People: Ashley Gray

January 05, 2004|EMILY BURTON

Ashley Gray recently found out through first-hand experience that she doesn't quite like the South American soup of onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes soaked in a vinegar sauce. That and rice at every meal get old after a few months.

Gray, a member of the University of Louisville Honor Society, participated in an exchange program through school that took her to the city of Valparaiso, Chile, where she lived with a host family for five months. During that time, she studied at the Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso and lived the life of a Chilean student.

Gray financed the trip with a scholarship through the State Department, a financial aid scholarship through the university, and through work.

Ironically, she worked on campus at the International Center, a resource center for foreign students and students planning on traveling abroad. She prepared for the semester abroad by studying her surrogate home.


"I read up on their history. I mainly did research on their political history and relations with the U.S."

Safety was the main issue, said Gray. "I had been abroad before, to Mexico and Panama, so that kind of prepared me for it."

Gray said she learned some basic safety tips to follow in South America.

A current travel advisory on the State Department's Web site warns travelers of crime in Chile. "Outside Santiago, robberies and assaults have occurred most frequently in the Vina del Mar and Valparaiso areas, which become increasingly crowded during the height of the Chilean summer season (December through March)."

"As far as safety goes, I learned to avoid being out too late, always try to be with another person, use the buddy system," said Gray. She confided that keeping safe is just a matter of " .. not (letting) yourself be vulnerable, then you open yourself to being victimized."

Gray stayed with the Soto family in central Chile and absorbed a multitude of cultural differences, including the unique Spanish dialect.

"I took Spanish and French 1-4 at Danville (High School)," said Gray, "But their language is a little different than Mexican Spanish, so that was hard to grasp ... Before, my written Spanish was pretty good, but now I am much more confident speaking it."

Even while speaking a foreign language, Gray found the university students in Chile were similar to those at home, though the Universidad did not look like its American counterpart.

"There's not really a campus, there's just a classroom. Students don't live on campus very often," she said.

When it was finally time to embark on the lengthy plane ride home, Gray was ready to celebrate her homecoming with her family.

"It was so special, because it was my 21st birthday, and it was planned perfectly. It was like it was meant to be," she said.

Now with her Universidad credits transferred back to UofL, Gray says her experiences in Chile were uniquely beautiful, and well worth it.

"We went to a popular beach and saw penguins and a whale in the ocean. They were beautiful in their natural habitat," said Gray. "I would say it's well worth everything to go. Don't let anything set you back."

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