This fall, I went to Santiago through the IES Semester in Santiago program and had the absolute pleasure of meeting some of the most wonderful people in the world. Many study abroad programs have similar draws—small classes, hands-on learning, fantastic teachers, cultural integration, etc—and don’t get me wrong, my program definitely had all of those. However, one thing that really set the program apart was the type of student on the program, the staff at the study abroad center in Santiago, and the host families. All the students on my program got along fabulously, which was honestly pretty strange. I went abroad in high school on a different program, and there were clashes within the program, as happens when many very different people spend a lot of time together. However, in Santiago, we literally all got along well—there was no exclusion, no cattiness, nothing. The group was comprised of very smart and interesting students, who were laid-back in attitude and all of whom enjoyed nature, and for whatever reason, this made us incredibly cohesive. I can’t stress enough how bizarrely lovely and inclusive it was.
Our cohesion was probably due in part to the incredible staff at IES, who were intentional about teambuilding and introductions from the start. The five women who work at the center were some of the most loving, kind, compassionate, funny and warm people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. Not only were they good at the administrative aspects of their jobs, they cared for me and the other students like their own children. I had bronchitis for about a month (immunodeficiency, whaddup), and they worked tirelessly with me to coordinate makeup work and tests while also firmly and lovingly demanding I go take a nap and give myself a break. They are amazing. Again, I can’t stress this enough.
One of the women who works at the center is responsible for housing placements, and she does an incredible job. Each homestay is hand-picked by her, and she is careful and thorough with her reasoning. You get to fill out a form in which you indicate what your desired outcome in a homestay is—whether that’s to be integrated into the family, to spend a bit of time with them, or to have it more as a place to sleep and eat rather than a family setting—and she matches you with people who have similar desires. This eliminates a lot of awkwardness around being unsure on expectations. I wanted to be part of the family, and I ended up in a house where I would spend hours talking to my host mom about life philosophy and experience. She is my second mom (even now she texts me asking if I’m sleeping enough. That’s mom love for ya).
On my program, I navigated a big city after living in rural college towns my whole life. I formed loving and warm bonds with people I never would’ve met otherwise. I explored and grew and learned and laughed and cried and ate too many empanadas, and IES Santiago gave me the space for that. Go. You won’t regret it.