At the beginning of the fall semester, we asked student Luke Stover to share with us his initial impressions of the program. We checked back in with Luke as the semester came to a close to see how his thoughts and opinions had changed. Here are his first and final impressions of SFS Chile:
First Impressions of Chile
Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I was looking for a program abroad where I could integrate an environmental program along with having language incorporated somewhere in there. I had previously been to Peru last summer and I wanted to be in a Spanish speaking country to learn more about the ecosystem and the many issues that it struggles with today. SFS met both those and more when I found out that they were having an inaugural program in Patagonia. Without much more thought, I applied and found myself along with 22 other students to be the first SFS group to adventure down to the end of the world. I also love the outdoors and being able to explore the world and make many new memories is something I always strive to find. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, so any mountain range has a very special meaning to me because I always went hiking and exploring with friends any free chance I got. Coming to Patagonia to see the huge Andes was a large contributor to one of the reasons I wanted to come on this specific program.
Taking a double rainbow to a whole new level on Dorotea Mountain
What are your first impressions of the Center?
The center is in the middle of a small town called Puerto Natales which has all kinds of coffee shops, markets, and outdoor outfitters all around. The now center was once a hostel here in the city for many travelers. Our center here is a very small and cozy one. You get to live, eat, and have class all in the same building, which is not usually the case at the other centers. It’s starting to feel like home though. The warm smiles of the staff here, along with seeing your 22 other classmates basically 24/7 (so alone time to recharge is very key) really makes it a fun and interesting time. The crazy colorful couches, the constant dart board competitions, and the early morning jams are something I will not forget.
Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Eager, optimistic, drained.
What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester, both academically and culturally?
As this is the first time any of these expeditions will have been done by SFS students, it makes for very interesting story. This is the most ambitious and travel-driven program that SFS offers, and I get to be the guinea pig of the first group. You only get to spend 1/3 of the time here at the center, the rest is traveling or direct research. This along with taking 18 credit hours is the biggest challenge that I am facing and trying to find a way to balance all the traveling with trying to focus on academics and learning about the area. I love the Latin America culture, and even though Peru and Chile are neighbors it is very different, especially in the Patagonian area. Another one of my goals here is to challenge my Spanish skills and to grow even more. The accent here is very hard to understand and Chileans are very quick speakers. So, when trying to understand the culture and listen to the history of this area can sometimes be a difficult challenge.
Listening to the crashing waves from the southernmost tip of South America, Cape Horn
What are you looking forward to the most about the program?
There is so much to look forward to this semester with all the adventures, though I think I am looking forward to seeing all the different glaciers from all over the region. We have already been on one expedition where we had the chance to experience a glacier named Glacier Pía in its vast beauty along with four others as our cruise boat went by them. Learning about the region and how it was once all covered with ice fields and glaciers makes it even more interesting to be able to experience these huge giants in person with your very own eyes.
Glacier Pía from the views of the zodiac boats
How do you define the term ‘wilderness’, and what does it mean to you?
Our professor had asked us this question on our first FEX (field expedition) and it made us all contemplate what we really thought of the term wilderness. I’ve come the realization that for me I define wilderness as: a place (either mentally or physically) where I can get lost in from the busy agendas of the world we live in. For me, this can take many forms from hanging my feet off the side of a mountain deep inside the Appalachian mountains, reading a book in my hammock tied up in a tree at the local park, or simply opening a window in the middle of the city and taking a huge deep breath of fresh air.
What is our global responsibility as individuals on this earth, and why does it matter?
I think that the responsibility that we all hold as individuals is to treat the earth, others, and basically anything else, to a common standard of love and respect. Everyone’s walk of life is going to be different, so saying that, everyone’s perceptive is going to be different. We all have many kinds of lenses we use to look at the world through, so we are all going to have different ideas of what it’s supposed to look like. Do something that is impactful to this earth in sort of way – whatever that might look like to you. Remember, progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. The earth is what we all have in common and we need to treat it like that.
Final Impressions of Chile
What’s the first story you’re going to tell your friends and family?
For our midsemester break all the students were able to travel independently to somewhere of their liking, and the group I went with traveled to El Chalten and Torres del Paine (the national park here in Chile). Here we hiked some of the most popular routes including El Fitz Roy which is the mountain range that the Patagonia brand is mirrored after. Next, we camped in tents in TDP and made our way to the base of the towers which is why most travelers come to Patagonia – to get a glimpse of these 3 beautiful rock structures. I did this hike twice, and the second time was done at 4:30am in order to get to the base in time for sunset. The entire trip was supposed to be a ‘break’ when in reality it was some of the hardest hikes, and least amount of sleep I got the entire program. Though, I wouldn’t have done anything different because this is what you are here to do – to hike and adventure the stunning landscapes of Patagonia.
Expectations vs reality: What were you surprised by?
Expectation: You think it’s going to be absolutely freezing and you’ll be living in ice fields and on tops of mountains.
Reality: It’s honestly not as cold as you think it will be living at the end of South America and you live in a charming pocket-size touristy town.
How has your perspective of the country changed over the course of the semester?
That the people here really fight for the things they love. They are passionate, caring, and driven for the change they want to see in the country. The way of life is a bit different from the normal day-to-day life I live back in North Carolina, though different doesn’t mean it’s bad. This country has made a home in my heart and will always be in the stories I tell and the friends I’ve made.
What unexpected challenge did you face, were you able to overcome it, and what did you learn from that experience?
That there is a limited amount of sunlight in the center with only a few windows. It takes some getting used to throughout the semester since there is so much time spent out in the field and traveling. Being inside all day really takes a toll on your mental health so it’s important to do things you love and make relationships with the people here (both staff and students).
How have aspects of your identity influenced your experience studying with SFS? Did any of those surprise you? Has your experience with SFS influenced your identity?
Living in dorm style rooms helps create strong bonds with other people and understanding how to flexible and kind. Plus since we are always around each other at all times (both traveling and at the center) helps you understand how to navigate social dynamics. I now have a better knowledge of how to live more simply and be able to make a stressful situation fun.
What are you most excited about doing when you get back home, and what will you miss about SFS?
I am going to be very excited to finish up my last semester as a senior when I return to my home institution. This semester has flown by quicker than expected and I am honestly quite sad to return to the states. I am going to miss the constant field work and classroom time spent outside of the actual classroom. I love being able to learn about the ecosystem and then be able to spend time in it. A full circle.
What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?
You shouldn’t pack as many cold items of clothing… It’s honestly the wind that gets you. Pack light and be conscious of what you are bringing because more often than not you wear most of the same items.
Now that Directed Research (DR) is over, how would you say that it went?
Directed Research was probably some of the coolest time spent here in Patagonia, and very different from the rest of the program. It’s the most free time you have all semester and can focus all your energy into one project instead of splitting it four ways for your classes. This helps students (including myself) prepare for undergraduate research or graduate school. The idea of having your professors that you’ve been working with all semester and making one of them your advisor for your project is such a great idea. They help you find a topic of study, research question, and help you analyze and sort the data you collected. The rest is up to you; paper, presentation, and how much work you want to put into the project.
What kind of advice would you share with a future SFS student wanting to come to SFS Patagonia?
If you like traveling, mountains, remote areas, lots of wind, and Spanish then this is the program for you.
What three adjectives best describe how you are feeling right now?
Completed, Persistent, and Adventurous
El Fitz Roy mountain range, which we hiked for our mid-semester break
Searching through macroinvertebrates on our Directed Research project
Sunrise hike next to Torres del Paine on our week collecting data in Patagonia Bagual