22 October 2012

Just My Life in South America

Hey All,

Yesterday it rained a whole lot here in Santiago, Chile so the Andes mountains that ring the eastern edge of the city were all covered in snow. It was absolutely gorgeous. Here is a picture my host sister took!

I realize I haven't said much about my academic day to day life here so here goes a bit (or maybe more than a bit). The way this particular program works is that I am just a full time student. There are no faculty members from LC here (but there are 3 other LC-ers on the program), instead, an organization called CIEE figures out the logistic things like placing us with host families, helping us to enroll in classes, planning a few trips etc. Besides that basic support (and the CIEE people are great and help us out whenever we need it) we just live our lives here living with a family and being a student. In many ways our lives are like most other Chilean university students, since most young folk live at home until their 30's. My host family doesn't speak any English, nor do the majority of my Professors and classmates. Academically, my readings, essays, lectures, presentations, exams, and all other parts of class are in Spanish. I had to give a presentation in one of my classes. In front of a room of Chilean students. It was terrifying. But I did it and got a 7 (the Chilean equivalent of an A)!

Universities here are run really differently than in the good 'ol US of A. First of all there are layers and layers of bureaucracy to tear through to get anything done. Registering for class often means going in person and talking to a different person (in different parts of the city) for different departments. This isn't a problem for Chilean students because their studies are a lot more specialized than ours. Most students here take almost all of their classes within the one department ("facultad") of their "major". I put that in quotes because it is a more focused type of studies where like I said most of their classes are about that subject. It is also rare to study one thing and then after graduating do something else. If you study anthropology (example because I'm a SOAN major) you will probably be an anthropologist. It is often hard to explain here that our courses of study are different especially with regards to how we can study multiple things at once. But back to my original point; since most Chilean students spend their academic life exclusively within one "facultad" it is difficult for exchange students such as myself who take classes across the "facultades".

Another huge difference in student life is the political aspect of being a university student today in Chile. The country has some big problems in their educational system (and in the country as a whole) and there is a large active student movement to try and change things. I won't go into all the details of why because that would go on forever and ever. I promise to post on it another time. However, the main way these students organize is by going on strike and protesting. In fact, I got an e-mail from a professor today letting the class know that since the "facultad" of Social Sciences is on strike this week, the test we were going to have tomorrow is now a take home exam due next week. The upshot of all this is that I have no class tomorrow or Wednesday in the Universidad de Chile. Another time halfway though my archaeology class everyone just got up and left because the strike started at noon and that happened to be during class time. Universities are pretty regularly "en paro" (on strike) but professors do their best to make sure everyone is still doing work so we can actually learn something. When the universities are on strike it means there will be students protesting, which means there will be police, which means there will be tear gas. Just a fact of life here. I have gotten really good at avoiding the tear gas situations!

Overall I like most of my classes. Once you get over the differences, take a deep breath (but not in the middle of a protest because you'll inhale all the gas!) and just understand that this is a different country and things work really differently it gets easier. So maybe here it's normal for students and professors to show up 20 minutes late to class or walk out in the middle, and so what if you don't buy your books but have to photo copy everything! Frustrations and confusions are part of this whole experience, but overcoming them feels pretty damn good.

As always, e-mail me any time at smiller@lclark.edu!

Love from Chile,