Bachelor of Laws/Arts
Bachelor of Laws/Arts

¿Yapo weón, cachai? - Not Spanish.

I have recently returned from a year spent at La Pontífica Universidad Católica in Santiago studying law and finishing my Spanish major in Arts, and my only regret is that it couldn’t have lasted longer.

Chile an excellent choice for travel. It has weekend getaways to the portside city of Valparaíso in the west, with its iconic street-art and vividly coloured houses dotted on the hills, or hiking (during summer) and skiing (during winter) in the Andes mountain range in the east. Travel further north and you'll find yourself at the home of the famous Chilean pisco (although the Peruvians might have something to say about that claim), or further north still and you're watching the sun set over the Atacama desert and the snow-topped volcanoes that border Bolivia. If you prefer cooler weather, head south to the wine growing regions, or to the world-class hiking and stunning scenery that the extreme south of Patagonia offers. And you haven’t even left the country yet; Argentina, Bolivia and Peru are all a short trip away, or make use of the summer holidays to get further north still.

University in another language is terrifying, but it is the best way to improve your Spanish, which will improve. This kind of in-the-deep-end immersive experience is compulsory for obtaining a higher level of fluency. Don’t despair entirely though, as most professors will be excited to have you in their class and they will be generous if they see you making an effort. Classifying the local language as Spanish is a bit generous, but after the initial frustration, you will ingratiate yourself to locals by casually dropping slang and it is all the more satisfying once you start understanding their mumbled and truncated yet musical style of speech. Meet some other foreigners to travel and talk with when you need a break, but spend as much time as you can putting yourself out there and stumbling through awkward social situations with Chileans. For the love of god, do not try and shake a girl's hand. And practice this line well: Weón, no tengo ni idea de lo que acabas de contarme.

I am expected to sum up the experience of exchange in 300-400 words, but really the amount of personal growth I experienced is not quantifiable regardless of the word limit. Travel drastically expands the size of your world and consciousness like nothing else. By living in another country, immersing yourself in another culture and speaking another language, you gain a unique insight into a people and their history. You mean you don't know who Bernardo O'Higgins or Carrera is? What's your opinion on the movimiento estudiantil? Have you read Neruda or listened to Victor Jara? Which fonda did you go to for the independence celebrations on the dieciocho? And the 15 year long dictatorship that still casts a long shadow over the country... have you asked your host parents about that yet? Because they lived through it.

Duck just across the border to Argentina, and the names all change. La Revolución de Mayo, Perón, Las Islas Malvinas, Borges, Tango, El Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, vos... kids in kindergarten learning about San Martín. And I'd never even heard of him.

All our historical and cultural knowledge, it's all so small. People in other countries have an entirely different lived experience and basic assumptions about how things are. You know that there's a whole world out there, but until you live in another part of it, you really can't comprehend how much depth and breadth there is to human experience. And us, on our little island, thinking that 1901 was a long time ago.

I'll wrap it up with this: Go for a year. You will regret it if you do not. Don't think about it too hard, just throw yourself into it. It will be difficult, but those are the times that will foist personal growth upon you. And the good times will be unforgettable.

Thomas Rittson
Please contact UQ Abroad if you would like to get in touch to ask me any questions you may have.

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