Not Yet in Santiago, but Learning how to Define My Happiness Outside of Amherst
Hi everyone! I hope you are all staying warm amidst the cold upon us, that is if you’re currently in the northeast like I am. Unlike most of my peers studying abroad, I am still at home because my program in Chile starts a bit later. I leave for Santiago on February 22nd, have orientation from the 24th-26th, and then officially begin classes on March 10th at the Universidad Alberto Hurtado. Since I am starting my spring semester later, I also end later (July 15th to be exact). While this part may sound intimidating for most students, I could not reject an opportunity to travel to my continent of heritage and experience the current social-political transformation occurring in Chile.
However, I must admit that while I have appreciated the extensive time to prepare for my study abroad experience, the wait has unintentionally given me more time to feel anxious about my academic goals during Chile and beyond Amherst. For instance, I am approaching the time when juniors are supposed to decide whether to write a thesis or not. While each department has its own respective deadlines, most, if not all, require students to submit a prospectus by the end of this spring semester, with the expectation that the summer would be spent conducting preliminary research for one’s thesis; the deadlines for these summer grants, too, are fast approaching. Although these milestones may come to a relief to some students, these only leave me stuck choosing whether to blissfully await how my future rolls out, or rush to carve out a blurry, definite path for myself. But when writing a thesis is an unspoken indicator of being a “successful” Amherst student, how do I escape this pressure without feeling like I’ve failed? Lately, I’ve been struggling with defining myself outside of Amherst’s standards of success.
Personally, I do not have any plans to write a thesis, mostly because I feel that I do not have the emotional stamina to stick through it for an entire year. Last fall turned out to be one of my most emotionally and academically challenging semesters at Amherst: I took three intensive humanities seminars (something I do not recommend to anyone), experienced classism directly for the first time, which only fueled my imposter syndrome, worked on two jobs—all while transitioning to in-person learning. On top of everything, I dealt with unforeseen personal matters which took a toll on my emotional wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, I fell behind on some of my classes and felt that most of my fall semester consisted of catching up and allowing myself a few minutes to take a breather before I had to repeat the week all over again.
At the same time (because there is always a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel), my fall semester also became an opportunity for self-reflection, grieving, moving on, and leaning on the communities that supported me. I found community within my group of peers and friends at the Amherst Labor Alliance, the QTPOC working group I belonged to, my thoughtful professors, my classes, the counseling center, old and new friends, and in my family. I learned that before existing as a student, I was a human first, and that no matter how dire the situation I was in or no matter how much I thought I could solve things on my own, I was allowed to reach for help. It also helped that every time I looked into the dark abyss that was my laptop screen, I would remind myself that soon I’d be in a new country, where I could have a fresh start all over again.
So how will I start all over again in Chile?
For starters, I want to continue pursuing what excites me the most, and that for me has always been activism. From my participation in the Environmental Justice Alliance during my sophomore year, to now, in the Amherst Labor Alliance, I have always felt the most confident and fulfilled whenever I’m with a group of people, united by our desire to see change, brainstorming how to disrupt the status quo on our campus, and finally transforming our complaints into tangible actions. As a FLI student from an immigrant family background, I’ve always found activism spaces on-campus therapeutic since these were the only few spaces where I could see my identities and experiences not as a deficit, but as a rich, valuable strength. In activism, I’ve found myself transformed, gaining the confidence to speak up against injustice not only at Amherst, but also back in spaces where my communities have been told to comply with the rules.
That being said, I want my time in Santiago to be one where I can befriend student leaders of activist groups, participate in solidarity work with organizations at my host university, and overall, learn about how the communities near me, whether it be my host mom or local classmates, react to the socio-political circumstances occurring in their country. After all, this upcoming March, Chileans will be welcoming 35-year-old, progressive, Gabriel Boric as president, and his women-majority cabinet.
A former student organizer himself, Boric plans to bring climate change and social justice at the forefront of his agenda, while also bringing LGBTQ+ and Indigenous people into these positions of power. His term will also oversee the rewriting of the national constitution, a feat only made possible thanks to the 2019 uprisings which were largely led by the youth. As a student organizer myself, I feel super lucky to be living in Santiago through such a historical time and know that Boric’s term will not only be directly impacting the lives of millions of Chileans, but also of young people like me, who are still uncertain about how to best fit in the world. I am prepared to have my assumptions of activism challenged, somewhat ready to navigate the language barrier (even as a native Spanish speaker!) and excited to learn what meaningful lessons I can take back for future organizing. Most importantly, I hope that by the end of my time studying abroad, I will be able to define my success on my own terms—or, at least feel at ease with still being uncertain.