On classes, buses, doctors, unsafe roofs, and what they all have in common
Welp I’ve been in Chile for an entire month already.
To be honest, it’s been pretty good so far. I’ve settled into my classes well, feel as though I’m part of the family and all that jazz. I also felt very accomplished today when I added credit to my phone (which, as far as I know, you have to do at a supermarket of some sort – you can’t just dial a number and add credit and avoid talking to people. Sadly) and had a perfectly normal conversation with the cashier, and I actually understood everything she was saying. Progress!
Anyway, I’m writing this post on the balcony of my house, with a view of the ocean to my left, a view of one of my host family’s cats alternating between grooming itself and pleading with me to feed it further to my left, and a view of some towels drying on a clothes rack in front of me. Ideal blog-writing conditions…?
CLASSES (this is the only boring subtitle I promise)
I just had my first three weeks of classes, which have gone well overall, discounting the beginning. Monday, the (supposed) first day of classes, I was going to have my first ever class of journalism, in Curauma, a small city/village/semi-unattractive location about 35 minutes away from Viña del Mar. Having somehow managed to take the right micro (that’s what they call the buses here – more on those later), I got to Curauma on time for my class, and also didn’t have too much trouble finding the classroom. The only problem was, however, that when I walked past the classroom, there was nobody in there. There was also nobody waiting outside. Clearly, class wasn’t being held there at that time. After some searching, I found the receptionists’ offices, where they proceeded to tell me that, seeing as this was a class for fifth-year-students, they were currently doing an internship of some sort as part of this class, and that the class wouldn’t start until the end of March/beginning of April, and that I would be better off finding a different class.
That was also my only class for the day, so I eventually found a micro that would take me back to Viña, and then, purely by accident, managed to get off at the exact right stop. I got back to my house and opened up my laptop to find an email waiting for me, saying that some classes would start a little later. Ahem. Amongst these classes was, of course, my planned journalism class. Though we were warned during orientation that communication and timing in Chile was less efficient/far more relaxed than in the US or in the western world in general, it was still a rather frustrating and disheartening start to my first (non-)day of classes. As we had been asked to register for around 10 classes during orientation, I had some backup classes which I could take instead, one of which I am taking now, which is the contemporary history of Chile. I went to that class on Tuesday as my first actual class (it was at 8:15am in the centre of Viña del Mar, a 20-25 minutes walk away, so Tuesdays require me to get up at the ungodly hour of 7:15am. Woe is me), and I was relieved to find out that I could understand the vast majority of what the professor said – he also seemed to be cognizant of the fact that there were international students in the class who can’t always follow the incredible speed with which Chileans tend to speak. We also had our first class of Spanish – with only students from the IFSA-Butler program – where we discussed an unsavoury part of the Chilean machista culture; piropos, or catcalls. In Chile, sadly, it is quite normal, even expected at times, for Chilean men to catcall at women, and we discussed our experiences regarding catcalls and what could possibly be done to try to change the Chilean man’s mindset. Later on in the class, we will discuss other parts of Chilean society and culture through texts and critical essays written by Chileans on Chilean society, which I think will actually be highly interesting.
Wednesday included another three classes, the first one this time at the more student-friendly time of 10:05am. My first class, which has so far been the most challenging but also very enlightening and actually quite fun, was the Sociopolitical History of Latin America in the 20th century, which is also a class solely for IFSA-Butler students. So far in the class, we have talked about how Latin America society in general was founded upon a racist, classist ideology, with whites at the top and indigenous peoples at the bottom (not really so different from the rest of the world), and how the concepts of modernity, modernization, colonization, colonialism, coloniality (apparently that’s a word too and means something different from colonization and colonialism), globality, and globalization have affected the socio-political and economic development of the various Latin American countries. To be honest, it’s only slightly less complicated than it sounds. I am, however, learning a lot about Chile and Latin America in general, which so far has been a pretty great experience.
The second class I was planning on taking was a religion course called Social Morality, but after around six minutes in the classroom I could tell it really wasn’t a good idea to stick with the class. The professor, whilst very amicable, spent a lot of time talking about his children and about other stuff that, as far as I could tell, had very little to do with anything class-related. The class itself was also more pedagogy-oriented, which is also not really my field. Consequently, I dropped out of that class and decided to take advantage of an internship opportunity. This “class”, Chilean Society and Community Action, meets once a week to discuss our internship experiences, and uses those experiences to look at different aspects of Chilean culture and how the community/NGOs are trying to plug some gaps caused by governmental policies/a lack of resources/other reasons. I will be working with an organization called SERPAJ (Servicio, Paz y Justicia), which, in broad terms, works with children and teenagers from poor backgrounds or from high-risk families, and aims to improve their self-esteem and social skills through workshops and recreational activities.
