Laura Armstrong '12

  • Major: History
  • Minor: Teaching
  • Study Abroad Program: IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities, Valparaiso

Laura ArmstrongWhy did you decide to study abroad and why did you decide to spend your semester in Chile specifically?

I really wanted to develop competency in Spanish while also pushing myself out of my comfort zone. As a history major with a concentration in Latin America, I was fascinated at the idea of learning about a culture and its history first hand as well as academically through the local university system. I chose Chile because of its fascinating history and its incredible geographic diversity. I specifically chose Valparaiso because of what I had heard about the city; it is a small city perched on the ocean and the culture and flavor of the city is steeped in the arts (it was home to Pablo Neruda). It is also a university city with lots of young people, and with my program I knew that I would be taking classes alongside Chileans in their own university, which was very appealing.

Tell us about your study abroad experience in and outside of the classroom.

Interestingly I found my classroom Spanish to be the strongest, and it was the everyday colloquial expressions and jargon that took the most getting used to. Speaking with my host family, having long meals together, and talking about our lives was certainly the most helpful and rich for me to improve my conversational Spanish. At the beginning, public transportation was a bit challenging. Several times I was sure I had gotten on the correct bus, only to find myself headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Luckily, these experiences were often incredibly fun and turned into adventures and opportunities to converse with the Chileans around me. It was very satisfying when by the end of my time there I could navigate the buses with ease. 

How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics and extracurriculars, both before leaving and upon your return?

My study abroad experience was a catalyst for an independent study on Chilean political iconography during the Allende Presidency that I conducted during my senior year at Bowdoin. As a teaching minor, my experience in Chile also peaked my interest in volunteering in an English Language Learning classroom at a Portland elementary school. Finally, my study abroad experience was a huge factor in my decision to apply for a fellowship to be an English T.A. at a Costa Rican university in the Spring of 2013. 

What do you believe was the value of study abroad for you academically and personally? 

It was the first time I was really able to step back and gain a new perspective on the U.S. I never realized before how HUGE the U.S. is, and certainly had never thought as critically about the culture and political environment that I had grown up in. My study abroad experience taught me to slow down, pursue adventure, to adopt an attitude of curiosity, and always try to connect with the people around you in conversation. 

Does international work or travel figure into any of your future plans?

Yes, I will be traveling abroad this summer and fall to Italy, first to lead biking tours in Tuscany for teens and then to work on a Tuscan farm for three months. In March of 2013, I will be going to Costa Rica on a Fellowship to be an English T.A. at a university there.