How picking up a guitar helped connect a study abroad storyteller to a new language

Author: Carmela D’Antuono

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The Study Abroad Storytellers program is an opportunity for current study abroad students to share their stories with prospective study abroad students. Though they may come from different backgrounds, colleges, and majors, they all share an enthusiasm to grow academically and personally from this life changing experience.

Carmela D’Antuono ‘24 writes about branching out of her comfort zone during her time abroad in Santiago.

I really didn’t know a ton about Chile when I arrived in the airport early July to a frigid breeze blowing through the airport doors. I had been especially preparing for this experience as Chilean Spanish is notoriously difficult. However, my first few encounters with Chileans put a dent in my confidence; I only understood 60% of what was spoken to me. I found myself questioning how I would survive in a huge city with everyone around me speaking Spanish, much less take 5 classes taught and tested in Spanish.

I hoped our pre-program would help. After arriving at the retreat house, in the mountains south of Santiago, we quickly got into a routine including daily mass and intensive language, history, culture, and health classes. One day, the evening activity was optional workshops: guitar lessons and strength training were among the options. I contemplated strength training, something familiar to me, but I had a feeling that if there was one time to pick up the guitar, it was deep in the mountains in South America.

The night of the first workshop came and I shocked myself at my guitar skills: I was able to play the first song, “Oh, Susana,” in about 20 minutes. I was hooked. I spent every single second of free time we had with a guitar in my hand; late at night in the shared living room soaking in every bit of guitar knowledge I could from everyone who had experience. “Hey Jude” quickly became stuck in our heads all the time because I would spend hours perfecting this song on the guitar. There was no stopping me, except the end of that part of the pre-program when my access to a guitar ended.

The pre-program quickly came to an end as we headed to Santiago, back to real life.

Our bus entered Santiago, the Capital city, and I immediately felt the tears rush to my eyes. I was completely overwhelmed. What was I thinking, how was a small-town girl going to live in a city? Much less a city where everyone is speaking a language different from my first language. What did I get myself into?

The bus stopped and I walked down the aisle to the door trying to control my emotions. Right outside the door of the bus stood the culture teacher from the pre-program, who taught the guitar lessons, smiling at me. I greeted him and he handed me the guitar I didn’t even realize he was holding. He told me it was a gift for being the best student he had ever had in a lifetime of practicing and teaching music. I immediately felt a sense of relief as he handed me the instrument that would serve as my stress relief for the rest of the semester. That green guitar has helped me to realize that I do belong here and yes, I can survive in a big city.

Learn more about the Study Abroad Storyteller program.

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Originally published by Carmela D’Antuono at on February 08, 2023.