Student Stories: Challenged by Chile -- CED major captivated by Latin America

By Eric Christensen
February 20, 2015

After missing her bus back to Santiago -- Chile's capital city -- Amanda Dezamits spent her most recent birthday sleeping under the stars with one blanket between two friends. This proved to be just one of the highlights of her recent five-month trip to the South American country.

Dezamits, a senior majoring in community, environment, and development in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, reflected on her birthday experience.

“The events of that accidental night in the woods will always be one of the most unforgettable memories I have from my college experience in terms of personal development, learning how to work with others in a survival situation, as well as simply ‘learning to be’ despite one’s situation."

Dezamits learned about the trip through the Global Penn State website and spoke about her reasons for choosing Chile as her destination.

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Dezamits host "mom" was a chef, so all of her meals were  delicious, and she even made her visiting student a special cake. Your host family can make or break your experience, Dezamits said. Having a place to come home to where you feel relaxed, comfortable and accepted is a must.

IMAGE: Penn State

"I knew I wanted to go to a Latin American country to practice my Spanish and learn about the indigenous cultures and environmental movements in the region."

In addition to learning about the local history and culture through an anthropology course she took there, Dezamits learned how to handle tough and confusing situations, particularly the challenges of communication.

"I learned that due to their isolation from other South American, Spanish-speaking countries due to the Andes Mountains, they were able to develop completely different idioms, words and expressions," she said. "A lot of their Spanish stems from Quechua and Mapuche indigenous groups who previously thrived there."

Dezamits also learned how to be more independent during her time in Chile. "Everything was truly do it yourself," she said, adding that she found the time she spent with her host family particularly valuable.

"My host parents were Cuban and in their 70s. They had a huge family and were frequent salsa dancers. My 'mom' was a chef so all of her meals were absolutely delicious. Your host family sometimes can make or break your experience, so having a place to come home to -- where you feel relaxed, comfortable and accepted -- is a must."

Dezamits plans to graduate from Penn State in December and hopes to return to South America to follow up on job connections. Her ultimate goal is to live and work there, though she expects to work a few years in the United States beforehand.

“One day I would like to work on community and environmental development initiatives in South America, but after graduation perhaps I’ll pursue some of the same initiatives here in the United States."


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    Amanda Dezamits making a clay pot in Pomaire, a small Chilean town known for its clay work.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated February 23, 2015