Name: Tamar Honig
Class of: 2018
Major: Global Studies with a minor in Human Rights
Location: Santiago, Chile
Program: Catholic University of Chile Exchange Program
Best part of your trip in five words: Feeling more Chilean every day
For those looking for a little more independence and cultural enrichment, direct enrollment is the best way to find out what it means to actually be a resident of a foreign country. Most study abroad programs are ten weeks long—the classes are taught in English and students are in dorms and classes surrounded by UChicago students and faculty. While those programs give students a taste of what it’s like to immerse oneself in another culture, direct enrollment provides the full experience. Students attend a foreign university for five months where they are often the only American student. On top of that, they also have to make their own living arrangements and try to make friends in an entirely new country. Honig has always been interested in Latin American culture, and the direct enrollment program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (CUC), in Santiago, Chile, seemed like a great way to learn more about the country.
“You’re really just going off to Chile, finding a place to live in Santiago,” said Honig. “I loved it because it gives you a lot of freedom and independence to move about and feel like a real citizen and make friends with people when you go outside. At the university, I was the only American student in a lot of my classes which allowed me to meet Chileans and become friends with them and really learn on a deeper level how their culture works.”
Honig took a total of four classes that were all taught entirely in Spanish. Two of them dealt directly with Chilean history and literature; the other two were more general classes on Latin American culture and urban spaces.
Her Spanish background allowed her to keep up with her classes and make friends with her roommates and classmates. In her gap year before college, Honig travelled through Bolivia and Argentina, living with host families and practicing her Spanish. Once she came to the University, she placed in the 200s level and took a Spanish literature course. At first, though, she struggled getting a hold of the Chilean dialect, which even many native Spanish speakers have trouble understanding.
"Chilean Spanish is definitely weird because it is so infused with Chilean expressions, or Chilenismos, that aren’t heard anywhere else in the Spanish speaking world. They just replace words with other random words and they speak very rapidly," she said. "I figured if you could master Spanish in the place that it’s hardest that will be the true test of fluency."
Throughout her time abroad, Honig was able to travel throughout the entire country, which is also filled with its quirks. Chile is home to the world’s longest mountain range, but also has a number of beaches, deserts, salt basins, and even icebergs. Each area has its own distinct culture—often shaped by the surrounding natural environment—and Honig was sure to get at least one souvenir that represented every place she visited.
What she brought back
In Atacama, the driest non-polar desert in the world, Honig bought two beautiful woven tapestries. She spent about 20 minutes searching through a large pile of tapestries to find one that would match her apartment and that would represent a lot of the major themes commonly found in Latin American art. The purple-and-yellow wall hanging has a number of traditional cultural symbols, including the alpaca, which represents Mother Earth, as well as the sun, representing life. The other, smaller tapestry captures a scene of daily life juxtaposed against Chile’s famous mountains. “I liked it because it captured a really typical scene that you would find in the region,” said Honig. “I loved the colors, the vibrancy. It reminds me of a different pace of life, the tranquility and familiarity of it all.”
In the coastal town of Isla Negra, Honig picked up a teapot covered in shells. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had one of his three houses and Isla Negra. As a maritime lover, he considered his sea-side home his favorite and spent a majority of his time there with his wife. The house has become a tourist attraction, largely because of its connection to Neruda but also because it is constructed to resemble a ship. An eccentric collector, he has a room called “Under the Sea” where he kept figurine ships, mastheads, and a massive amount of seashells. Honig picked up a seashell teapot as a homage to both the town itself and to Neruda’s love of the sea. She and her roommates back in Chicago collect teapots and the pot is currently on top of the apartment’s mantle place next to the others in the collection.
Many of the souvenirs she brought back are small, wooden animals. Often, different regions—their culture and geography—can be depicted through the animals that inhabit it. Animals can sometimes be the center of life; for example, many cultures rely on the alpaca for its milk and its wool. In other regions, like in Punta Arenas which is located in the southernmost tip of Chile, you can often find depictions of penguins. The area is best known for its penguin colony as well as its proximity to Antarctica. Some areas are centered around animals that have been long extinct. In Puerto Natales, Honig picked up a small statue of a mylodon, a giant ancient sloth that became extinct almost 10,000 years ago. Mylodons roamed the Patagonian desert in Puerto Natales, and to this day, tourists still flock to the region to visit Milodón Cave where a German explorer found remains of the ancient beast.
In a handicraft market in La Serena, Honig was attracted to a stall selling woven dolls. She settled on purchasing a doll meant to represent a girl in traditional Latin American attire.
“I love that region of the world and I miss it and I miss the norm (if there is a norm) of the people that you’re surrounded with being so different from what here [in America]. I just like having things around that remind me every day of where I’ve been and the people I encountered and the places I visited.”
Before returning to Chicago to begin a cold winter quarter, Honig visited the sunny region of Pichilemu, the unofficial surf capital of Chile. She bought a hanging wall decoration made of sea shells to remind her of the beautiful beaches. “[This] was the last trip I did before coming home,” said Honig. “It was the end of December or the height of their summer, it was beautiful. I know I was coming back to a very cold Northern hemisphere so I wanted a reminder of the tranquility of life there and a lot of the things that made me happy to be there.”