By Starrla Cray
DELANO, LORETTO, MN Even before she picked a college, 2010 Delano High School graduate Molly Hutchins had her heart set on studying abroad.
“I knew that this was something I wanted to do, and it was one of my top priorities for choosing a college,” noted Hutchins, a junior at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.
Before graduating, nearly 60 percent of students at the College of Saint Benedict participate in a study abroad program.
Hutchins, the daughter of Larry and Shelley Hutchins of Loretto, is currently in Viña del Mar, Chile, and will be returning home mid-December.
“It has been incredible to live in another country; it is so different than traveling for a short period of time,” noted Hutchins, who also spent five weeks vacationing in Spain during high school.
Communicating with Chilean natives was one learning opportunity Hutchins readily accepted.
“Although I had taken Spanish classes in high school and college, listening to the language in the real world is very different,” she said. “Not only this, but Chile has the fastest Spanish in the world, which made it even more challenging.”
After awhile, though, Hutchins grew more comfortable, and even began to get compliments on her Spanish.
“One of my most exciting moments, where I finally felt confident in both my city and language skills, was when a Chilean family asked me for directions and I successfully was able to tell them,” Hutchins said, adding that she’s gotten to know the city, which has about 400,000 people, very well.
To get to her classes at Universidad Adolfo Ibañez in Santiago, Hutchins rides a subway system called the Metro.
“I only have class three days a week, and I hardly have any homework,” Hutchins said. “My days here have been extremely relaxed.”
With the warm weather lately, Hutchins has been swimming in the ocean before class.
“Because we are in the southern hemisphere, we are approaching the beginning of summer,” she said.
When Hutchins first arrived in Chile the end of July, however, the weather was quite cold.
“Coming from the summer in Minnesota, the cold here was quite a surprise on my system,” Hutchins said. “What made it even more difficult was that they do not have heat here, so coming into the house from being outdoors, the chill never left your body.”
Another adjustment was the food, which Hutchins describes as “very bland.”
“In my [Chilean host] family, we eat a ton of vegetables, rice, and bread,” she noted. “Fresh baked bread is eaten with every meal, and they eat a lot of it.”
Closeness in Chile
Hutchins’ host family has both a mother and father, which she said is somewhat rare in Chile, because many couples are separated or not married. The family also includes a brother who is her age, and a 26-year-old sister who teaches English in a Chilean immersion school.
“I have become very close to my whole family, but particularly close to my brother, Juanfra. Throughout my time in Chile, he has helped me with my Spanish and I have helped him with his English. He definitely is the brother I never had,” noted Hutchins, who has two sisters in the US Katie and Abbey.
In Chile, Hutchins has also become close to the children at an orphanage she volunteers at twice a week.
“It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of the entire trip,” she said.
Being in a foreign country has helped Hutchins become more aware of the good parts of home, as well.
“I appreciate what I have so much more, and in particular, I appreciate the security we have in Delano and Minnesota,” she said. “In Chile, you cannot leave anything for a short period of time or it will get stolen.”
When Hutchins first landed in Chile, she remembers being nervous and overwhelmed.
“I immediately was stared at from every direction, as I was the only blonde girl in the entire airport,” she recalled.
Fortunately, her nervousness quickly gave way to excitement as she got to know the area. On her long weekends, Hutchins has time to explore other parts of the country, such as visiting the Atacama Desert; traveling to Mendoza, Argentina; going horseback riding on the beach and sand dunes, swimming in natural hot springs in Pucon, Chile; and participating in Chile’s independence celebration Fiestas Patrias.
“I would highly recommend studying abroad to every student,” Hutchins noted. “It is one of the only times in your life, before you enter the real world, that you have this chance to become more independent and learn more about yourself and the world.”