It sounds quite daunting, though I don’t yet know what my exact responsibilities will be. I am both excited and rather scared, as I have not really done something like this before, but I feel like it would be a very good experience to have no matter what, and would further immerse me in Chilean culture.
Lastly, I am also taking a “community and culture” class (some of my classes sound very similar… I’m pretty much just going to learn about Latin American history and Chilean culture for the next few months. I could have just said that instead of describing the classes in great detail, but oh well), which consists of discussions amongst the group about specific cultural practices and the ways in which we relate to them, and also contains some presentations and talks by people from different parts of Valparaíso-an society. All in all, I think my classes provide me with a good mixture of the different histories and different cultures of Latin America, and actually help in explaining certain aspects of day-to-day life and in allow me to better understand the culture in which I am living.
SHORT EXPOSÉ ON MICROS AND WHY, ONE DAY, THEY MAY KILL YOU
And now for something completely different, namely Chilean public transport. As a very brief background before I launch into the murderous antics of micro drivers, there are three main kinds of public transport in Chile: micros, small-ish buses that usually go between Valparaíso and Viña del Mar and tend to stay more on the flat parts of the cities; colectivos, which are cars that function on the same principle as buses in that they have a fixed rate and a fixed route but tend to go into the cerros, or hills (but can only carry 4 people at once); and radiotaxis, which are the same as your average taxis. There’s also a metro and a trolley system, but I’ll leave those aside for now.
Most people in Valparaíso/Viña del Mar, and almost every student, take the micro to go wherever they need to go. It is, by Western standards rather cheap, especially for students – who get discounts for nearly everything – I usually pay 150 pesos for each trip, which corresponds to $0.234, or €0.219. At times, the driver is very friendly, actually gives you your ticket, and doesn’t exceed the speed limit too much. Other times, however, the driver manages to transform a rickety old bus into an exhilarating (if slightly terrifying) rollercoaster. As there are an incredible amount of micros driving around Valparaíso, the streets aren’t always entirely safe. However, this also means that some of the drivers end up racing each other. Actually not kidding. They try to overtake each other on the turns, break so late that it always seems as though they’re going to crash into something, and always stop very suddenly when they need to drop off or pick up passengers (they don’t even always fully stop when you need to disembark; I had to get out whilst the micro was still driving at quite a high speed, and ended up half-falling out of the micro and landing on a knee that had already seen many a concrete road). Furthermore, some of the micros are more than willing to drop you off/pick you up at any random point in the street – one dropped me off in the middle of a busy road whilst the traffic light was about to turn green. Not fun.
All of this might seem not too dangerous, but the micros lack one thing that even rollercoasters have: seatbelts.
Goodbye cruel world.
As such, Chilean public transport has, at times, made me fear for my life. However, I still believe that having an aggressive micro driver racing other aggressive micro drivers, all the while picking up and dropping off passengers without fully stopping, is quite the experience.
CHILEAN TIME FOR CHILEAN LUNCH
That weekend, we had a large picnic at a popular botanical garden in Viña del Mar for the students in the program and all their host families. I believe we were told to be their at around 11, 11:30, but this usually means the earliest you should arrive there at 12:15 – in fact, I think some people might consider it rude if you show up less than an hour ‘late’. Evidently, punctuality isn’t considered important in Chile (which does have its uses). When I got there with my host family, about half the people were already there, and everyone was chatting and the host families were getting to know each other and it was really quite a nice atmosphere.
(I was going to have some photos here, but my phone seems to have deleted them all. Why life.)
After an hour or so, some more people started showing up, and each family started to unpack and lay out the food they had brought with them on the picnic tables. In the meantime, we were shown how to play some typical Chilean games (the names of which I have mostly forgotten), including one where you had to throw a small disc from a certain distance as close to a piece of thread as possible.
Whilst this was happening, it started to become clear what exactly a Chilean picnic entailed. As far as I could tell, every single family had brought huge chunks of red meat and chicken along to be grilled on some type of open air grill that is apparently very common in Chile and in most other South American countries. The amusing part was, however, that each family seemed to have brought food for double the amount of people, which resulted in many different families asking other families if they wanted some food, who were trying to accomplish the exact same thing. In any case, lunch was very filling, and took a good three hours to set up, cook, eat, cook more, eat more, cook more, eat more, have tea, have more drinks, maybe eat a little more… as I said before, the Chileans that I have met here in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso don’t really care about time and are very relaxed about when things start and when they finish, which has been very refreshing for the most part.
