Newsletter Article

Chile Exploration Seminar

“Nothing could replicate the experience of exploring, learning, and interacting with a culture different from my own. In Chile, I was experiencing different customs that at times reminded me how far I was from my home.” – Allison Lamb (History major)

Image of Taylor Wise with pie on his face
Psych Major Taylor Wise

Those "different customs" hit at least one student right in the face on his first night in Santiago, Chile. Psychology major Taylor Wise was treated to a special 20th birthday celebration that kicked off the Chile Exploration Seminar in August of 2008—complete with an assisted face plant in the birthday cake! Taylor and 17 other UW undergraduates had just traveled over 15 hours and crossed two seasons—but surprisingly only one time zone—to begin a four-week study of the public and mental health systems of Chile.

Having grown from five programs in 2003 to over 40 in 2008, Exploration Seminars—perhaps more than any other study abroad opportunity—give increasing numbers of UW students the chance to get out into the world. These two-to four-week international study programs allow students to explore important and emerging questions in locations where these issues are most relevant. Though he was originally nervous about making the leap from the classroom to a far off field experience, Psychology Associate Professor Jaime Olavarria is now sold on the idea. “I started the seminar a bit afraid, not knowing how it would turn out,” he remembers. “It ended up being a memorable experience that has left me very enthusiastic about study abroad programs and with plans to continue organizing them. It was especially enjoyable interacting with students beyond what on-campus teaching typically affords, and I feel I have made long-lasting friendships.”

Image of ChiliWith a focus on how profound political changes and recent health reform initiatives are reshaping public and mental health care delivery in Chile, Professor Olavarria brought together top physicians, educators, and national policy makers to work with the UW students. Tours of medical facilities and the ability to interact directly with patients and health care providers gave students a hands-on experience that exceeded their best hopes. Geography major Marijke Schwarz Smith explains, “The most poignant and memorable experience was during our hospital tour in Santiago. The direct patient access was something we would never have had in the States without attending medical school.”

Traveling from the nation’s capital and principle urban center of Santiago to the southern lakes region and the cities of Villarrica and Puerto Montt, Professor Olavarria and his students had the opportunity to compare public health services in urban and remote areas, as well as in wealthy and poorer communities. Psychology and political science major Brandon Greger fondly recalls his favorite professor/tour guide, “You could always tell that Jaime was having a blast showing us his home country. His energy was clear to the students and it certainly made our experience all the more powerful and enjoyable. He was the right man for the job!”

Image group that went to ChiliThe group selected by Professor Olavarria to embark on the first psychology focused Exploration Seminar was also just right for the job. Students majoring in such fields as psychology, biology, Latin American studies, public health, and chemical engineering came together to work hard. Novice travelers and globetrotters alike summoned their spirit of adventure to explore a country rich in culture and natural beauty. Young people from diverse backgrounds made lasting friendships… and, made each other laugh. Brandon Greger perhaps best sums up the experience, “Real life is just about as good a teacher as it gets, and you never learn more than when you’re with a smart group of good people who care about something.”