Meet Carmen Bollman

Program and Location:

Summer, Chile: Internship in Santiago; Santiago, Chile

Major/Minor:

Biochemistry

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Studying abroad has always opened doors for me for future job opportunities, and it is always fun. There is no better way to learn about yourself and other cultures than to submerge yourself in a new environment. Every time, I come home a different person as I learn so much that changes how I see myself in the world. As human beings, we connect with each other regardless of our differences, and I have always been pleasantly surprised with how many friendly people I meet all around the world. Every time I felt uncomfortable or even lost, there was always someone willing to lend a hand. Even if we do not speak the same language, we all know what it feels like to be lost. If you are on the fence about it, this is your sign to jump in. You might be uncomfortable and a little nervous, but once you go you will just want to keep going.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I really love meeting locals and interacting with different cultures. We did not always understand each other, but we could still laugh and share food and gestures. I learned how to ask for help when I really needed it, as I got lost a lot. However, everyone was very kind and would give me maps or point in me in the right direction. It was humbling to admit I did not know what I was doing, but it has helped me be more comfortable with asking for help in my personal life too. Most of all, I learned I am a lot more flexible than I give myself credit for. When things did not go as planned, I found out I am actually a great problem solver. I have learned how to think on my feet, which helps me a lot in my fast-paced job in health care.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

Without a doubt, meeting all my new coworkers. They were so kind and understanding as I asked a thousand questions and learned the routine. I learned so much from them about the medical field, and I gained some incredible experience from helping them with various projects. I worked in a children’s cancer hospital and rehabilitation center, and it was confusing some days as there were so many hallways. I loved the fast-paced jobs I had, and my coworkers made it so much fun as they taught me how to not take myself so seriously. When I made a mistake, they taught me how to laugh it off and try again. They really made my experience worth it.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

Do it. Never say no. If a new friend asks you to hang out, do it. I know you might feel like hiding out in your apartment, but just jump in and try everything. Do not be so worried if you do not speak the language perfectly. Learn a few phrases, and just try. Locals are really nice and will try to help you learn about their culture and their language if you show a true interest. Most of all, do not take yourself so seriously. You will make silly mistakes, but those can make the best stories. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control your reactions.

Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?

The biggest surprise I had came from working in the hospital with all the kids. I have never worked with children nor really been around young kids a lot. I was nervous I would mess up a lot, but I learned that kids are so forgiving. If I made a silly mistake, the kids were quick to forgive me and laugh it off. They taught me to enjoy life for what it is and not look too hard at the messy parts. I distinctly remember helping this one little girl with an exercise she was struggling with. We had to take our shoes off and I had a huge hole in my sock. I was embarrassed, but she laughed and said, “It’s okay! That happens to me sometimes too. At least it wasn’t your favorite socks!” Her carefree attitude made me laugh and we continued with her exercise. Working with kids is actually really fun and rewarding, and I would definitely consider doing it again.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

People would ask me what brought me to Chile, and my story was always so interesting to them because it was so different from everyone else’s. I am the first person in my family to pursue a career in STEM, go to Europe, go to South America and I will be the first person to ever earn the title “Dr.” My identity stems from the way I was raised, and I learned to celebrate my differences as they made me who I am.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

It is a little scary to be the only one who seems different, but don’t let that stop you from doing something incredible. Your differences make you into something amazing and you have every right to explore the world however you want to. Take a breath and take the dive, you will regret it if you don’t.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

I would ask questions to my friends or coworkers if I was faced with something I did not understand. My family supports my independent lifestyle, but they also root me on when I need it. I would call my Mum and tell her about everything I was doing as she would always get so excited and it would remind me that I was doing something incredible. I was the one doing all this, and it was really cool.

Would you do it again?

100% yes.

This post was originally published in Study Abroad.