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Senior Calls Chile Home for Semester

Sydney King, ‘22, has had a busy final semester as a Southern Owl, just not in Connecticut.

About 5,300 miles away, King, a cultural anthropology major, is studying abroad in Chile to strengthen her Spanish, continue her representations of marginalized communities and explore the country. Recently named one of this year’s Barnard Scholars, King sat down with us to discuss her time in Chile as she prepares to graduate this spring.

Q: What drove you to a career in sustainability and representing marginalized communities?

A: I would say the biggest factor for me deciding to choose a career in sustainability and representing marginalized communities was my time on Pine Ridge Native American Reservation. For the past eight or nine summers I’ve gone to South Dakota to run a summer camp for the children living in a community there. In spending time on a reservation, I was witnessing the consequences of our government’s greediness. I knew I wanted to live a life to confront that greediness.

Q: What inspired you to take a semester to study and live in Chile?

A: During my gap year I volunteered with multiple nonprofits through the AmeriCorps NCCC program. And in doing so, I realized the lack of Spanish-speaking employees within nonprofit organizations. Without people to communicate with the Spanish-speaking community, it was difficult to provide support to this entire portion of the population. From there, I knew I wanted to study Spanish. I also always knew I wanted to study abroad because I’m fascinated with experiencing life that is different from my own.

When it came to choosing where I would be doing that, I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, and I also knew I wanted to live with a host family to force myself to learn the language. So, my options were Spain or Chile (many programs stopped operating due to COVID). I thought the opportunity to go to South America was unique and the pictures I saw of Valparaiso were incredible. So, I decided to save Spain for a later date.

Q: What is life like in Chile?

A: I live in the coastal town of Viña Del Mar. Here, it is much more relaxed than in the northeastern United States. Stores don’t open until 10 AM and schedules are very flexible.

Another big difference is the eating habits. Here, breakfast is very small, lunch is very large, and dinner is replaced with something called ”once” which consists of bread with jam, eggs, avocado, and other toppings. I have never eaten so much bread in my life. But this is not to deter gluten-free students from coming, there are lots of gluten-free products and my friends in the program with celiac are perfectly content. There are also very few snacks in between meals so that has been an adjustment for most of us. Luckily, there are little corner stores everywhere where we are able to pick up our own foods of choice if needed.

Q: What has most inspired or intrigued you during your time there?

A: Learning more about Chilean history. Chile has a rich history of resistance, social protest, and activism through the arts. I am very interested in doing further research on the topic of Chilean history and modern society.

Q: What activities are you engaged in in Chile that allow you to gain experience around sustainability and marginalized communities?

A: I think my biggest goal for being here is to advance my Spanish so that I can better support marginalized communities at home. But I’ve also made sure to take classes that are focused on the resistance of the indigenous population here, the Mapuche. Learning about the struggle of Indigenous people here parallels the struggle of those in the United States and it is further inspiring me to work to support this population.

Q: Was there a person at Southern that has had a particularly strong influence on you? (Or helped prepare you for this international experience?)

A: I feel incredibly supported by the Southern community. Some of the staff who have really inspired me to continue my work and have pushed me to gain the skills needed to do so are Dr. [Suzanne] Huminski, Dr. [Kathleen] Skoczen, Heather Stearns, Dr. [Krystyna] Gorniak, and others.

Q: Any words of advice to a student who is considering working or studying internationally?

A: Give yourself time to adjust. I think people throw out a lot of timetables for when you should start feeling comfortable or less homesick in your new country, but everyone is different. It’s not easy for everyone, but it is rewarding and it’s temporary so I would say go for it!

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Southern’s Office of International Education is a central hub to promote study abroad opportunities, welcome our international students and support our international faculty. Learn more about upcoming study abroad programs and faculty led trips this summer for Southern students: https://inside.southernct.edu/international/study-abroad

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