Trip to Chile helps students learn Spanish

Mandi Steele

When the weather in Missouri turns cold, South America might be the ideal spot to go.

That’s what five Missouri Southern students decided to do last fall when they boarded a plane headed for Chile.

They spent the whole semester studying at the Universidad de las Americas.

Every fall, the school of business sends a few Southern students to Chile so some Chilean students can study at the College through the bilateral exchange program.

Southern students said the Chilean university was different from Southern in more ways than one. Seth Vannaman, senior CIS major, said it’s commonplace for students to be smoking or talking on cell phones during class.

Crystal Dunfield, a 2002 CIS graduate, said neither the students nor the professors were punctual when it came to class time.

“It’s not unusual for your teacher to be 30 minutes late or just not show up at all,” she said.

“It’s a lot more laid back than Southern,” Vannaman said.

The differences didn’t stop there, because the major change they had to get used to was the language. All the classes were taught in Spanish. Vannaman said it was hard to get used to at first, but he eventually caught on.

“I think the only way to really get a good grasp [of the language] is to spend four months down there,” he said.

Dunfield stayed with a host family that didn’t speak English.

“It forced me to learn,” she said. “I probably learned four years of Spanish in four months.”

She said the family was patient with her, and she enjoyed her time with them. When it came to Spanish in the classroom, however, Dunfield said it was quite a “humbling” experience. She was used to getting really good grades in class, but with the language barrier, she couldn’t do so well.

She said it was difficult because people tend to label you as “stupid” if you don’t do as well as them in class.

Both Dunfield and Vannaman agreed the trip was a good experience.

“I definitely recommend this trip,” Dunfield said. “I think learning another language is one of the most important things that you can do and definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

The five Southern students were also able to go sightseeing while they were in Chile, and some went to Argentina. Experiencing the food was also part of the trip.

Vannaman said he thought a lot of the food was sort of bland, but it was interesting that the Chileans seemed to eat mayonnaise with everything.

“Part of the purpose of these programs, to support the mission, is so they can come back and basically spread the word and share their experiences with other people,” said Dr. John Lewis, associate professor of business.

Lewis said the trip to Chile is available to any Southern sophomore or junior who is proficient in Spanish.