Feist, Lauran

Feist, Lauren

Name: Lauran Feist
E-mail: Lauran.A.Feist.5@nd.edu
Language: Spanish
Location of Study: Valparaíso, Chile
Program of Study: “Spanish Language & Latin American Studies” (Summer 1 2015) program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Kellogg Institute for International Studies

A brief personal bio:

Originally from South Dakota, I am a rising senior at Notre Dame. I am majoring in Political Science and International Economics (Spanish). As part of the International Scholars Program through the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, I do research on electoral volatility and party institutionalization for Professor Scott Mainwaring. Having studied Chilean political history in multiple courses, I am exceedingly grateful for this opportunity to learn more about such a rich, unique culture.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My experience at Notre Dame has centered on my love of Latin American politics, economic history, culture, and film. I am confident that this enthusiasm – especially for the Southern Cone – will extend far past my time at Notre Dame. However, my future plans are dependent on an advanced level of Spanish proficiency. My long-term academic and career goals consist of: (1) conducting field research at the end of the summer and upcoming fall on the means by which Argentine presidents further their regime preferences given the constraints of powerful provincial governors (2) completing my International Economics Senior Research Project entirely in Spanish, (3) applying for a Fulbright Study/Research Grant or finding a job in Latin America following graduation, and (4) later earning my PhD in Political Science. This opportunity to study abroad through a Summer Language Abroad grant comes at a critical time, and I feel very fortunate to have an experience devoted entirely to language learning and cross-cultural understanding before my future endeavors in the region. Immediately following my time in Chile, I will move back to Buenos Aires to complete the aforementioned research with the support of a Kellogg/Kroc Undergraduate Research Grant. In addition, I will be taking a leave of absence during the fall of my senior year to extend my research and write my Senior Honor’s Thesis in Political Science.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Last summer I worked for the Foreign Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina. This was my first extensive experience abroad, and I grew tremendously. However, the summer also highlighted the gaps in my language learning. While my listening skills are very strong given the nature of Spanish courses and my fascination with Latin American cinema, it became evident that I still lack confidence in speaking and reading. I strongly believe that, until I improve my conversational Spanish, I will not be very successful in research, my future job, a PhD program, and – most importantly – in building relationships. This summer I hope to further develop the linguistic and cross-cultural skills necessary to deeply listen, learn, and interact in a new environment. With discussion-based courses, conversation groups, and oral evaluations, the advanced language program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso will provide a solid foundation for future engagement in the region.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of my time in Chile, I will be able to identify and understand the unique language characteristics of Chilean Spanish.
  2. At the end of my time in Chile, I will have a deepened, comparative understanding of the Southern Cone.
  3. At the end of my time in Chile, I will have substantially improved my reading and writing skills; this will help me achieve my goal of writing my International Economics Senior Research Project entirely in Spanish.
  4. At the end of my time in Chile, I will be able to speak confidently in Spanish in both casual and professional settings.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I chose the summer language program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso for its academic rigor and cultural engagement opportunities. Due to continued economics and political science coursework during the academic year and the nature of my internship at the embassy, I have never had an experience devoted entirely to Spanish language learning. My primary “plan of action” is to stick to my goals: to speak only in Spanish and to have a conversation with at least one new person each day.

This program is unique in its effort to further learning outside of the classroom. On a four-day excursion to Santiago, students visit locations such as La Moneda, Cerro Santa Lucía, Barrio Bellavista and the Catedral de Santiago. In addition, the program offers both a trip to Playas del Norte and a weekend visit to Pomaire and Isla Negra. Through this program, I will visit all three of Pablo Neruda’s homes, historical landmarks, museums, and multiple artisan centers. However, my cultural engagement will not be limited to the excursions. I have already been in contact with Valparaíso’s ISA site director in search of ways to get involved in the local community, and I will be staying with a host family, an ideal environment to practice speaking and to learn about Chilean culture.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Greetings from Viña del Mar!

I arrived in Santiago on Wednesday, May 13, and spent four days in the capital through the International Studies Abroad (ISA) program. While in Santiago, we visited Cerro Santa Lucía, Cerro San Cristóbal, the Mercado Central de Santiago, the Plaza de Armas, the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, and La Chascona. We were even fortunate enough to enjoy private tours of La Moneda and of a vineyard, Cousiño-Macul.

I arrived in Viña del Mar last Saturday evening. This past week was packed with various orientation meetings with ISA and the PUCV, cultural excursions in both Viña and Valparaíso, and my first three days of classes. Some highlights of this past week included visits to Quinta Vergara, the Reloj de Flores, Museo Francisco Fonck, Plaza Sotomayor, Paseo Gervasoni, La Sebastiana, Cerro Alegre, and Cerro Concepción.

Needless to say, I have been kept very busy! With only one week in Chile, I visited a number of historic and cultural landmarks.

