My name is Emma Sullivan and I am from Springfield, Missouri. This semester I am completing an academic internship at an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Chile. My focus is street art and graffiti. These creative expressions often work to enable a political agenda or a sentiment of resistance and change. Naturally, my goal demands an intimate relationship with the city and the streets. To achieve this goal, I have been spending a lot of time walking and becoming familiar with the downtown and central neighborhoods in Santiago. My photography and understanding of the Spanish language has also become increasingly important.
Arriving to a place where I felt comfortable leaving and coming to Chile was very liberating and overdue. I felt trapped in expectancy and uncertainty for the majority of the summer. My university did not offer a study away program to Chile, and the research I wanted to accomplish for my undergraduate research thesis was so specific that it did not apply to typical study away program. With the help of a professor and her contacts in Santiago, I was able to find a department to support my research and the rest I planned myself! All this goes to say that if you have a dream or a passion, it is possible to accomplish it. I am currently staying in an Airbnb with a wonderful and kind host. I cook my own meals and plan my way through the city every day.
Before studying away, it is natural for students to have apprehensions with regard to the language, culture, and environment. There was a point in time where no one was responding to my emails about my arrival in Chile so I expected to arrive here and build a support system from scratch; however, when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find people who care about my well-being and safety, and an embassy that updates me during every political protest—which is often. All this goes to say that anxiety is very normal, but traveling alone and maintaining your independence is a very empowering experience and completely worth all of the planning.
The culture is very political in Chile because there was a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990 that heavily shaped their experiences and their political expression. The people were very repressed and their interactions with the government were not democratic. My interest is focused on the street art that has been used to vocalize a political and social experience. This is different from my experience in Springfield, and in the United States. We tend to be more private with our political beliefs and we do not typically integrate our political activism into street art. I love the visual dialogue the art creates even in my day-to-day life in the city.