Georgia Whitaker '14

  • Major: Latin American Studies, History
  • Minor: Spanish
  • Study Abroad Program: Middlebury in Chile Valparaíso

georgia whitaker class of 2014

Why did you choose your study abroad program specifically?
I chose to study abroad in Valparaíso, Chile, through the Middlebury in Chile program. I elected this program because of its emphasis on language development and cultural immersion: I directly enrolled in a local university, took courses alongside Chilean students, and learned from Chilean professors. I’m a Latin American History major, and I was especially drawn to Chile for its recently reopened truth commission that requestioned the happenings and legacies of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. I had taken a history course on Latin American revolutions that included the Chilean case prior to studying abroad, but the deeper connections between my studies and time in Valparaíso were really forged when I was there. Taking classes in a small, very lefty Chilean university made me more interested in the country’s recent history and the way it is taught to students today.

How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics, before leaving and upon your return?
While in Chile, I conducted an independent study at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) in Santiago, the country’s capital. This experience gave me a much clearer window into the dictatorship period. I worked in the museum’s archival center and had the incredibly good fortune to be given access to approximately 1,000 pages of Argentine embassy and police archives from the 1970s that document, with noticeable apprehension, the migration of thousands of Chilean exiles into Argentina after the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship, but before the beginning of Argentina’s own Dirty War (March 1976). My honors project, based on these documents analyzes Operation Condor, the evolution of the system of political exile, and the transnational left in the Southern Cone during the 1970s.

What was the best learning moment outside of the classroom?
This question is especially applicable to my abroad experience since, due to frequent student strikes at my university, I had a significant amount of time outside a formal classroom. The experience, or sentiment, that has stuck with me most has to do with language: I was constantly humbled by my non-native/non-fluent Spanish skills. My written and spoken Spanish improved drastically while abroad, but few people believed I was Chilean after I opened my mouth. It was an excellent lesson in the different ways in which people are perceived, all over the world, for how they sound rather than what they say or think.