My host family is wonderful! Despite feeling absolutely exhausted with all the aforementioned activities and the general adjustment to a new country, I have spent hours talking with my Chilean parents on topics including the dictatorship, religion, sexuality, literature, Latin American cinema, the Chilean student movement, and the corruption scandal. I could not be more happy to live and learn with them!

Regarding my first week of classes, I was able to get into my top two courses at the PUCV – “Literatura Hispanoamericana Contemporánea” and “Cine y Literatura Latinoamericana.” In addition, I talked to the Director of International Programs and received permission to audit the “Gramática Avanzada” course. Even though it will be extra work, I am really excited to have this opportunity to brush up on grammar!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

When selecting this program through International Studies Abroad, it was clear from their website that they prize themselves on their cultural excursions. However, I had no idea of the extent to which we would be traveling outside of coursework! In addition to the aforementioned three tours in Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso, this weekend we went spent both Saturday and Sunday on two different excursions.

On Saturday we spent the day touring the “playas del norte.” The purpose of this trip was to not only learn about the prevalence of the sea and the fishing industry in Chile but to also see the clear social and economic inequalities embodied in physical space – the beaches that make up the country’s coastline. We first stopped at a couple of spots in the commune of Concón, first to view a beautiful cove of different rock formations and then to see a popular surfing spot for many Chilean locals. We then continued to Horcón, a coastal village made up predominantly of fishermen, artisans, and artists. In many ways Horcón painted a very traditional, perhaps stereotypical, image of a working-class fishermen’s village. The beach was dotted with small restaurants and homes that seemed to take foundation on top of one another, yelling fishermen, and makeshift stands of seafood – all mixed with an abundance of seagulls and lethargic, stray dogs. The third and final destination on Saturday was the exclusive seaside resort called Zapallar, which could not have been more opposite of Horcón. Zapallar boasts some of the most expensive residential properties in the country as well as summer homes that appear photoshopped from a European resort town.

On Sunday we visited Pablo Neruda’s third house, Isla Negra, his favorite and most popular home. We then went to Pomaire, a small town in the Melipilla province known for its abundant pottery industry.

If I have learned one thing so far, it is that Chile is a country of extremes. Not only is it home to deserts, vineyards, glaciers, beaches, and mountains, but its people and its history are equally as extreme and diverse, almost contradictory.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

My time in Chile has already proved challenging, memorable, and exceedingly impactful!

Every morning I take the metro from Viña to Valpo to get to the university by 8:30. I have class all morning (M-F) and usually return to my host family’s house at around 1:00 p.m. The exchange program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso is made up entirely of American students, meaning that opportunities to speak in Spanish outside my host family are quite limited (especially given that we have also been traveling so much in the past couple of weeks). However, one of my primary goals for these 5 weeks is to improve my reading and writing skills, and I feel confident that this program is perfect in that regard!

My “Literatura Hispanoamericana Contemporánea” course is the academic highlight of my study abroad experience. My professor is wonderful, and the works that we are reading in his class are truly exceptional and build off of the foundation that I have received at Notre Dame. Because of time constraints, we are sticking to poetry, essays, microcuentos, and – my favorite – short stories.

Because I elected to take the literature and film classes, which are the two most writing-intensive classes offered, I have already written four papers (and it is only the second week)! I feel like this “intensive” program really lives up to its description if students so desire it: when I am not touring through ISA, I am talking with my host parents, and when I am not talking with my host parents, I am reading and writing. A lot.

The following are a select few of my favorite works so far:
Alberto Fuguet Cortos
Mario Benedetti “La noche de los feos”
Jacinta Escudos “¿Y ese pequeño rasguño en tu mejilla?”
Julio Cortázar “Axolotl”
Jorge Luis Borges “La casa de Asterión”
Juan José Arreola “La migala”

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

My host family is incredible! My Chilean family consists of my parents and their 25-year-old son. They also have an older daughter who is married and lives with her family just a few blocks away, meaning that their granddaughter spends a lot of time with us as well! My host dad is a furniture repairman (and a painter on the side), and my mom is a seamstress. Both parents are exceedingly artistic, and our conversations often revolve around music, philosophy, and politics.

While some students eat lunch at the university, I realized very quickly that the best part of my day – and the best time to practice Spanish – is during lunch with my host parents. Already, I have learned a lot about Chilean culture and customs. While I can certainly not speak for all Chileans, it is really common for families in Viña and Valpo to eat one large meal a day – lunchtime. Breakfast generally consists of bread with either manjar or butter and a piece of fruit, and a traditional dinner is replaced by “once,” a small meal later in the evening consisting of coffee or tea and bread with avocado, cheese, or butter. Did you know that, second to Germany, Chileans eat more bread than citizens of any other country?

My Chilean mom is a phenomenal cook! It is my third week here and every lunch has become an opportunity to try a new, traditional Chilean food. I have tried porotos con riendas, guiso de lentejas, pastel de choclo, empanadas de pino, and charquicán – all served with a generous dousing of pebre. I have also been treated to my fair share of red wine, piscola, pisco sour, and – arguably the best discovery I have made so far in Chile – Sahne-Nuss chocolate!