More games were played after lunch, including tug of war, and this other game that I felt wasn’t really explained to us fully, and probably for good reason, else I would have found someone else to take my place. What I understood from the description was that four of us were competing against each other in this game. In order to win, we had to first carry an egg on a spoon in our mouth to the first… let’s call it a station… and we weren’t allowed to use our hands. Someone was waiting for us at that station, and they took the spoon plus egg from us, and we had to pick up a sweet at the bottom of a small bowl filled with water, again without using our hands. As such, I dove into the bowl face-first and managed to pick up the sweet with my teeth. Having done that and given the sweet to another waiting person, there was a second bowl at another station a little further away with another sweet. Before the game started, I naïvely thought that this bowl would also be filled with water (I guess it was rather oafish of me to not have reconnoitred the entirety of this game), yet when I got there it became clear that the second bowl wasn’t filled with water but with…… flour.
My initial reaction: I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS SHIT
My second reaction: DUNKS ENTIRE FACE IN FLOUR
After finding the sweet, we had to hurry back to the picnic bench and sit on a balloon to pop it in order to complete the game (this game got weirder and weirder…). Here is a picture of the winner and yours truly at the end of this “game”.
(photo credits to Bridget Feldmann)
We played a few other games before moving to a grassy patch in order to play a game of ‘pichanga’, also known as a football match. Those who didn’t want to play sought the shade, and one person had brought a guitar with them, so whilst some poor souls slaved away in the sun running after a ball, the more sensible people chatted and played music and sang and did sensible things. These excursions are honestly a great way to share and get to know each other a little better, and I’m glad there are more of them dotted throughout the semester.
LIVE JAZZ MUSIC VS. CREEPY DOCTOR OUTFITS
(I’m writing this part of the blog at a slightly different time and my drunk neighbours are singing rather loudly and progressively less in tune. Vaguely tempted to go over and introduce myself.) Anyway, a few days after the botanical garden excursion, a bunch of us headed to La Piedra Feliz – a bar in Valparaíso where live bands play every single night, and each night corresponds to a different genre of music. That night, there was a live jazz performance by a group of three men, and whilst jazz is not really my favourite kind of music, they still provided a very nice atmosphere to chat and drink a little and generally relax (one of the three was also completely rocking out to his own music which was both funny and kind of adorable). However, what really made that night for me was that, after an hour or so of very nice music, conversation, and relaxation, four of us decided to head up to the roof. Whilst walking up the various stairs to the roof it became quite clear that going up to the roof probably wasn’t entirely legal, as the floors got sketchier and less illuminated and just generally started looking more and more ramshackle the higher we went. This culminated in us taking a tiny spiral staircase up to the last floor and then climbing a small ladder that lead to this tiny vent or window-ish thing (I couldn’t see what it was, that’s how dark it was inside) that had to be pushed open in order to get onto the roof. When we got onto the roof itself, the metal creaked under our feet, which really quite strongly suggests we shouldn’t have been up there. However, the view was more than worth it. As the bar is situated very close to the sea, we had an incredible view of the sea in front of us, and behind us was the entirety of Valparaíso, spread out like a theatre in a play that we were performing (sidenote: Valparaíso is built remarkably like an amphitheatre, with the sea being the centre of attention). We stayed up on the roof for a while, enjoying the clean air and talking about some pretty emotional things (I guess conversations have a tendency to get a little heavier after a few drinks when sitting on the roof enjoying such a stunning vista), and I’m pretty sure that’s a night I’ll never forget.
The following night showed us a rather different aspect of study abroad. There was a party for all the international exchange students, which was a very fun occasion until it turned into a very fun but very very strange occasion. We’d started the night off at a bar in Viña del Mar, where we also met some other Chilean people and got to know them a little bit better. After that, we took the micro to the place where the party was being held, and danced for a bit and drank for a bit and just generally had a very good time. Then, at around 3:15am, a few minutes before we were planning on leaving, around four or five people wearing doctor’s outfits (one of them was also wearing a very creepy white wig) started milling around and taking promotional pictures with the people dancing. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, the pictures that they took involved two nurses emptying the syringes (filled with sprite, I was told) they were holding into the mouth of the person they were taking the picture with (there are pictures of this, but in the interest of people’s privacy I won’t share them here). So, a good night overall, but a very, VERY weird end.
That’s it for this post, apart from a short announcement: I’M GOING TO TORRES DEL PAINE IN 10 DAYS TIME. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a really large and really incredible national park, with mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers, in Chilean southern Patagonia. I’m going 5 full days with other people from the IFSA-Butler group, and we’ll be hiking along different parts of the Torres and staying in different areas of the national park most nights. It should be an astonishing few days.
Pues, until next time.