northern desert, down the coast, to the agricultural southern region and even down to Patagonia. Each region had a slightly different style of Spanish, very unique ways of life, and differing demeanors towards foreigners. Being able to adapt and learn from each context was personally invaluable.

What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?

The biggest challenge of my time abroad was the fact that I did not mesh fully with the culture in Santiago. There is a long tradition of machismo which allows men in Santiago (in the countryside and southern Chile are different) and other city centers to get away with catcalling and generally disrespecting women. Every day that I would go anywhere by myself, in a group a girls or in a group with other “gringo” men, I would be subjected to intrusive if not offensive catcalling. It forced me to develop a guarded sense about me that I had never had to adorn myself with before. The other challenge that I faced but which was much less severe was my body’s physical response to the heavy smog of the city. I had to go see the doctor five times while I was in Chile for illnesses (most of them skin related) that I had NEVER experienced before. My body was in constant turmoil in Chile which was difficult at times.

Describe a typical day for you abroad.

My typical schedule would differ depending on whether it was a school day or not. If I had school I would wake up, take the bus and metro about 40 minutes to get to my campus, stay on campus until my classes were over and then either head home to study, head to Zumba class, head to soccer practice or go hang out with friends from my program. For about a month and a half I was practicing with the women’s soccer team on campus but when I was no longer able to do that I started taking Zumba classes with friends at an “academy” in downtown Santiago. The physical activity was great not only for staying in shape while eating so much bread (the favorite food of Chileans) but also it gave me little social networks with locals. On days where I did not have class, my schedule would vary quite a bit. I only had classes two days a week so I would use my off days to explore the city, hang out in parks eating ice cream, venture outside the city, go to my internship or study. The amazing thing about studying abroad for such a long time is my schedule was really like as if I was a resident Chilean just leading a normal life.     

What coursework did you take while abroad? How did courses abroad compare with Berkeley classes?      

While abroad I took three courses and participated in an internship. My classes were entitled poverty and urban segregation in Chile, threats to human security, and historical themes of Chile and Latin America in the 20th century. The courses were challenging because of the language barrier (everything was in Spanish) and because they did expect a lot of reading which was primarily in Spanish. However, in terms of difficulty, I would say the classes were not as challenging as Berkeley courses and also since the teachers understand there is a language barrier, they tend to grade international students slightly easier. The classes are definitely manageable but a welcome challenge.

What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?

 The most meaningful aspect of my time abroad was just the confidence I gained with the Spanish language. Learning language in the classroom, often times with native speakers, always made me so nervous. I feared making a mistake or not saying a sentence perfect. However, while studying abroad I made SO MANY mistakes when trying to communicate and yet it never made conversation impossible. I realized that people are almost always willing to help someone who is at least trying. I was met with so much encouragement and so many positive comments that I really gained a confidence that goes way beyond learning a language and that I never would have gained had it not been for my experience abroad. Now I am just more confident to try for things in general. I am more eager to network, apply, and just put myself out there in general because my experience in Chile proved to me that the effort is almost always positively reciprocated.

What impact did studying abroad have on you personally?

  Going off what I answered in the question above, the biggest impact studying abroad had for me was my improved confidence. Not only in regards to my increased confidence with communicating in the Spanish language but also I feel more empowered in general now. I have fewer worries about being perfect and more confidence that things tend to work out just fine. I might have to struggle through a field of obstacles at times, just as I did when I could not find the proper wording to express myself in Spanish, but in the end I can shake out an outcome, and usually a positive one at that.

What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country/program?

 I would tell students considering to study abroad to absolutely do it! I was a transfer student, facing steep out of state costs and strict university and department rules that limited transferability of my courses from abroad, and I still made sure I had the opportunity to study abroad. I think studying abroad, regardless of the major you are in, is the single most impactful thing a student can do for themselves. It helps people grow, discover their capabilities, and fosters a new sense of confidence and self-worth. Studying abroad transforms your perspective of the world and is one of the only ways you can become a well-rounded, compassionate adult. Especially having grown up in the United States my whole life surrounded by the rhetoric that English is the international language, I think that learning to work through the struggles of a language barriers creates a certain level of compassion and empathy that we need a little more of in this world. I truly believe that learning a language is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Not being able to express your opinions or even your humor is frustrating and oftentimes maddening. Studying abroad and experiencing that challenge for myself makes me infinitely more compassionate for the thousands of people in the United States that have to face the same challenge but with English. Just to reiterate, studying abroad is mind broadening and transformative.