UQ Program: Bachelor of Arts

Heading into my third year of arts and what feels like hundredth year of study, taking a semester abroad was a chance not only to have a change from Brisbane but also to get a real grip on Spanish.

If you manage to arrive in time, I strongly recommend you do the 3 week intensive Spanish course before semester starts. Although you may just want to use the extra time to travel, I found that by participating in the course, I was able to build confidence in speaking Spanish, make friends with other exchange students (a lot of whom became my closest friends during the semester) and set up the foundations for a smooth start of semester.

University work itself was definitely a challenge and far more intense than I had anticipated. I decided to take a history course that had a huge workload, a lot of time consuming and complicated readings and exams that even the locals struggled with. Tip: befriend your Chilean classmates, they’re often happy to share notes. Trust me, you will be very thankful you did it by the time the exam rolls around.

My accommodation arrangements weren’t exactly those typical of an exchange student. I was lucky enough, thanks to friends of friends of friends, to move house 3 times, firstly living in an apartment with 3 Chilean young professionals, then a share house filled with foreigners and way too much English, and finally with a family in a gated community, on one of the most beautiful streets in Santiago. Although the house was situated well outside of the city centre (and right next to the house of the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera), and the journey to uni was longer than what I would have liked, it was very well worth the effort.

By living here, although initially I felt it would mean relinquishing my independence, my Spanish improved incredibly and I was able to see a side of Chile that the majority of exchange students would never be able to. I made friends with the friends of the children (who were my age), participated in family events (such as the regular Sunday lunch), attended weddings (the best kind of party in Chile), was invited to stay in the houses they had located in the south of Chile, the beach and the mountains, and ask poignant questions about politics, social economics and any other ’taboo ’ subject.

Speaking Chilean Spanish and understanding not only the distinct accent and fast flying words, but also the very specialised slang that no one outside of Chile can actually understand, was initially quite difficult. I found myself, many times, listening to other people’s conversations without being able to contribute. But as you get a handle on the accent and can begin incorporating their vocabulary into yours, it really helps in making friends and connecting with the people. They find it very entertaining hearing their specialised language come out of the mouth of someone who obviously isn’t Chilean.

Immerse yourself in the culture. Coming from a very sporting, early-to-bed early-to-rise lifestyle, I found life in Santiago to be at times frustratingly inefficient and slow, and the concept of time doesn’t really exist. I admit I definitely enjoyed 6 relaxed months of not having a jam-packed schedule and a lifestyle that allowed me to sleep during the morning and enjoy the nights with friends. For a country that calls themselves the least ’latino’ of all of the Latin American countries, they definitely know how to dance! Forget about lessons… go to the salsoteca, get yourself invited to dance, and your partner will teach you!

The exchange experience has affected me more profoundly than I could ever have thought it would. Not only can I speak Spanish with a Chilean twist and have more conversational fluency, but the opportunity to connect with the people of Chile, get to know the country, how it works and why it works the way it does, has inspired me to pursue future work, travels and life in this wonderful country.

I feel truly connected to Chile and strongly advise that you take the opportunity to go on exchange and broaden your world. I promise that the hardest part isn’t stepping into the unknown, but leaving the people behind with whom you’ve shared your wonderful experience.

Read about how Gabby Hall's exchange to PUCC led to a job in the Uruguay Embassy.

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