Santiago and Patagonia: A Life Changing Ten Days by Carrie Zamonski, Environmental Resource Management Major


Posted: June 27, 2019

The cities, landscapes, and people of South America became an outdoor classroom of engaging lessons that could never be fully grasped on campus.
We took a ferry ride to an island off of Punta Areanas where nesting Magellanic penguins were currently living!

We took a ferry ride to an island off of Punta Areanas where nesting Magellanic penguins were currently living!

Over winter break, I traveled with my Environmental Resource Management 499 Sustainability and Natural Resources to Santiago and the Patagonia Region of Chile. Traveling to Chile was more than just a fun and rewarding experience. The cities, landscapes, and people of South America became an outdoor classroom of engaging lessons that could never be fully grasped on campus. Immersing myself in a foreign culture pushed me out of my comfort zone and ultimately enhanced my academic studies and life lessons.

Before traveling to Chile, my classmates and I met weekly to discuss the different activities we were going to experience in South America. However, it was actually living through the experiences that enriched my mind and my views on certain topics began to change. One of the first cultural shocks of the trip was that few locals spoke English. I really had to try to understand what people were communicating. I realized how many people feel when they visit America and they try to speak English as a second language. Many Americans get annoyed when visitors cannot speak English, but here I was in the same situation yearning for understanding from the locals. Chile taught me new communication skills. I had to be patient and I learned to appreciate the diverse backgrounds of other people - something I could never understand in the middle of Pennsylvania.

South America was also filled with lessons about my major, Environmental Resource Management, and my minors, Marine Science and Watersheds and Water Resources. Before Chile, I found it difficult to grasp that places with spectacular, outdoor landscapes could have issues with pollution and water runoff control. Physically traveling to Chile showed me how geographically vast and different the country was. The rolling mountains found near Santiago varied greatly from the geographically young and jagged granite mountains of Patagonia. I did not comprehend that people living near Santiago had to live with rivers completely polluted and uninhabitable for aquatic organisms. Traveling to Chile taught me that the dense populations in the middle of the country lacked the resources to be taught about environmental issues such as stormwater runoff. There were many similar moments I had like this on the trip. Connections between concepts were made in my head by seeing everything in person.

The biggest impact and educational experience of traveling to South America was the appreciation I gained for nature and ultimately the major I am studying. I knew Patagonia was going to be filled with amazing and breathtaking views, but I was not prepared for the emotions the land made me feel. I vividly recall sitting alone on the back of a boat on the Serrano River. I quietly sat and peered into the abyss of mountains and clear, blue water that unfolded behind the boat. I felt at peace and so miniscule compared to the grander scheme of the land. In that moment, I experienced complete awe of the world and everything nature has to offer. I felt connected to the environment in ways that I have never felt before. I learned to deeply appreciate this Earth and all it has to offer me.

While the expanse of mountains, waterfalls, and fjords along the river taught me I am just a small person in a huge world, trekking the trails in La Campana and Torres del Paine taught me I can have a huge impact on the environment. My hiking boots have the power to step off the trail and stomp on plants and microspecies, killing them in my path. Leaving trash along the trail could mean pollution in the streams or unnaturally attracting animals to the paths. Being in Torres del Paine taught me that humans truly have an impact on our environment. This was a lesson that made me love the planet even more, caused me to want to become an advocate for protecting nature, assured me I was passionate about the major I am studying, and instilled in me the confidence to pursue outdoor activities.

My experiences in Chile and Patagonia were truly indescribable. The knowledge, skills, and confidence I learned from navigating the streets of Santiago and trekking the trails in Patagonia will definitely be translated into my future career. The people and places of Chile left an impact on my life that I could not have gained without being there. I was able to learn lessons from people of a different culture and I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for the natural world and my own major. I am extremely thankful for my time in Chile and still ponder on the lessons I learned there. I look forward to taking the knowledge and experience I learned from visiting South America and apply those to the rest of my academic career and life.