When University of Minnesota student Andrew Somers selected Chile for his study abroad program, he didn’t realize he would be there for the worst natural disaster in the country’s recent history.
Somers is continuing his program with the Institute for the International Education of Students after a week of delays caused by disruptions in travel plans after the quake. The program operates out of the University of Chile, which needed two weeks to repair damages in Santiago, a city that still needs a lot of repairs, Somers said.
He was vacationing in southern Chile with his parents, a little more than a week before beginning the study abroad program, when the 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit off of the country’s coast.
Somers was one of four University of Minnesota students studying abroad during the earthquake, Stacey Tsantir, international health, safety and compliance coordinator at the Office of International Programs, said.
“People have been talking about it pretty much nonstop since it happened,” Sommers said. “Everywhere you turn there’s some group asking for money or volunteers.”
Death tolls in Chile are uncertain because of the large number of displaced people, but estimates generally range from 500-800 deaths.
“At about 3:30 in the morning I woke up to like kind of a rumbling sound,” Somers said, “as if I was in some sort of little shack next to a train going by.”
After the quake, Tsantir’s office scrambled to assure all University students were accounted for and safe.
“Whenever we hear about situations like this, we reach out to our students,” Tsantir said. Her office contacts students and program supervisors to assure student safety.
The students in Chile during the earthquake were not enrolled directly with the University but through partner programs. All four are continuing with their studies, Tsantir said.
Somers and his family were safe, but stranded due to the lck of power and functional highways, he said.
“It was really scary because I was not quite sure what was going to happen,” Somers said. “The whole time you could hear screams from people in the village.”
After exiting the building he was staying in, he watched the quake with his parents for what he said was about three or four minutes.
“The whole building was just swaying back and forth,” he said. “You could feel the wave movements of the Earth.”
Following the tremor, Somers and his parents focused their attention on relieving family and friends’ anxiety and on getting reliable information about what had happened.
“The next day there was a lot of just trying to figure out anything really, because there was no communication,” Somers said. “Later on in the afternoon, before we had gotten power back, we were able to find one radio station, and that’s when we got the first information — the first real information.”
Chile and Haiti
Somers is a junior with an individualized major in social justice and was drawn to Chile because of its interesting geography, diverse climate and rich political history, he said.
He was also inspired by a 2006 student movement for education rights, he said. Somers is a member of Students for a Democratic Society at the University.
Somers continually compared the earthquake in Chile with the one that occurred in Haiti weeks prior.
“Even if the death toll isn’t as high as it is in Haiti, it’s still really bad for the people of the country,” he said.
He points to different forms of U.S. involvement in each country as rationale for the disparate outcomes in Chile and Haiti after their earthquakes.
“[Haiti was] never able to prosper and never able to establish really strong infrastructure, unlike Chile, whose regime was supported by the United States and ended up creating a lot of prosperity in the Chilean economy,” he said.
Once roads opened up, Somers and his parents traveled from Villarrica in south Chile to the capital, Santiago, where he began his studies Wednesday.
“There’s damage in Santiago, but not nearly to the extent as there was in Concepcion,” he said.
Soon after arriving in Santiago, Somers said goodbye to his parents, who he said would have been more concerned if they hadn’t experienced the quake with him.
“I think what really stuck with me the most is when I drove through Santa Cruz and really saw firsthand some of the worst destruction,” Somers said. “That was really, really hard to see because it may just look like a building, but you know it’s somebody’s home.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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