Lumberjacks Abroad: Chile edition! 

Janelle Peña stands in front of mural in Chile

Senior Janelle Peña, originally from Eagar, recently studied abroad in Concepción, Chile, as part of the Interdisciplinary Global Program, earning two degrees in five years—one in mechanical engineering and one in modern languages: Spanish. She shares details about her experience, discusses why she chose the South American country and describes her favorite local traditions. 

Why Chile? 

I chose this location because of the family ties I had there. My great-grandparents served three different missions in Chile: in Santiago, Viña de Mar and Concepción. Growing up, I heard all about my grandparents and their love for the country and the people there. I have also had various uncles serve their missions there as well. As a result, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to go to Chile. It was even better knowing that I got to study in Concepción and follow in the footsteps of my grandparents in at least some way.  

What classes or research did you complete while abroad and for how long?  

I took some liberal arts courses there because I thought it would be interesting to learn about world cultures in another country. I took classes on Latin American art, history of Chile, Spanish for non-native Chilean speakers and business engineering. I learned about art from somewhere that had a multi-national collaborative mural in an art museum on campus. I learned about business perspectives in Chile and how they differ from those in the United States.   

For my fieldwork experience, I helped research and create a Corsi-Rosenthal box (basically a DIY air filter) that we then put into local primary and middle schools. The original design was created with local items found in the U.S. However, in Chile, it needed to be altered because they do not have the same materials easily accessible to them. So we altered the design and made sure that we still obtained the same results. 

How did you fund your study abroad experience?  

I did a direct exchange with NAU and the Universidad de Concepción. I used the NAU Lumberjack Scholarship as well as a couple of private donor scholarships from Oswaldo & Garcia Scholarship, the CIE No Excuses Scholarship and The Nelson Family International Fund. I also used personal money saved up over the years and money that my family donated. 

Traditional Chilean food
Traditional Chilean food

What expectations or preconceived notions did you have about your chosen country? How has your experience been compared to those perceptions?   

What I expected going to Chile was that they were really kind and welcoming people, they have completos (basically a Chilean loaded hot dog I could not wait to try), a good hot sauce called Aji and that they lived a different lifestyle without aspects of life that we experience in the U.S. What I experienced when I got there was that they spoke REALLY REALLY FAST and a lot of slang—I felt like I didn’t know Spanish at all! The people there are really warm and welcoming. What I experienced there completely exceeded my expectations. I was surprised by how much I related to the culture there as well as how at home I felt there. In many amazing ways, Chile exceeded my expectations. 


Peña and friends celebrate 18 de Septimbre
Peña and friends celebrate 18 de Septiembre

What local traditions or customs have you experienced?   

While I was there, I experienced 18 de Septiembre, which is their Independence Day. During that week, I experienced many of their traditions: tug-o-war and la cueca, a traditional dance and traditional foods like mote con huesillo and empanadas de pino. During Christmas, it is hot because it’s during their summertime. So I spent time with a local family I became close with and learned that they stay up until midnight then open all their gifts, drink cola de mono and spend time with their families. They love going dancing all night long until 4 a.m. with dinner and activities with friends before they go out. They also go to the beach where everyone drinks mate tea, plays cards and plays a game where they try and dive below the wave when it comes crashing.   


How has this study abroad experience influenced your personal, academic and career goals? Has it opened up new possibilities or changed your direction?  

This experience has definitely influenced my personal, academic and career goals. I have changed in so many ways because as I kept trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone, this resulted in so much room for personal growth. I was able to expand my mind and gain a more global understanding. I was reinvigorated to continue my studies and finish even stronger than when I started. I have learned about the value of finding or creating a strong community in whatever environment that I am in—personally, academically and professionally. Finally, it changed my career goals. Now I would love to work abroad in other countries, especially in Chile if I ever got the opportunity to do so, and now that I am fluent in English and Spanish, it opens even more doors of possibilities. 

Janelle Peña poses in front of sign.

NAU Communications