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Exchange to Pontifical Catholic University of Chile – by William Kenny-Roberts

I left for exchange to Chile having never travelled solo, and as the only student headed to South America from the University of Adelaide I had very little idea of what to expect but knew it would be a hugely beneficial but challenging experience. I’d also done very little in the way of planning but I had my plane tickets to Santiago and a hostel booked for the first 7 nights so I figured the best thing to do would be to jump in feet first.The challenges I experienced from the start, adapting to a new city, new university, new culture and new language. The exchange was a great experience and what I valued most were the language skills I developed and the friendships I made with other students, not just from Chile but from all over the world.
When I arrived in early February I had been on university holidays since finishing the academic year in early November and had spoke very little Spanish since our last class. Because of this and the notoriously difficult Chilean accent I had a lot of difficulty speaking Spanish and understanding what was being said to me. I definitely struggled for at least the first two months as I was finding my feet and trying to apply what I’d learnt in the classroom to actual conversations with native speakers,  two very different contexts. Having few English speakers around forced me to speak in Spanish all the time and the full immersion you get on exchange.
I also made very good friends during the exchange. Knowing that our time together would be short didn’t stop us from getting to know each other well as we explored our new home and shared the exchange experience. Each of us came from very different backgrounds, with some having already done exchanges before, some being native Spanish speakers and others not speaking a single word, from different cultures, countries and continents. The only thing we had in common was a desire to study and live overseas in another country.
Whilst studying I also suffered two major setbacks. When me and my housemates were evicted from our house (through no fault of our own) it could’ve been a very difficult time, being in a foreign country without the normal support network of friends and family that I have in Australia. I was not too stressed by the situation because my new friends immediately offered me places to stay and help with my search for a new home. Later I experienced the same when I broke my arm, a challenging situation, but all my friends again offered to help me do the things I couldn’t do one-handed.
I think this is testament to the strength of the global links you form with the people you meet on exchange. The fact that we were all, as exchange students, experiencing the same, being away from home and friends and family meant we would all look to each other for support.
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