Santiago alumni series: How an experience abroad led to unexpected opportunities for Erin Aucar

Author: Erin Aucar


Erin Aucar '16 currently works for Notre Dame's Meruelo Family Center for Career Development in Washington, DC. She writes about her study abroad experience in Santiago and how it changed the path of her career.

Working for Notre Dame was never part of my plan. However, if there is one thing I remember taking away from my study abroad experience, it’s that getting out of your comfort zone and being open to unexpected opportunities can be a good thing. When I saw that Notre Dame was hiring for a new position in Washington, DC where I would get to mentor students, use my outreach and networking skills, and be able to work from one of my favorite cities, I was so excited!

Thus, as of March 2020 I began working for Notre Dame’s Meruelo Family Center for Career Development as the DC Regional Engagement Manager, tasked with engaging employers and alumni in the DMV to identify job and internship opportunities for students across all industry interests. I originally graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 with a degree in Political Science with minors in Business Economics and Peace Studies. Now, in addition to my work for Notre Dame, I am in the final semester of my Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship with a focus on Education.

I knew that studying abroad in Chile would be a significant experience for me at the time, but it’s easier to trace its influence in retrospect. Learning about the complex history of education policy in Chile piqued my interest in education while also solidifying my love for Latin American culture.

When I returned to campus, I continued to move forward with my pre-law plans by applying to dozens of paralegal jobs and taking the LSAT. However, when I saw an open position for a recruitment coordinator at a nonprofit (Amigos de las Americas) that focused on experiential learning programs in Latin America, I embraced the uncertainty that came with this change of plans. In this role, I talked about my study abroad experience on a weekly basis, telling students in Spanish classes around the U.S. that I wish someone had told me about AMIGOS when I was in high school because studying abroad was such an amazing experience, but I didn’t get to do something like that until I was a junior in college.

One of my biggest motivators for studying in Chile was the opportunity to truly learn to speak Spanish. I was worried when I came home that I would lose it all. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to go to Mexico twice and spend a summer in Nicaragua while working for AMIGOS. On my own, I also got to travel to Cuba and walk the Camino in Spain. When I was on those adventures, it was hard not to reminisce appreciatively about my days struggling to communicate with my host family in Santiago. Now I had concrete proof of how valuable that struggle ended up being in the long run.

While working for AMIGOS, I came to realize that there was a whole field of international education that involved professional design, management, and evaluation of cross-cultural learning. Knowing that I could combine my interest in education with my interest in international relations, I decided to forgo my law career plans and enroll in the M.A. Social Entrepreneurship program focusing on international education. Just when I finally had a new plan in place, this job with Notre Dame came knocking. I may not be working in international education per se, but the opportunity to serve my alma mater and learn about higher education is still really exciting for me.

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Erin is pictured with her Santiago fall 2014 study abroad cohort.

I am grateful that I get to work for Notre Dame while still being in DC because approximately one third of the fall 2014 study abroad cohort now lives in DC. Like many study abroad groups, we were a fairly random mix of students going into the start of the program. While we may not talk on a daily basis now, we have continued to be there for one another and build meaningful memories. Socially, while we were still on campus, we celebrated dieciocho with cheap imitations of terremotos and lots and lots of palta. Professionally, I had the chance to work alongside, and even hire, one of these friends who became involved in AMIGOS with me. Emotionally, we were there for one another when we got the tragic news that one of our own passed away unexpectedly in July. I think my entire cohort would agree that losing Bridget was a difficult reminder to treasure the adventures we had in Chile because not everyone is as blessed to have such an experience and we never know how much time we have on this earth.

Simply put, study abroad was one of those formative experiences you never quite forget. I can’t believe it has been six years since my time in Santiago. I still have that travel bug, better-than-nothing Spanish skills, lifelong friends, and a folder of travel Google docs that has been shared with over 70 students since then.

iViva Chile!

Learn more about program opportunities in Santiago, Chile

Originally published by Erin Aucar at on August 24, 2020.