By: Nicole Salerno, Program Advisor
Almost ten years later after I studied abroad in Chile, and then Peru, it’s hard to quantify what those experiences have meant to me. When you study abroad so much is going on- the semester flies by, and before you know it, you’re back home. But when I think of the person I was before studying abroad, it’s easy to see how much those experiences have impacted me years later, and how things I’ve done or places I’ve traveled to since would never have been possible if I hadn’t studied abroad in the first place.
Both my older siblings and parents spent time in other countries, so it had always been a goal to study abroad. I had never realized that its impact would go far beyond my spring semester of junior year. The initial ISA Intensive Month in Chile was such a positive, immersive experience because of the support of the on-site staff, especially our ISA Chile Resident Director, Lizette Arredondo. I developed a real appreciation for Chilean culture while also gaining confidence in Spanish.
When researching ISA programs and living arrangements prior to my trip, I ultimately decided on living in a homestay on an ISA Lima Program. While the “residencia” style was appealing, my Spanish language skills needed all the help they could get. My host family and ISA Lima’s Resident Director, Michelle McRaney de Winder, helped me adapt to the large city life of Lima. There are a lot of ways to connect to another culture and learn a foreign language, but in my opinion, nothing compares to sitting around the kitchen table with a family that’s welcomed you into their home.
The semester I spent in Lima galvanized those feelings. Taking (and passing) courses with locals in only six months after struggling through a Spanish II course at college in the U.S. is one of my proudest academic achievements. And it’s hard not to fall in love with a country where you can participate in a traditional shamanic ceremony in the Amazon or follow the narrow Incan steps of Huayna Picchu up to magical views of the Andes.
I chose to move to Valparaiso after graduating and spent two years there teaching English at what happened to be one of our ISA Service-Learning host organizations! Not only did I learn how to teach, but I had unknowingly been preparing to advise future ISA Service-Learning participants who would choose to help teach in Chile.
After returning to the U.S. I continued teaching English in Boston to a variety of different cultures and ESOL levels. My awareness of other cultures and interaction with ESOL students was cultivated by studying abroad.
I’ve enjoyed working for ISA both in the Service-Learning and Student Services department to promote international education. It’s not always obvious to me, but because of the things I experienced and learned (about myself and others) while studying abroad, the world became a much less intimidating place that I have continued to explore with enthusiasm.