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Finding home away from home: Student, professor connect in Santiago, Chile


Samantha Ornig

April 30, 2019

Ryen Cunningham ’19 and Prof. Matt Borden in Santiago, Chile.Ryen Cunningham ’19 and Prof. Matt Borden in Santiago, Chile.When modern language professor Matt Borden recently visited Santiago, Chile, to present at a conference, he made sure to visit with Carthage study abroad student Ryen Cunningham ’20.

Ryen, a Great Ideas major and communications and Spanish minor, is studying abroad in Santiago at the Universidad Adolfo Ibañez until July. She is taking Spanish-only classes with Chilean students and professors, working to perfect her Spanish-language skills. Her class schedule includes Social History of Afroamerican Music, Political Conflicts of Chile in the 20th Century, a journalism class titled Narration of Non-fiction, and a literary essay workshop.

“I hope to improve the proficiency of my Spanish,” Ryen said. “I love to travel, so this study abroad experience is more about being in a new place and learning about a different part of myself.”

Prof. Borden visited Ryen at her host family’s house, and the two explored Santiago and had dinner together at a local restaurant. Despite having only been in Chile for a short time, Prof. Borden said that Ryen is “already an expert” at riding the subway, something she was apprehensive about before arriving in Chile.

Ryen Cunningham ’20 with friends on the metro in Santiago, Chile.Ryen Cunningham ’20 with friends on the metro in Santiago, Chile.

“It was really nice to see him in Santiago because before I decided to study abroad, I told him that I was really considering it. He encouraged me to do it,” Ryen said. “Professor Borden said that it didn’t matter the place, but as long as I stayed with a host family, I was going to get the most out of my experience. I don’t think either of us had any idea that we would meet each other again at the ‘End of the World.’”

While modern language majors are required to study abroad as part of their program, those minoring in languages are not. Despite this, Ryen said she believes it’s important to travel while in college. Since her freshman year at Carthage, she has traveled to Guatemala on two J-Term study tours, and is now enjoying her study abroad experience in Chile.

Ryen Cunningham ’19 with friends in Santiago, Chile for study abroad.Ryen Cunningham ’19 with friends in Santiago, Chile for study abroad.

“Students in the U.S. are expected to attend school for approximately 16 years before stepping out of our educational bubble and experiencing the rest of the world and life,” she said. “I’m grateful to be able to travel while I’m in college so that I can live while studying, not study so that I can eventually live.”

During her study abroad, Ryen is living in an apartment in the Ñuñoa neighborhood in Santiago with her host mother, a retired professor, and her host sister, a professional photographer and editor. The family also has a cat named Ramona that Ryen loves to photograph.

Ryen Cunningham ’20 with her host family in Santiago, Chile.Ryen Cunningham ’20 with her host family in Santiago, Chile.

When she’s not in class, Ryen enjoys exploring Santiago’s various stores and bakeries; attending “asados” (barbecues) with Chilean and foreign exchange students; and trying Chilean cuisine, including mote con huesillo, a popular and refreshing Chilean beverage.

Ryen Cunningham ’19 and friends enjoy mote con huesillo.Ryen Cunningham ’19 and friends enjoy mote con huesillo.

Ryen has had the opportunity to attend several Chilean events, including an all-female photography exposition organized by her host sister, and the International Women’s Day March in Santiago. She has visited Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago’s second-highest peak; and La Moneda, the building where the Chilean presidents work. She recently traveled to Mendoza, Argentina, where she and her friends explored two wineries and ate at a restaurant that practices gastronomy.

Ryen Cunningham ’20 attended the Women's March in Santiago, Chile.Ryen Cunningham ’20 attended the Women's March in Santiago, Chile.

“I highly recommend going abroad over the course of one’s college career,” she said. “It gives students a chance to grow and see the world for what it is right now, instead of preparing for a world that we have not seen yet.”

On her J-Term study tours to Guatemala, she and the other students spent most of the month living with ex-guerillas who fought in the Guatemalan Civil War as teenagers. They also visited Antigua, Guatemala’s capital; Tikal, an ancient Mayan citadel; and other communities to compare and study economic stability, culture, and language.

Photos from Ryen Cunningham's ’20 J-Term in Guatemala.Photos from Ryen Cunningham's ’20 J-Term in Guatemala.

Ryen’s most memorable moments from Guatemala are of the times she spent with the people of Nuevo Horizonte.

“Because I had already completed the class the first time, I had a lot more time to walk around and talk to more people in Spanish during my second study tour. I spent most of my time in the kitchen laughing, having deep conversations, and exchanging recipes with the cooks. It was an unforgettable experience that I cherish deeply.

Ryen Cunningham ’20 in Guatemala for J-Term.Ryen Cunningham ’20 in Guatemala for J-Term.

“Through both trips to Guatemala, I made big advances in my language acquisition, cultural awareness, and adaptability,” she said. “The two trips really boosted my confidence and made improving my proficiency in the language and culture more introspective and personal instead of just an educational experience.”

If you’re a professor who’s visited a student on study abroad, or a student who has been visited by a professor during study abroad, we want to hear about it! Please email for a chance to be featured. 
Learn more about Carthage’s study abroad program
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