Our Stories

Torey Jovick: Opening to the World

Torey Jovick '06 lived in Chile for a year to learn Spanish. She not only came away with language skills, she gained a new world perspective.

"I was determined to learn Spanish while I was in Chile," says the Willamette University senior Spanish major. "I knew a five-month study abroad wasn't going to be long enough. I wanted to learn the language and get into the culture. My goal was to live in Chile, not just be a tourist."

When she left Willamette for South America last July, the naturally outgoing Jovick didn't anticipate how challenging it would be to live in a foreign culture. "My first semester at Pontificia Universidad Católicia de Valparaíso­ [Catholic University] was exhausting; one of the most difficult things I've ever done. There were so many cultural differences; the language barrier was hard; even getting around on the busses was tough. There were times I wondered if I was going to get through it."

She lived with four different host families. None of them spoke English. "It was Spanish 24/7. I often didn't know what was being said. I felt lost and out of place."

University classes, all taught in Spanish, were a challenge, but the two-hour afternoon family dinners were worse. "Imagine sitting around a table for two hours trying to understand what's going on. In class, the language was slower, more methodical. In the family conversation around the table, there was a lot of slang and back and forth talk. The family meal is a big part of Chilean culture and I had to be patient, sit back and try to learn."

Even the style of Spanish spoken in Chile proved difficult. "Chileans use all kinds of slang; they talk really fast and they don't pronounce their d's and s's. It can be really hard to understand. I had to learn to tune my ear to it."

Language wasn't the only challenge Jovick faced. The blond, blue-eyed senior stood out from the crowd; something that made her uncomfortable. "It's obvious I'm not Chilean. Walking out the door and having people stare at me was a battle I faced every day. It was hard to always be the one being looked at. I felt like I had to be on all the time. " Sometimes men on the street would make rude comments. "I'd keep my head down and keep walking."

During her most difficult times in Chile, Jovick found solace talking with her host family and friends, especially other foreign exchange students. She also wrote in her blog, the on-line journal available to every Willamette University study-abroad student. "The blog was wonderful. It was an opportunity to write about what was happening. It helped me put things in perspective."

In addition to taking classes at the university, Jovick volunteered at orphanages. "Community service as always been important to me and I wanted to continue doing that in Chile. It allowed me to explore a whole other part of the culture."

Two days a week, Jovick traveled by bus to orphanages where she taught recreation classes. She also spent time every week at a children's hospital. "The orphanages lack resources for toys or supplies to keep the children occupied. The boys' orphanage had this little backyard patio with no grass, just dirt. They had goal post-type things with no nets. They didn't even have a soccer ball."

Jovick used her creativity to invent games and other organized activities for the children. "The children really looked forward to my visits. Even though it was a challenge, it was a good experience for me too."

By the end of the first semester, Jovick felt more comfortable with the language and more acclimated to the culture. She packed a knapsack and by bus for two weeks explored the deserts of northern Chile. "I hadn't planned to go alone, but wanted to see more of Chile. In some ways, it was a lonely time. In other ways, it was wonderful. Traveling alone for two weeks forces you to talk with people. By then, my Spanish was good enough that I could communicate and people were really friendly and helpful."

She spent the summer with another host family on a dairy farm in southern Chile. It provided a view of rural Chilean life and another opportunity for community service.

She worked in the community's city building with the mayor and his staff conducting surveys of families living on the outskirts of town. It was here she encountered Chile's poorest of the poor. "You can't imagine the poverty there. They live in shacks with tin roofs. They are so poorly educated that they don't even have the desire to improve their condition. Every once in a while, in all this poverty, you'd see television in one of the homes. It was weird."

Jovick's second semester at the South American university was vastly different and much better than her first. "By then, I knew the university system and what to expect from the culture. My Spanish was pretty good. I'd met friends and we'd go out to dinner and hang out. I made some really great Chilean friends."

Now that's she's returned to Willamette, Jovick is volunteering with the Oregon District Attorney's Office as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and juvenile crimes. She uses her now-polished Spanish skills to help Spanish-speaking clients. "Can you imagine what it would be like to be in another country and have to go through the court process without understanding what is going on?" she asks. Jovick, who is planning on living in another Spanish-speaking country next year, adds, "It's great to be able to use my Spanish skills to help people.

In the future, Jovick plans to attend graduate school or law school to study international law and international relations. "This experience has taught me so much. It's made me value relationships more, especially family. It's also taught me that the United States isn't the center of the world. There's a whole world out there waiting for me."