Alumni Spotlight: Kate Shanahan

Kate always knew she wanted to go abroad in college. She’d spent a year of high school out in the bush, three hours from Melbourne, Australia, and her experience there was the beginning of a long-term romance with global living. Of course, rural Australia doesn’t translate as easily into life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city with a population of about three million people.

Kate had an early experience with culture shock during a city-wide power outage. Take a minute on that- a city the size of Los Angeles suddenly going dark all at once. Though many parts of Buenos Aires have a very European feel, Argentina was a far cry from anywhere she’d ever been before. But for Kate, a senior International Affairs major, this was the perfect place to study South American politics up close.

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Of course, any study abroad experience is marked by more than just your area of study. 2014 was the first year that the Lollapalooza music festival came to Argentina. Kate remembers seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, watching them struggle to express themselves in Spanish between songs. Though the crowd by-and-large spoke very little English, thousands of people had no problem singing along to every line of “Dani California”.

Perhaps her most formative experience, however, was the decision to strike off on her own, exploring the northern area of the country. This was the first time Kate had ever really traveled by herself. “Other people can be a crutch,” she says. “Travelling alone forces you to branch out, to be confident in your ability to get by alone.” Relying solely on her own Spanish abilities, she spent time in the Seven Colored Mountains, chewing coca leaves to cure altitude sickness, and visiting the dozens of villages clustered around the region. She even ate llama, which she describes oh-so-casually. No big deal.

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A visit to the Salt Flats was possibly the high point of her explorations. Kate describes them as looking like enormous ice skating rinks that stretch for miles, or massive lakes. Many Argentines have been displaced by industrial work in the region, which profits from the massive salt and lithium reserves. “It’s something we hear about, but totally something else to see it up close,” she says, describing the experience as a way to put her own studies in perspective.

Kate plans to return to Argentina this coming summer, and her eventual goal is to live and work there.

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