Alumni Spotlight: Cori James Fettig


Why did you choose this program?

I chose the program because it came highly recommended to me by my counselor and it was in a city that appeared interesting to me. It seemed to me that all of my contemporaries wanted to go to Europe, but the nature and people of South America seemed much more appealing. In addition, the program included me living with a Chilean family. Being that my main goal for going abroad was to sharpen my Spanish-speaking ability, that was something that caught my interest and seemed the best way to do that.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I was helped all along the process by my university and the program provider. The only item that stands out in my mind that demanded I be the one to fulfill was obtaining my Chilean Visa, which involved scheduling doctor appointments, getting fingerprinted for background checks, contacting the closest Chilean Consulate, establishing an appointment with them, and traveling to them. But even then I received a lot of helpful guidance.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My main piece of advice would be to befriend as many locals as you can. There are so many opportunities for Study Abroad students to get to know locals, like barbecues, etc., in which I made lasting friendships and those people opened my eyes to the things that went beyond a tourist guide. I know of several people who only spent time with other United States students, only spoke Spanish if they needed to (lamenting it the whole time) and never left Santiago.

Yes, they made it that far by coming to a foreign country and they probably still had a great time, but there are so many hidden treasures within that country that locals can guide you to. And on top of that, getting to know people from a different culture was the most exciting thing I did there. Santiaguinos are truly wonderful people.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day would consist of waking up and having breakfast with my Chilean family while watching the news. It took about an hour in total, walking to the metro station, making a transfer or two, and then walking to the university. Class would start at 9:30 and go until about 3, with a 30 minute pause in between to grab lunch (which always consisted of taking advantage of the plethora of affordable delicious street food). The classes only had other Study Abroad students, but the professors were all still Chilean and notably brilliant. What was covered in class, yes, was at times packed with grammar lessons and writing exercises. But many times teachers cultivated atmospheres of discussion and thought experiments which made class incredibly pleasant and afforded everyone an opportunity to stretch their minds and participate in conversations that shined light on cultural differences, et cetera.

Afterwards, I'd generally return home to peacefully do my homework, drink tea, and later have dinner with my family, chatting and laughing the whole time while watching corny game shows in Spanish. However, there was no shortage of things to do throughout the weeks, like social events, concerts, barbecues, or what have you. The program would have field trips every couple of weeks where they would take us zip-lining or white water rafting which were always incredible. And weekends would be completely up to the student. Want to spend a weekend in a small surfer town and enjoy the beach? Go ahead. Want to go camping in the mountains? Cowabunga! Want to see what Argentina is like? Just a couple of dollars and hours to catch a bus. Do you want to go and dance the night away with some new Chilean friends? Sure, just be safe and stick with your friends! Or do you want to make your own dinner for your family and just relax at home? It's all up to you.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going into the trip was that my language abilities were not good enough, that communicating would be near impossible for me, and that everyone else would be way better than me and I would "fail". As soon as I arrived and met my fellow Study Abroad students, though, I was comforted by the fact that they all had the same fear.

As far as overcoming it, it did take a little bit of time to gain confidence because your improvement happens without you noticing. My Chilean sisters recorded me talking to them when I first arrived and showed it to me about 2 months later. I was amazed at how much better I had magically become! When once I would just hear people speaking in tongues to me, all of a sudden I was hearing specific words and noticing distinct ways in which every person spoke. I was watching the news, and talking about how the stories there reminded me of stories in my country. I was laughing at cheesy Chilean jokes and suddenly was able to tell my own jokes from my childhood, but now just in Spanish.

As far as my method for changing this, I'd just recommend talking as much as you can. And if you make some mistakes, it is okay. Just do it everyday. Everyone arrives at different levels of ability, but no one is going to shun you or make fun of your lack of ability. In fact, everyone wants to help and there is no shortage of patience, especially on the part of the Chilean family or my professors. And in the end, everyone leaves better.

I would say to anyone who might have this fear, don't worry about it because that is one of the main reasons we want to go abroad, right? To improve our language abilities, and through interacting with a different culture in their country and in their language, we understand a little more about the world. It takes time, but if it really comes down to a moment where you cannot get a point across, there is always charades.

What was your favorite part?

My favorite part is that I will never be able to answer this question. Sure, I can say that I loved camping in Patagonia and seeing the sunrise at the bottom of the world while drinking glacial runoff out of the rivers a shade of blue I never thought could be so blue. Or I could say it was when my Chilean mother comforted me when I was crying homesick tears, and, in her hug that only a loving mother could give, I realized that I would always have a family and a home there on the other side of the world.

But there are so many of those moments, and in some ways even the bad moments, like me getting pick-pocketed in the metro, stand out as fond memories that I can tell while laughing to my friends and family in my country. How can I explain that I cherish even the scary situations or hard times? I might go my whole life and not fully realize just how deeply this experience has touched me, because it was just that profound...

Maybe think about how you would want to answer that question, and do those things. Do want to say your favorite part was learning to surf in an ocean you have never seen in real life before? Do you want to find your best friend who, even though you are from different countries and speak different languages, you will love for the rest of your life? As soon as your plane arrives, set out to create those stories. Just know that the trip can offer you those opportunities but it will do so so much more. It may sound strange, but I hope you won't be able that question as much as I can't.