UQ Program: Bachelor of Arts/Laws

The opportunity to go on exchange to Chile in my final two semesters of my Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws degree at UQ (halfway through my fifth year of study) was an amazing challenge to put my Spanish skills into practice, as well as study at one of South America’s finest law schools.  During my two semesters at the Universidad Católica in Santiago, I took 6 law electives to complete my degree requirements, as well as a general course on Chilean culture, society and history in my first semester, and a Chilean art history course for my final semester.   The law classes were definitely more challenging – I took one course in English in my first semester, but the rest were in Spanish so I really needed to work hard to get all my reading done!  It was well worth the effort, however, as the law classes were very well-organised and interesting, and I found the academic standard in general to be very high.  Unlike other faculties, there weren’t very many exchange students studying law during their year abroad, so the academic staff members were particularly supportive and welcoming of my contributions and participation in class. 

One of the more challenging aspects of my exchange was really coming to terms with the differences in social and cultural perspectives between Australia and Chile, or perhaps South America in general.  It was quite confronting to be faced daily with cultural generalisations and stereotypes, both inside and outside of the classroom, as well as finding myself the centre of (usually unwelcome!) attention due to my ‘non-Chilean’ appearance and accent.  Although at times I did feel somewhat excluded from Chilean society and targeted as a ‘foreigner’, most people were generally interested in having a chat with me about my experiences and sharing their own perspectives on Chilean culture, history and life in general.  Speaking Spanish is definitely a plus, although I have to admit all my Spanish classes failed to prepare me for the wild Chilean accent and all their slang!  The year I spent in Chile also coincided with some momentous and also tragic events in the country’s history – including the February earthquake and the 2009 elections, in which the right-wing party entered power for the first time since the ‘military government’ (eg. dictatorship) of Augusto Pinochet – so the year was difficult at times, but ultimately a wonderful experience. 

Outside the university, I had a really fantastic time in Santiago.  There is so much to do and see – wonderful museums and galleries, concerts and parties every night of the week, and all the outdoor fun to be had in the mountains, ski fields and national parks just an hour or so out of the city.  In my second semester, inspired by treks to Torres del Paine and Cabo Froward during my summer holidays, I joined the university’s mountaineering club, which was an amazingly rewarding experience – I’ve returned home keen to continue with my trekking and mountaineering activities, as well as stay in contact with my fellow club members.  I was also able to see many of the beautiful national parks during my stay, as well as travelling to places such as Pucón and Chiloe, and I really recommend Chile as a destination for those who love nature and outdoor adventure.   

The mountains, the lakes, the volcanos, the desert, the empanadas, the ‘afters’, the pisco sours, the cumbia... Take the opportunity to participate in an exchange to Chile and you can discover for yourself what I mean, cachai?  

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