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For Martha Petre ’08 Chautauqua, N.Y.), her semester abroad in Santiago, Chile, was a life changing experience. Petre hopes to work for a volunteer organization in a Spanish-speaking country after she graduates.

“This experience definitely has contributed to that because I am now much more confident in my language skills, and in the fact that I can live and thrive in a completely different country without knowing anybody or the area,” she says.

A double major in Spanish and international affairs, Petre took classes at two different universities located in Santiago.

“This allowed me to get a sense of two sides of the education system in Chile,” explains Petre. “I took classes at a very conservative Catholic university, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and also at the large, very liberal, public school, Universidad de Chile. I had very different experiences at both universities, and I’m lucky that I got the opportunity to attend both.”

Petre lived with a host family in one of the busiest areas of the city. The family consisted of her host parents along with their 17-year-old son and six-year-old daughter and the children’s grandmother. Living with a family that spoke only Spanish improved her language skills immeasurably.

“Weekends are family time where the whole family gets together often with several other relatives for big meals called ‘asados,’” says Petre. “My experience was amazing with my Chilean family. None of them spoke English, so my Spanish really improved. They were very patient with me, helping me with whatever I needed, especially in the first month I was there. After living there for four months, my host family is one of the aspects of Chile I miss most.”

In addition to visiting various places in Chile, including the northern desert, Petre had the opportunity to explore other areas in South America. She visited Mendoza, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Lima and Cusco, Peru. Her favorite destination was the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.

“I loved traveling around South America, especially with having a knowledge of Spanish,” she says. “It was interesting to travel to Argentina because Argentines and Chileans are known for not getting along, so I was asked several times by Argentines why I was studying in Chile and not their country. The landscape is one of the best parts of traveling, especially because I took a bus through the Andes to go to Mendoza. Brazil was very warm and tropical, and it was interesting to hear Portuguese instead of Spanish. I recommend for anyone visiting South America to definitely go to Cusco and visit Machu Picchu. It is probably South America’s biggest tourist attraction and with good reason. It really is an amazing sight to see.”

Petre learned a lot about herself while abroad, gaining a stronger sense of independence. She even was caught in a student protest that ended in a confrontation with local police.

“I’ve become a lot more independent since studying abroad, and I have also become more patient and flexible,” she says. “There were a lot of times that I had to change my way of thinking in order to adapt to new situations. Chile has opened my eyes to a culture and people completely different than anything I have ever experienced. I was even caught in a student protest one day while attending a history class, which ended in tear gas and Molotov cocktails being thrown at the students from tanks which double as police cars. Needless to say, I have become much more accustomed to different cultures and practices, and know now that I have acquired what is necessary to live in a foreign country for almost half a year.”

Petre is vice president of Alternative School Break through which she has traveled to Homestead, Fla. to volunteer with the Outpost and Wildlife Refuge in the Everglades. She served an internship this past January in Equatorial Guinea doing research for wildlife conservation organization Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. She coordinates the English as a Second Language program, which teaches the Spanish-speaking community English, and volunteers with a variety of other programs through the LandisCommunityOutreachCenter. She hosts prospective students on campus and is a member of Alpha Phi sorority.

Categorized in: Academic News