My Summer of Research in Santiago, Chile: The Beginning

Author: Maddie Hahn

Here I am. Sitting at the kitchen counter of my one bedroom apartment in the heart of Santiago, Chile. As I look around at my mini coffee table and glance out the windows facing the crowded streets, the reality of the situation just begins to hit me. How did I get here? I guess I should back up a little bit.


Overlooking Santiago at the top of Cerro San Cristobal during my semester abroad in Chile

During the fall of 2014, I spent my first semester of junior year in Santiago, Chile through the Notre Dame study abroad program. For six months, I lived with a host family, took classes as a foreign exchange student at one of South America’s top universities, traveled, and made great Chilean friends. I could go on forever about the amazing experience that study abroad was for me. However, one of my favorite aspects of my time in Chile was the work I did as a teacher’s aide in an English class at a Chilean high school in one of Santiago’s high poverty neighborhoods. This experience in the classroom and with the students was not only rewarding and enjoyable, but also piqued my interest in the learning and teaching of English as a second language, which is why I am back in Santiago for five weeks this summer.

When I returned to campus in the spring of 2015, I sought ways to continue pursuing my interest in English as a second language (ESL). I enrolled in a class on Second Language Acquisition and began learning more about ESL teaching methodologies as well as other basics about essentially how second languages are learned. I was fascinated, and I began to look for ways beyond the classroom that would allow me to continue studying this topic. I knew I wanted to go back to Chile. I had fallen in love with the country after living there for six months, and I wanted to return to study ESL in the place where my passion had been born.


The first day of a five-day hiking trip through Chile’s Patagonia last November

I began looking into the research opportunities that exist for undergraduates at Notre Dame. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities – many of Notre Dame’s offices on campus offer grants to undergraduates to conduct research on a topic that interests them (just to name a few, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (ISLA), CUSE and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies). When I came across the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program offered through ISLA, I knew I had found an opportunity to pursue my interests in ESL through an independent research project.


At the top of Machu Picchu after a long weekend trip through Peru in October 2014

I asked the teacher of my Second Language Acquisition class to serve as my faculty advisor on this project. She readily agreed, and right away I began working closely under her guidance to create a research question, design a research methodology and craft my grant proposal. Along the way, I also received guidance from multiple professors in various departments. My Sociology professors assisted me in methodology design, and my Spanish professors helped me to translate many of my forms. Everywhere I turned, there were always Notre Dame professors not only willing to help me, but excited for me and very supportive. When I received the news that after all of my hard work, I had received full funding from ISLA to return to Chile and conduct my research, I was over the moon excited and very grateful for all of the faculty who had helped me to get to that point.

There are infinite ways at Notre Dame to discover your interests and pursue them, both in the classroom and beyond. Moreover, faculty are always willing to be excellent resources and sources of guidance. Notre Dame has a lot to offer students; it just is a matter of seeking out these opportunities, and going for them!


A few girls from our Notre Dame study abroad group during a four-day trip to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile

As I sit in my apartment, I am excited to begin my research. I will be interviewing Chilean university professors and Chilean high school English teachers regarding their classroom methodologies in the teaching of English as a second language. So stay tuned!  I will be providing updates through this blog as I navigate through my first ever independent research project, and along the way, I’ll be sure to highlight specific opportunities that exist at Notre Dame for undergraduates to pursue their interests beyond the classroom. Until then, ciao y nos vemos pronto!