Mel in Chile: Almost Done Packing

Hi all! My name is Mel and I am a junior at the University of Richmond. I was born and grew up in Albania but moved to the US about eleven years ago. As I finish packing my suitcase for tomorrow’s flight, I would like to share with you a bit about myself and my plans for this coming semester.

At UR I am a Business Administration major with a concentration in International Business and an Economics minor. My main interests revolve around socioeconomic rural development in Latin America and human trafficking in the region. This past summer I had the great opportunity to work in the Dominican Republic on micro-finance initiatives focused on Haitian workers in sugar-cane communities. These migrant populations are some of the most vulnerable communities in the Dominican Republic, and hopefully I will be going back next summer to continue working on these issues.

For now, I am moving to Chile’s capital city Santiago for the SIT Political Systems and Economic Development in Chile program. During the next four months, I will join fourteen other students to explore the social, political, and economic dynamics that have shaped Chile since the early 1970s. SIT programs are a fantastic twist on a traditional  study abroad program.  On the SIT program we will live with a host-family in Santiago, take classes at the University of Santiago, go on several academic excursions around Chile to add a practical component to our courses, live for a week with a Mapuche indigenous host family to learn about the situation of indigenous peoples in Chile, and do a one-month independent research project at the end of our program.  This month-long research component is what makes SIT programs especially unique.

I am particularly excited about the opportunity to learn about Mapuche groups and their political participation in the Chilean society. Through our program, we will establish a dialogue with Mapuche leaders to explore how these communities interact with the neoliberal political and economic dynamics that surround them. Our group will also be visiting Chile’s biggest mine, and both experiences will, I hope, allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the marginalization of the indigenous population. Since we have the opportunity to run a one-month independent research project at the end of our program, I am already thinking about exploring in depth these indigenous/mining relationships that shape part of Chile’s rural life.

Blogging about and sharing my experiences with you will be definitely fun! I now need to get some sleep before my long journey tomorrow. I feel as if I have been preparing for this particular program for at least a year, and I honestly cannot describe how much I look forward to settling in Chile! I will surely keep you updated, so come back in a week to read more!

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