Sierra Killian


Stanford in Santiago, Autumn 2016-17
Major: Earth Systems
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This photo is from one of my last weekends in Santiago. Instead of doing homework, my friend and I took advantage of the glorious weather to ride Santiago’s teleférico to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. Behind me, you can see the Andes and the Costanera Center.


Why did you choose to study abroad in Santiago?

The Santiago program stood out to me from early in my time at Stanford because of its combination of natural beauty and cultural and political history. My academic interests include a mix of history, environmental science, and cultural studies, so Chile appealed to my multidisciplinary way of thinking. Before going to Santiago, I studied Spanish in high school and at Stanford but had spent very little time in Spanish-speaking countries. I chose the Santiago program because I wanted to have an immersive language experience that tied together my somewhat disparate areas of interest.

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

Before I went to Santiago, I expected to be away from campus but still have a day-to-day routine that was somewhat like what I was used to at Stanford. Being outside of the campus bubble, however, changed that routine significantly. The program encourages students to pursue what they enjoy and to explore, so I spent much more time traveling and finding new places in Santiago with friends that I expected. Because of that, I was also busier than I expected, but it was a more enjoyable kind of busy than I had experienced on campus. I still had to manage my time like I do on-campus, but I found more ways to fit what I wanted to into my schedule.

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

I appreciated the small class sizes and direct applicability of the course material to my experience in Chile. My academic experience in Santiago was different than most because I was the only student in Living Chile, a class about Chilean ecology. Because of that, I was able to get to know the professor well and pursue topics that I found most interesting. Independent of being the only student, though, the class enabled me to directly connect my travels around Chile to my classwork. For example, I visited Ventanas, a small town on the coast with a coal-fired power plant and copper refinery, through my internship for a conference about environmental sacrifice zones. In class, I based my final project on the science behind the lived experiences of industrial pollution I heard about at the conference. In that and other trips to different regions of the country, I saw ecology in action and was able to explain the scientific processes behind the phenomena I saw. I also saw the concepts I learned about urban planning and Latin American independence movements in my other classes reflected in Santiago and its people.

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

While in Santiago, I learned more about what I value and about how to take advantage of my current stage of life. I came to more highly value having conversations one-on-one and also enjoyed spending time with small groups, but I realized that it is perfectly fine to take time to myself when I need it. My frugal trips around Chile also made me appreciate that I am at a great point in life to enjoy staying in hostels and to make plans spontaneously. More broadly, I learned that my relationships with people make all the difference and are ultimately what makes my experiences meaningful.

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

Some of the most challenging aspects of my time in Santiago were the catcalls and other uninvited interactions with men. On one occasion, I had decided to go home from my internship early because I was feeling physically unwell. While I was waiting for the bus, a man approached me and asked if I could give him feedback on his poetry. Not wanting to move and miss my bus, I listened to his poetry and gave a one-sentence response that it was nicely written. He continued to read his poetry and then started talking more generally about life and religion. I continued giving short replies and not showing signs of active engagement in the conversation by looking down the road. The bus eventually came to the stop, and I was able to stop talking to the man. The experience taught me that I can respond to unwanted conversation that I do not have much option of avoiding without becoming rattled. It also showed me that I am capable to handling less than ideal situations cordially and then moving on with my life.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Taking Santiago’s metro and having very little personal space were probably the biggest adjustment. I rode public transportation throughout high school, but the hordes of people that squeeze onto Santiago’s trains were on a whole new level for me. I learned how to assert my space and trust that I would fit into already-crowded trains.

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

The bus ride home from the Stanford center provided me with a great view of the Andes when the clouds lifted. It was breathtaking to see the snow-capped mountains after the bus rounded onto Avenida Tobalaba.

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

It is difficult to choose just one, but among the most memorable was the traditional curanto meal we had on Chiloé Island during our Bing trip. After a full day exploring the island’s rocky beaches and fish market, we were treated to a meal of potatoes, seafood, sausage, and more cooked in a pit stove at a small farm. A typical seafood dish featuring raw sea squirts, called piure, did not agree with my tastebuds but was unquestionably memorable. The rest of the food and the setting, however, were wonderful.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Exhilarating, variety, natural beauty, spontaneity, good conversations

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Santiago?

In terms of strictly Chilean food, my favorite has to be milhojas. It is a cake with many flaky pastry layers filled with manjar, which is Chile’s version of dulce de leche. In terms of foods I ate in Chile more generally, my hands-down favorite food are the cheese arepas my Colombian host mother made for breakfast. They’re not Chilean, but they are delicious.

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

The most valuable item I took with me is probably a very small duffel bag that I borrowed from my sister. It folded up into itself and was very portable, and it was perfect for my weekend trips around the country.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Santiago?

One of my coworkers at my internship with Fundación Terram introduced me to Gepe, a Chilean singer-songwriter. I have a Spotify playlist with his music, along with other music not specific not Chile but reminiscent of my time there, that takes me back to late November in Santiago.