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Cultivating cultural awareness

Once a self-described “naïve traveler” who never drove below the surface of the lands he visited, Michael Coakley, ’10, realized last year that he needed to dig deeper to make the most of his international experience.

While on co-op at the Vina Emiliana Winery in Casablanca, Chile, from January to July 2009, the international affairs major worked as an events planner, leading tours, running festivals, and marketing the vineyard’s organic growing methods. Then he took it a step further, studying local culture, learning Spanish, and landing a job at a local newspaper.

“The work helped me connect more with the culture and deepened my overall experience in Chile,” he says. “Before I went to Chile, I was a pretty naïve traveler, and I decided that given the choice (of international options) I wanted to get my hands dirty at a vineyard and learn to speak Spanish.”

In his co-op job, Coakley spent many of his days leading visitors through rows of vines and explaining how the winery used a natural glue to capture insect pests and planted grass and legumes to feed nitrogen to the vines instead of using chemical fertilizers.

As much as the work enabled Coakley to get the feel of Chile’s soil, he wanted his international co-op to be more than just co-op. Shortly after arriving in the country, he connected with the main English speaking newspaper, The Santiago Times, and quickly was brought on as a columnist.

“I went in and got an assignment right away,” he says. “I translated articles and wrote a handful of stories about my experiences in Chile.”

As a scribe, he gained a new, different perspective of life in Chile, he says, writing about experiences good and bad, from the perspective of an American in a foreign land.

At the end of his six months, Coakley felt he gained a lifetime of experience that will shape his quest to work in international affairs someday.

“I spent a lot of time learning about Latin America while I was there, and the region’s struggles. Working in a foreign land really informed me of the differences and similarities of different cultures, and it inspired me to continue with my goals to work in the realm of international activism.”

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