Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

The Nitty-Gritty Academics

Having just registered for UNC classes and being halfway through my academic time here in Chile, academics is a painfully relevant topic. I had to have a friend register for me because I was on a flight to Easter island during my registration time. Despite the stress of leaving registration to another person, I’m loving Easter island and doing my best not to be the 5th confirmed case of Dengue.

As opposed to in the US where students typically don’t have to declare a major until junior year, students in Chile (and most Latin American countries) declare their path of studies before entering a university. Their major, or carrera as it is called in Spanish, is set on a four year track with specific classes to take each term of each year. Should a student decide they want to switch carreras, they must begin the four year process over again, all before graduate programs afterwards. For example, one of the university students who helps out our program is 27 and in his final year because he switched carreras so many times. Additionally, since the students all have the same classes with their carreras for four straight years (apart from elective classes) they are typically quite friendly with each other and aren’t as interested in making gringo friends, at least in my experience.

The two universities we are able to take classes at vary in a number of ways. La Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaíso (typically called La Catolica) houses a neat 14,000 students spread out across over a dozen different buildings and campuses around Valpo and Viña. The main one, titled Casa Central, lies within walking distance of my house (roughly thirty minutes). Another campus, Sausolito, which houses the literature, psychology, and philosophy carreras is nearly an hour via public transportation from my house. The other university, La Universidad Técnica Federico Santa Maria, nicknamed the Santa Maria, is more similar to a US college. There is a single campus and all the different buildings lie within that campus. The Santa Maria is one of the best engineering schools in the country, and to balance out the rigorous engineering courses offered there, all of the other courses are unabashedly easy. I am taking a Contemporary Chilean History course there that’s filled with me, a psychology major, and nearly 20 commercial engineering students. Courses at both universities range from 6-50 students which is a nice break from the 400 student introductory courses that take place at UNC.

In addition to my previously mentioned history class, I am taking four additional classes at La Catolica. Two of these classes are obligatory for IFSA students and are Advanced Oral and Written Spanish and Chile: Exploring Community and Culture. Apart from these I am taking 20th Century Chilean Poetry, a course offered solely to exchange students, and Contemporary Spain Literature, a fourth year literature course in Sausolito.

The work load for these courses is minimal compared to UNC-Chapel Hill. For my poetry and Spain Lit course, we simply have readings assigned to be discussed in class. For my history course, we read several passages in class and then discuss them. For Advanced Spanish, we have a reading due each week that we have to write a paper for and one student presents on the characters, plot, major themes etc… For Community and Culture, we have to write a reflection after each of our four excursions and occasionally have readings for speakers. In addition, we each have to work at an internship for 20-25 hours during the semester for Community and Culture. I chose to work at a comedor which serves lunches to low income university students. Most of the school work feels optional mainly due to the fact that there is practically zero testing whatsoever of the material being covered in class. The grading system is weighted on 2-4 assignments throughout the semester with each one ranging from 15-40% of our total grade and are composed of presentations, take home assignments, or papers. I do not have any final exams nor any exams throughout the semester and the same goes for most of my fellow gringos. Further, our classes end June 24th and the exam period along with our IFSA program ends July 10th, leaving us with several weeks of free time before the program ends. This time is in addition to the several weeks many of the IFSA students, including myself, tacked on to the end of the program to travel.

In addition to the extra time at the end of the semester, there are several other aspects of university life that are poorly organized. Take for example, the psychology course I was briefly enrolled in. After two weeks of classes with roughly 40 students enrolled, the university decided to put a cap of 25 students on the course. That meant that all non-third year Chilean psychology students got kicked as well as any exchange students not majoring in psychology. Despite being safe, I decided to leave the course because I wouldn’t have gotten useful credit and all my friends got kicked out. Additionally, it took my Spain Lit professor three weeks to set a consistent schedule of when the course would be meeting and where it would be located. Although it takes some time for the professors and university to work out the kinks, they are very accommodating to exchange students. As I previously wrote, they are all comfortable with exchange students missing class to travel. Also, for my Spain Lit class, the professor is okay with me only attending half the classes because one section overlaps with my Advanced Spanish course.

While my schedule is comfortably set right now, the first few weeks were rather hectic. We had to select 10 courses to go and visit before deciding on 3-4 we would be enrolled in plus the two obligatory courses. During this time I was also trying to get syllabi of my courses to send to UNC heads of departments to see if I could receive credit and many professors have syllabi of several sentences or no syllabi at all. Add on the fact that many of the courses were closing, being moved, or weren’t even offered in the first place despite the course offerings listing them means that it was a slightly panicked time to say the least.

In the end it all worked out, I’m taking five classes and receiving credit for each one at UNC. I am
happy with the courses I am enrolled in and am hardly complaining about the light work load. However, we’ll see if the amount of work changes in the coming months. As promised last week, here are two quotes from those I’ve met in my travels. The first is from Sam in my program, and the second from Rosita, the lady running our hostel on Easter Island.

“Taking the time to be alone and learn who you are as a person and come to understand yourself is one of the most incredibly important things that someone can do in their life. I forget who it’s by but there’s a great quote that pretty much says that regardless of the relationships that you have or the people you love, at the end of the day you are alone. And it’s being able to come to terms with who you are as a person and what you’ve accomplished in life that really matters. So, yeah. I don’t know. Just take some time to reflect and appreciate. Introspection is good.”

“Our culture is very friendly. We always say hi and are content. But when someone travels away from the island, it’s a different world. I lived in Europe for many years. For me, I saw the other people, for them smiles were very expensive. They’re all so serious, no one knows one another. In their house, the building, maybe someone will say hi. But in the street, the people aren’t friendly. In the island, yes. We’re like this because it’s a very small population. But in the world, it’s not like that.”

I hope this provided a peak into university life for anyone considering study abroad or who is interested in my life abroad from a more day to day perspective.


Thanks for reading,



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