Cristina Luevano '17 by the seaside

Had you talked to me fall semester of 2015, I would have told you exactly who I was, what I believed in and where I was going. If you ask me now, I’m not sure I could give a straight answer.

Cristina Luevano
Class of 2017

If you ever come to a point where you think you’ve determined who you are, please leave your routine.

Go someplace so far away that you’re forced to look at your life from an entirely different perspective. The truth is, you’ll never stop discovering who you are, and every experience you live through defines the person you want to become. This is what I’ve learned in my time studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile, spring semester. During the three months that I’ve been here, I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions: Joy, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, wonder, awkwardness and just downright happiness.

When I first arrived in Chile, I was immediately told everything would be easier for me because of my being Mexican; I grew up speaking Spanish and am fluent.

While the language barrier isn’t so much a problem for me, I have struggled in different ways. In the United States, I am a minority and have been labeled ‘Mexican’ all of my life. This allowed me in many ways to separate myself from the “White” community because society tells us we are different.

In Chile, however, I am a “gringa,” the term used to identify anyone from the United States, whether you’re of Latino, Asian or Caucasian descent. Every Chilean told me I wasn’t truly Mexican because I wasn’t born in Mexico, and this was something I’d never considered.

I was forced to look past my Mexican identity and I really began to understand how connected I am to people I previously didn’t think I was. I’ve come to realize that I don’t fully identify with my Mexican heritage because I’ve spent a majority of my life living in American society. I also don’t completely identify with being a ‘White American’ because I am very closely connected to my Mexican heritage, thanks to my parents.

Before coming here, I didn’t fully acknowledge how compelling both of these cultures are to me. Not only have these interactions with Chileans and the things I’ve done during my time abroad made me question who I thought I was and where I stand, but they have also exposed me to new ways of thinking.

These past few months have been filled with several new and “first” experiences. During my time in Chile, I’ve had both wallet and phone stolen, lost my house keys and somehow managed to completely dismantle my glasses.

I joined a martial arts gym and (kind of) learned how to box. I faced my fear of heights when I went zip-lining, and started appreciating extreme sports when I went water-rafting in Pucón and sandboarding in Concón. I’ve spent time with the Mapuche, one of the largest indigenous groups in Chile. I’ve trekked up the Andes and hung out with one of the world’s oldest living tree species, the Araucarias.

At Lollapalooza 2016 in Santiago, I witnessed the musician I consider to be the greatest rapper of all time, Eminem, perform live on March 19. It easily became one of the greatest nights in my life. I touched a living shark and attended my first national soccer game on May 27. I’ve even gotten kicked out of class for tardiness. I’ve become friends with some people I’d never thought I’d even get along with. Everything I’ve done has given me a different perspective on myself and my life in the States.

Had you talked to me fall semester of 2015, I would have told you exactly who I was, what I believed in and where I was going. If you ask me now, I’m not sure I could give a straight answer.

Maybe I don’t know who I really am, and that’s okay. I want my fellow Saints to never stop discovering who they are because at some point, I did. While I have loved the last three years at Saint Martin’s, this semester abroad has given me perspective on how to better myself and my community. This semester abroad has challenged me in ways I didn’t think was possible, and I’ve loved it so far.

Thank you to the IFSA-Butler Study Abroad Program and the “IFSA crew” for an amazing semester. Thank you to Saint Martin’s, Brenda Burns and the Institute of International Education (which awarded me the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship) for providing me the opportunity of an unbelievable semester abroad. I’m excited to return to the States and complete my degree, but first, I’m going to finish up this semester in Valparaíso with even more amazing experiences. 

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