Leaving your country to study abroad should mean that you would become out of the loop on what is going on back home. However, the news that comes from the United States is inescapable and overpowering. Everyone here in Chile seems to know about the political climate of the United States, while most of the students from the United States that arrive to Chile are unfamiliar with what the biggest issues here are. In general, most of the other students that come from the United States are not so familiar with Chilean history or government, meanwhile most Chilean people know all about what is going on politically in the United States. The current U.S. president is a topic of discussion on many Chilean talk shows, and can be seen on the front pages of Chilean newspapers often. The overwhelming nature of U.S. politics is hard to leave behind, and it can be easier for students from the United States to just stay attuned to the same perspective as before.
One of the many stages a student from the United States who goes abroad goes through is learning about history that is so often hidden from them, or at the very least takes effort to find. Studying abroad obligates an inward look on ourselves and our country, something that doesn’t happen often when in your home country unless you are intentionally doing so.
The orientation program at St. Kate’s includes a small part that mentions that one of the stages students go through after they arrive is learning about the complacency of the United States in so many devastating occurrences around the world, notably in the host country they are staying in. This is especially true when studying abroad in Chile, due to the extreme involvement of the United States in the military coup and death of socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973, and the 17 years of brutal dictatorship that followed. The role the United States played in causing the military regime is downplayed when it is taught in the U.S., but studying abroad in Chile has allowed me to learn history that does not show the U.S. in a good light, not always swinging down to do the right thing. Many exchange students in my classes have been shocked by what they learn, and even take it personally that this brutality could be attributed to their country. My Chilean teachers have even had to state that they don’t mean personal offense by teaching about very questionable actions taken by the United States, even though they are just teaching the reality of what happened.
The number of exchange students arriving in Chile is growing, although most students that come from Europe and North America just stay for a shorter semester program rather than a seeking degrees. According to a survey done by SIES (Servicio de Información de Educación Superior), 40% of exchange students sent to Chile come from Europe, followed by 38% from North America and 14% from South America. One of the biggest reasons students from Europe and North America don’t stay for longer is the language barrier, so these students stay from three to six months in Chile.
Exchange students from the United States will learn lessons and have experiences that will be inevitably different than students who are coming from other countries. One of the biggest issues we have as students can be our awareness of our own history, and how it has played a role in other countries. The history of countries who hold less power gets overshadowed, and so many exchange students from the United States can arrive in their host country and expect things to run the same way. As students in the United States, we are not often taught how our country’s involvement in foreign governments affects the way they run.
That being said, you do not need to travel to an entire new country to expose yourself to the pitfalls and damage U.S. interventionism has caused around the world. However, the experience of having teachers who have lived through the history they are teaching is very different from just reading about it online. I have learned so much by taking classes where at last United States history doesn’t play the protagonist. Arriving to another country to study means that students from the U.S. have to exert a different type of effort to decentralize themselves from history and from their position in the world.