Dakota Shelton ’21 Receives U.S. Department of State Scholarship to Study Abroad in Chile

Dakota Shelton ’21, who is studying political science and Latin American studies at Tulane University, is spending the fall semester in Chile after receiving a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
While in Chile, Shelton is taking classes at Universidad de Chile and Universidad Diego Portales and developing a social media project about her time abroad. Through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the mission of the Gilman program is to help young Americans gain professional skills, language abilities, and knowledge of the world needed for successful careers. Students who are awarded a Gilman Scholarship receive up to $5,000 to study or intern abroad. 

Shelton has an impressive résumé as a college junior: she has interned with Puentes New Orleans, presented research at the Latin American and Latinx Studies Symposium, and received the Stair Award for Excellence in Community Engagement in New Orleans through the Tulane Center for Public Service. After college, she said she hopes to pursue a graduate degree, and her goal is to work in a diplomatic role abroad or in immigrant rights in the U.S.

We asked Shelton about her experience in Chile, from what inspired her to go there to what she has learned from studying abroad. Read her answers below to get a glimpse into her time in Latin America. 

How did you become interested in political science and Latin American studies? Did Hutchison provide you with opportunities to explore these interests?

At Hutchison, I was a part of Gov Club leadership, which kept me deeply involved with both national and international politics. Additionally, through taking Mr. Francis’s AP Comparative Government and Politics class, I became interested in relations between the United States and Mexico. It helped me realize that I wanted to study abroad while in college. I also took Spanish every year at Hutchison, which gave me a great foundation to continue in college.

Why did you choose to go to Chile?

I chose Chile because of its recent constitutional referendum and the Estallido Social, a series of massive protests that led to reforms in various areas including healthcare, wages, and taxes. It was a great opportunity to get a close look at the political process in Latin America and a society’s reckoning with its past of dictatorship and imperialism.

What is a typical day for you? How are you spending your time outside of school?

My schedule here is much more slow-paced than my one at Tulane, which has allowed me to take in the entirety of the experience. On a typical day, I have 1-2 classes, go to lunch with my friends from class or my program, go to my yoga class (which I’ve taken up here), and I like to try out new places. One of my favorites has been the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, a cultural and performing arts center.  

What are some of the challenges you have faced as you study abroad? How have you overcome them?

My biggest challenge studying abroad has been feeling disconnected from friends and family at school and home. Overcoming that has come with building a life and routine for myself here and staying in contact. I also have learned how to take time for myself. When you’re abroad, you feel this pressure to fill your days with activities or travel to negate some of the culture shock or isolation you feel from simply being far away from your normal life. Learning that it is okay to allow myself the space to recharge has been invaluable.

How did your Hutchison experience help you get to where you are today?

Hutchison gave me the ambition to pursue anything I want, the passion to see it through, and I learned to always think about how my work can impact the communities I work with. Without Hutchison allowing me to explore and cultivate my interest I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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