I often find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the unending generosity of my Chilean family. I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit as an undergrad, and I have never met such compassionate individuals. My family has gone out of their way to ensure my safety and comfort, and they continually find ways to share their country and culture with me. Thank you Monica, Jorge, Claudia, Rodrigo, and Antonia. I am very grateful for the conversations I have shared around your table and look forward to the memories to come!

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

My primary reasoning behind applying to study in Valparaíso was my desire for a unique experience different from that of my previous summer in Buenos Aires. Given my interest in the comparative politics of the Southern Cone, I was looking for an opportunity to bring to life all that I have learned about Chile in my classes at Notre Dame.

I strongly believe that my knowledge and love of Argentina has greatly enriched my time here and has allowed me to appreciate Chile’s uniqueness. My conversations with Chileans – often sparked by my obvious yanqui/porteña accent – have deepened my understanding of both countries. A lot of my conversations that involve Argentina underscore the very different economic realities, conceptualizations of race, historical experiences, and linguistic characteristics of these two countries.

As an aside, the Chileans I have met seemed to have reached a consensus prior to my arrival regarding how to optimize consumer habits. I have heard from at least 5 different Chileans the same piece of advice: in Argentina you should buy books, pharmaceuticals, and leather products, and in Chile you should buy electronics and clothes. You’re welcome for the arbitrage opportunity.

Regarding the unique “chilenismos” and Chilean accent, one of our community interaction prompts was to identify colloquial words characteristic to the host country, which proved quite manageable given that Chileans seem to use more slang than Spanish. I have been in Viña a month now, and I still consistently find myself having to stop my parents and have them explain a word they used! The following are a couple of important (and mostly amusing) chilenismos:

Fome (aburrido) – Meaning boring in English, fome has easily become my favorite Chilean slang word and can be applied to situations where something does not work, is a bust, or is generally unfavorable. ¡Qué fome!
Al tiro (ahora, ya) – Al tiro means “right now” in English.
Pololo/polola – In Chile these terms mean boyfriend/girlfriend. The use of novio/novia is reserved for those engaged to be married.

I picked these examples because they are a few of the “chilenismos” used regardless of age (in addition to words such as po, flaite, taco, guagua, cachai, or weon).

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

After a stressful week of final papers, exciting Copa América games, and an emotional going away party from my family in Viña, I spent my last week in Chile back in Santiago where I had the opportunity to visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. Number one on my list of things to see in Santiago, the museum shines light on the numerous human rights violations committed by the Chilean government between 1973-1990 under Augusto Pinochet. The museum truly lived up to my very high expectations, and I would recommend anyone traveling to Chile to stop and see it. It beautifully addressed a number of issues that are often overlooked in history books or conversations regarding the dictatorship and utilized a number of mediums (videos, displays, pictures, letters, posters, audio recordings) to engage with visitors of all ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. What was even more impressive was the museum’s commitment to reminding visitors that such atrocities committed by a state against its own citizens are by no means past history. In fact, the very first display behind the information desk was a map of the world, documenting similar – potentially less known – violations across the globe.

I left Chile with a number of experiences, observations, and emotions. Most importantly, I left with overwhelming gratitude. The support from the Notre Dame community and the unbelievable generosity of the Chileans I encountered made this experience truly memorable. ¡Hasta pronto!

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

I am writing this final reentry reflection from Buenos Aires while studying abroad at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella on an academic leave of absence. The reading and writing skills that I developed in Chile – especially in “Literatura Hispanoamericana Contemporánea” – have already proven invaluable as my political science and economics coursework is entirely in Spanish with Argentine undergraduates. It is exciting to reflect on the academic and personal developments that took place this summer during my time in Chile. I met my learning goals in many respects. In addition to learning more about Chilean language and culture, I have a deepened, comparative understanding of the Southern Cone.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

The highlight of my experience in Chile was my host family. I was lucky enough to get along very well with them, and I appreciate their openness in sharing their culture and ideas with me. I cherish the conversations we had, and our relationship served as a forum to ask questions and learn about one another. Because my classmates in the summer program were all students from the United States, opportunities to speak with native Spanish speakers were often limited to my professors and my host family – yet another reason why I loved spending time with them. However, given that my primary goal was to work on my reading and writing skills, the intensive coursework at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso was a great fit.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Upon returning to Notre Dame for the spring semester of my senior year, I will enroll in a Spanish literature class. I still intend to write my International Economics Senior Research Project in Spanish and have begun compiling sources. My passion for Latin America has clearly shaped my undergraduate experience and will continue to influence my professional decisions long past my graduation from Notre Dame. Being able to confidently speak in Spanish – with all the clear nuances and the cultural understanding that such a phrase demands – is of great personal importance to me. Many of my closest friends both at home and abroad have significant ties to Latin America, specifically to Argentina and Mexico. I have no doubt in my continued engagement in the region, both in my personal life and in my professional endeavors.