Last updated: August 11. 2014 12:00PM - 75 Views
Ashley Stickel Contributing columnist

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As I look back on my experience abroad in Chile, a flood of emotions rains down on me. I am so utterly grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Chile and live there for over 11 weeks. My life has been changed forever and I will always have the memories of my experiences in Chile to look back on.

While in Chile, I experienced a different way of life that I have come to miss now that I am back home. The realization of the differences in cultures between the U.S. and Chile really hit home when I was talking with a friend from Chile who will be coming to visit in the fall. I warned him that we live life here a bit differently than in Chile. This is truer than I had originally thought when living in Chile. Life here in the United States is much faster paced and stressful than in Chile. For example, I returned to the United States on Sunday, Aug. 3 and started working again on Tuesday, Aug. 5. I had one day to adjust to being back home and was then thrust back into the workforce where I had to act like I had never been away. This is something I dislike very much. Everyone in this world has experienced life-changing events that shape the way we live our lives and relate to others. I do not want to hide my experiences or the things that I learned while living in Chile. I will strive to share what I know about Chilean culture with anyone who would like to know.

A large part of me is still very attached to Chile because I have decided to return and live in Chile for a year. I enjoyed my internship at the English language institute so much that I plan to go back after my graduation in December and find a job teaching English. The desire and passion I have for teaching English would never have developed if I had not had the opportunity to participate in an internship abroad. My original career goals before traveling to Chile were to become an interpreter to help the Spanish-speaking immigrants who come to the United States and do not know English. I wanted to bridge the gap between language and culture and help these individuals assimilate into American society. My desire to bridge the gap has not ceased, however, it has changed and I desire to bridge the gap between English and Spanish by teaching English to Spanish-speakers. During the process of teaching English, I will also be able to share about American culture. My goals have not changed in their essence, but have shifted to a new venue. I am excited to see where my life goes with this dream.

Coming back to the United States after the change in my career goals was difficult. Of course, being the impatient 24-year-old that I am, I wanted to jump right in and begin acting out my dream. However, reality hit and I knew I needed to come back to finish my last semester at OSU and then pursue a teaching certification I will need in order to work at an institute that teaches English in Chile. So while I dreaded saying “chao” to Chile and my future goals, I knew that in order to return and accomplish these goals I needed to first finish my college education. I have been studying for my bachelor’s degree for many years because I started studying only part-time. The fact that it has taken me so long to get my degree motivated me to return because there is absolutely no way I would quit when I only had one semester remaining before graduation. It is always very interesting to see how things work out in my life to lead me to my next step. I know this is not by chance and that God has led and protected me through every part of my life. I am thankful to know that I do not have to figure everything out on my own.

One of the most magnificent parts of participating in my study abroad to Chile was meeting and becoming friends with people from all over the United States and in Chile. When I returned home, my sister asked me how I could trust the people I hung out with in Chile since I did not know them before. I just reminded her that when I arrived in Chile, I knew no one. If I had not taken a leap of faith and trusted certain individuals, I would never have made any friends. Obviously, it is important to use good judgment when choosing whom to spend time with. However, aside from that, it is very important to get to know new people and make friends. Making friends in a foreign country can make or break the experience. It was hard to leave my friends when coming back to the U.S., but I am comforted by the fact that I will see some of them again and of course we can always keep track of each other on Facebook.

I would like to mention that my experience abroad would not have been possible without the scholarships and grants I was awarded from the state and The Ohio State University. I was also blessed to have received a scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Fund. If anyone is looking into a study abroad experience for either themselves or a child, please remember that it is important to apply for scholarships and grants. A study abroad experience is very expensive and can seem like a very daunting thing to pursue. However, there are organizations that are designed to assist students in having the experience of a lifetime abroad. Never let an initial price tag hinder the pursuit of a dream. Work for that dream and never give up!

All of this is to say, get out and try something new. You might like it!

Ashley Stickel, of Madison County, is senior student studying Spanish at The Ohio State University, expecting to graduate in December. She spent the summer studying abroad in Valparaîso, Chile, where she attended a local university and interned for a community organization.

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