08 March 2015

Classes and the campo

This last week was officially the first week of classes, but despite what you may think, I have not, in fact, had all of my classes. We were warned by a former student that students often don’t attend the first week of classes. What we weren’t warned about was that professors, too, often don’t attend the first week of classes.
I set up my schedule to not have class on Mondays, so I enjoyed my extended weekend while some of my friends experienced (or didn’t experience) their first Chilean classes. On Tuesday I walked with my host sister Laura to what was supposed to be my first class, Urban Spaces. Maybe it was a communication error (I’ve had a lot of those in my first weeks here), but being under the impression that the class was nearby our house, I agreed to walk there with Laura. Almost an hour later we got to the building, where Laura left me as I tried to find the classroom. The people at the front desk seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I asked them where it was, and they seemed just as unknowing when the other people from my program showed up asking about the same class. Eventually they ushered us all into a room right by the office, where a couple of other exchange students sat at a table with the professor. The professor was really nice, and asked us all where we were from, and kept checking to make sure she was speaking slowly and clearly enough. Five minutes later, when she handed us the syllabus, the other people from CIEE and I realized we were in the wrong class. At a loss for what to do with us, the people at the front desk had ushered us into the Gringo class. The professor politely showed us to the correct room, and we awkwardly left her class.
The room we were shown too was very different. There were about 50 Chilean students inside, and no professor. We waited for about 40 minutes, until someone came up and told us that the professors weren’t going to come in that day, and that the class would start next week.
I then had to figure out how to get from Viña, where I was, to Valparaíso, for a training session on teaching ESL. My host sister had told me to take any micro (the local buses) that was orange, or had a 100 number on its front. What she didn’t tell me was what direction the bus had to be heading. I tried using my sense of direction to figure out what side of the street to wait on, but anyone who trusted me with a map (especially in a zoo, my family knows what I’m talking about) knows that I have a very bad sense of direction. Eventually a micro came that I figured was the right one, but when I got on and told the driver where I was going (you tell them your destination when you get on and they charge you different amounts based on how far you’re going), the driver told me that the micro was not going to Valparaíso at all. He kindly told me that I should be waiting at the stop across the street, and let me off about 10 feet away from where I got on (another thing about the micros: they start going as soon as you get on and don’t usually stop until their next designated stop, so it was nice of him to let me off where we were).
Eventually I caught the right bus and made my way to Casa Central, the main building of the university in Valparaíso. After the ESL training session I had my second class of the day: a Chilean culture/communication class to fill the school’s requirement to have all exchange students take a language class. Even though I had explicitly told the program to register me for the class I went to, it turned out I was registered for a different section. The professor, Carlos, said I could stay, though, so I’m currently working on changing into the class. Carlos is a hilarious man who is really interested in music and starts off every class by showing us music by Chilean artists. I’m really looking forward to this class, even though it meets three times a week for 90 minutes each time.
My final class on Tuesday was my CIEE class. I’m taking a class about the contemporary history and geography of Chile with a CIEE staff member named Fernando. Instead of meeting this week, everyone in the program met to do our final assessment for the classes we had during orientation. We had to write a paper in class about what we learned. My partner and I wrote about public memory and how it has influenced and can be seen in the urban spaces around Valparaíso. We talked about the “old Chile” that existed under Pinochet, and the “new Chile” that has since developed and is still changing as it moves into the future, and how both can be seen in various places we saw around the city. I think it went pretty well.
Besides those classes, I’m taking Juegos Mapuches (Mapuchan games), which I had Wednesday. It’s in Sausalito, a campus fairly close to where I live in Viña. Despite its proximity, I got pretty lost going there. It’s on top of a big hill with lots of winding, intersecting roads, but the view from the top is really nice. It’s near a lake and feels much more like campuses I’m familiar with than the other buildings of the university. The class’s goal is to learn about the Mapuchan culture through their traditional games. I’ve heard it described as being like a middle school gym class, so I’m surprising myself by taking it (I hate middle school gym classes. And all gym classes).
Despite my hatred for gym classes, I’m actually taking a second class through the university’s phys ed department. Exchange students are given a chance to take a “camping techniques/outdoor education” class, which is right up my alley. I’m still not entirely sure when/where the class meets, but we’ll go on a few excursions throughout the semester and learn about proper camping techniques. The reviews I’ve heard of the class are great- a lot of people say it’s the best class they took here. It isn’t meeting this week, but hopefully I’ll have more details next week. I think it meets on Fridays. Maybe Saturdays.
Besides my classes, I’ve been busy learning my way around the cities, getting to know my host family, and horribly butchering the Spanish language. Culture shock has been hitting my pretty hard, but I’m working through it. All of the small things are just adding up- you tip the people who bag your groceries because they aren’t paid otherwise. Milk and eggs aren’t refrigerated (and milk is sold in boxes). Yogurt comes in bags. Instead of escalators, a lot of places have moving ramps (like moving sidewalks at an angle). A lot of products have English on them, and a lot of English songs play on the radio, but very few people actually speak English. The micros drive with their doors open and definitely don’t follow any rules about maximum number of passengers. People stay out until like 6 AM. Bottles of juice are easier to find than bottles of water. Almost half the products I’ve seen in grocery stores are produced by Nestle. The only coffee you can get anywhere is Nescafe- instant coffee. The list goes on and on and on. I’m quickly adapting and getting used to these things, but it’s overwhelming and is still taking time.
I’ll leave you with some pictures from a trip I took with my host family this past weekend to the campo- a house out in the desert about two hours away from where we live. As with many experiences here, I wasn’t really sure where we were going until we got there (this happens pretty much any time we go anywhere), but it was a nice day and it was fun to see some of the countryside (and cacti!).
As always, email me with any questions, comments, or fun facts! My email is rekidder@lclark.edu.
The house from the back, along with a view of about half the grapes they had growing in their yard. And Emi running after some chickens!
Artsy photo of one of the chickens. Apparently they’re actually the neighbors’ chickens, but they go into my family’s yard.
Laura and Emilia feeding the chickens.
A view of some mountains (hills? Still not really sure on the difference) and some neighbor’s horses.
All of the grapes we picked. These were big containers. There were a lot of grapes.  
The sun setting before we left to come home.