Sarah Kolarik


Stanford in Santiago, Spring Quarter 2014-15
Major: Earth Systems
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Santiago?

I wanted to study abroad in a place where I would be able to improve my Spanish and live with a host family, which narrowed down my options to Santiago and Madrid.  As an Earth Systems major and generally outdoorsy person, the environmentally focused classes and the outdoorsy opportunities in Santiago (and Chile) really appealed to me. 

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Santiago? 

I expected Chilean culture to be completely foreign.  Once I arrived in Santiago I was really surprised at how Americanized it felt.  A lot of Chileans listen to music from the U.S. and watch TV shows/movies from the U.S.  Plus Starbucks and KFC are everywhere.  And tons of pizza. 

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Santiago?

The small class sizes!  In Santiago I enrolled in two classes and a language tutorial.  The language tutorial was one-on-one and I was one of two students in both of my other two classes.  Being in such small classes was really intimidating at first, but it made the classes feel more like discussions than lectures.  Never on-campus at Stanford have I ever had classes that small! 

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned that if I want to do something, I can just go ahead and do it!  Since I wanted to travel during the weekends to get to know Chile better, I saved up stipend money and planned trips outside of Santiago with other students in the program.  This included buying plane or bus tickets, finding hostels, even renting a car one weekend.  These experiences made me feel very self-sufficient, like an actual adult! 

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

Always speaking Spanish and actually being able to express myself and my personality in Spanish to other Chileans.  Especially since Chilean Spanish can seem like a completely different language.  It’s really easy to only hang out with other Stanford students and speak English.  But, I learned that the only way to get over the language barrier is to spend a lot of time with Chileans and struggle with Spanish.  By the end of the quarter, I finally felt like I could speak Chilean!  (Though I still found Chileans hard to understand.) 

How was your experience living with local families

I loved living with a host family!  It is different from living in the dorms on campus because the host families are like your regular family: they want to know where you’re going and when you’re coming back, they do worry about you!  My host parents were great resources for questions about Chilean culture and food.  And they were super caring, so after a stressful day I knew I could come home and relax with them. 

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Chileans have a different idea of personal space.  As in, no personal space.  When walking on the street people will brush right past you and the buses and metros can be absurdly crowded (think sardines).  Also, it’s customary for a kiss on the cheek (and sometimes a hug) for greetings/goodbyes if you’re female, so you have to be prepared for Chileans to just go right in for it.  

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Santiago?

I loved my dinners with my host parents.  My host mom was a wonderful cook, so I knew I could always look forward to a tasty meal.  And I loved talking with my parents about our families, Chilean culture and Chilean news.   We even had a really interesting discussion about current Chilean attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals. 

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Santiago?

It’s really impossible to choose.  The first two experiences that come to mind are going to an Imagine Dragons concert (it was incredibly packed and all of the Chileans knew the lyrics better than I did) and going out to dinner with my Chilean economics teacher (who briefly worked in the Pinochet military regime).  Though that doesn’t even take into account my travels outside of Santiago (e.g. the Bing Trip; trips to the coast, the Andes, the Atacama, Chiloé) 

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Santiago?

DO IT!  Studying in Santiago was exactly the break from on-campus Stanford life that I needed.  I really loved my classes, my host family was wonderful, Chile is an incredibly diverse country with so many distinct regions to explore.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. 

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently

I would have gone on more hikes around Santiago to better appreciate the city and the Andes.  But overall I left with very few regrets. 

What was your favorite food you had in Santiago

Pastel de choclo.  The dish has “pino” on bottom (pino = ground beef, onions, hard boiled eggs, golden raisins, black olives) and a corn puree on top, and is baked to golden-brown deliciousness.  Since I don’t eat beef, my host mom would make pastel de choclo for me with chicken.  Super tasty! 

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

Two things: my sleeping bag and a towel.  Since I love to hike and backpack, the sleeping bag came in handy for a backpacking trip that I went on with other Stanford students to Yerba Loca (a nature reserve just outside of Santiago).  My towel was really useful for other weekend travels since most hostels in Chile don’t provide towels.