While many students were back in their hometowns over winter break, 12 Bentley University students traveled to Chile for two weeks. The trip, which included juniors, seniors and one sophomore, was part of a Global Studies class called “Chile After Pinochet,” taught by Professor Jane Griffin. Professor Maritza Melendez-Lopez also went on the trip.
The course—open to all undergraduates—comes out of Professor Griffin’s own research on Chile, where she lived for six months at age 20 and has visited frequently. It explores the ways in which Chile’s 17-year military dictatorship (1973-1990) has affected the nation politically, economically and culturally.
“Chile After Pinochet” is one of many courses offered by Bentley that take students out of the classroom and into other countries, from England to New Zealand. This program of faculty-led international courses are perfect for students who want a travel experience, but can’t devote an entire semester to studying abroad. They take place over the winter and summer vacations.
Each student taking the Chile course had to choose one of the following research topics: the Chilean wine industry, the student-led education reform movement, women’s rights and gender/sexual equality, indigenous communities, human rights, and the Chilean tourism industry.
The trip, which took place from January 3-16, included a broad range of activities and outings that explored these topics.
The students enjoyed once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as whitewater rafting and horseback riding in the Andes Mountains, meetings with feminist and student activists, and tours of vineyards and human rights museums.
But their most incredible adventure was spending a night with the Mapuche people, an indigenous group living in southern Chile. During their time with the tribe, the students took a cooking class, played the traditional sport of palin, kayaked, and learned the ways in which the Mapuche live off the land. They even slept in traditional straw huts, called rukas.
“It was an interesting and unique time, that neither I nor any of the students had experienced before,” says Professor Griffin.
A Broadened Perspective
Samantha Ford ‘16, who has not been able to take part in a study abroad program because she plays on the soccer team, describes the Chile trip as an unforgettable experience. While the actuarial science major learned a lot about Chile’s tourism industry for her research project, she says her biggest takeaway was her broadened perspective.
“I learned that what I experience here from day-to-day is not what everybody in the world experiences,” Ford says. “You don’t really figure that out until you go somewhere that’s so different. It’s made me really grateful for what I have.”
Sophomore Jack Wheeler, whose research topic is the Chilean wine industry, says traveling to Chile gave him a much broader understanding of its culture than he would have gotten in the classroom. He recalls one day on which the group first visited a shopping area filled with lower-class street vendors, then went to a high-end shopping mall frequented by wealthier people.
“Seeing those two different aspects of Chilean culture and society was not something I could experience by reading a book,” said the accounting student. “Actually being there, and being immersed in the different smells and sights, made it more real.”
The trip, of course, offered more than just learning. The students got plenty of free time, even spending a day at the beach.
“It was the perfect combination of educational experiences and fun,” says Wheeler.
Ford and Wheeler, who didn’t know any of their classmates prior to taking the course, also say they made life-long friends.
Professor Griffin hopes the trip to Chile will change the students’ lives in some way, as it did for her the first time she visited the country.
“You never know when something that they experienced in Chile could make them look at their own lives in a different way when they’re out of college,” she says.
But even if that “a-ha” moment were to never happen, the students certainly have amazing memories that will last a lifetime.
Interested in joining one of these trips? Take a look at upcoming international courses in this program.