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IFSA-Butler Valparaíso Pros and Cons

The following are pros and cons that I personally have found in the last 4 months and also those collected by fellow students in my program. This post will be more geared towards students looking specifically to study abroad in Valparaíso, Chile and less geared towards friends and family looking to follow my travels. A few small  disclaimers: some of these are opinions and some are unavoidable when studying abroad. I also did not talk to students of other programs so I am unsure of how they compare. Further, each semester is different with different IFSA staff or offered classes etc… Without further delay, IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities Program, Valparaíso pros and cons.

 

Pros

  • IFSA-Butler as an institution is incredibly well resourced, both in the United States and here in Valpo. In the US they were always available to take calls and answer questions when we were in the application process. Here in Valpo they have numerous connections to the community and more material things such as tents if we’re going traveling or will loan us money if our credit cards stop working.
  • Orientation, which consisted of the first five days of the program in a resort town called Olmue, was out the wazoo. That is to say that they provided endless useful information about how the universities operated, the different schedules for the universities, grade conversions, a calendar listing all breaks, excursions, and birthdays, a packet of each class offered and the time/location, etc…
  • Signing up for classes was incredibly easy. We preemptively signed up for ~10 courses and were allowed two weeks to visit them and see which fit best. Later when one of my classes fell through nearly a month into term, IFSA staff worked with me to find an alternative without any penalty.
  • We received extensive pre-departure information via email about flights, host families, expenses, etc…
  • This specific program has a high language requirement (5 semesters of university level Spanish). This meant that the students in this program were fairly capable Spanish speakers. Students in certain other programs can barely form sentences and are only allowed to take classes with other exchange students, whereas IFSA students can take classes with Chileans in two of the best Chilean universities.
  • We have our own office in the foreign exchange building which none of the other programs have. This office is equipped with our program mama, Pamela, who is around to provide information, joke around with us, and always has water and candy for us.
  • The excursions offered by IFSA, studying Mapuche communities, human rights, immigration, and vinyard life, provide a unique perspective into Chilean culture that we would not be provided otherwise.
  • The IFSA-Butler required Advanced Spanish class is phenomenal in providing literature from numerous different Chilean perspectives, thought-provoking discussion in which the professor is briefed on each student’s opinion from previously written essays, and debates on controversial issues in the United States and how they relate to Chilean issues.
  • Our community and culture class comes equipped with a mandated 20 hours of internship/volunteer work in the community which pushes students to immerse themselves in the culture surrounding them which might not otherwise be explored.
  • IFSA works very hard and does an amazing job to match students with compatible host families. All the families are incredible hosts and have years of experience hosting exchange students. Granted, they aren’t always a perfect fit but for the most part there are few complaints.

 

Cons

  • The excursions we are provided are sometimes one-sided in the stories they tell. For instance, on the Mapuche communities trip we were told all about Mapuche lifestyle and the struggles they have faced in their fight with the government, but were exposed to nothing from the side of the government. Disclaimer: we brought this issue up to our Advanced Spanish professor and he agreed so it might be addressed in the future.
  • Host families were not kept in check to be providing food every day and every meal. Some students left without lunches or breakfast and have to spend their own money to buy food. Of course this could be fixed by talking to the parents or IFSA but regardless, the families are getting paid to support us and it places the students in an uncomfortable position.
  • IFSA mandates two obligatory classes (Advanced Spanish & Community and Culture) which severely limits the other classes we can take with Chileans when there are already limited class offerings with Chileans (not necessarily an IFSA issue as the major/minor system differs here). Community and culture is taught in a condescending and infantile manner, without providing any pertinent or thought-provoking information. Further, it squanders an opportunity to have a fascinating class about community and culture that would provide unique insight into the community we have been thrust into for five months and the issues we’re facing. I could write an entire post on why everyone in this program despises this class but that is neither here nor there. Disclaimer: it was made obligatory this semester for the first time and maybe with the students response it will be made optional again next semester.
  • There is no sort of debriefing or discussion opportunity for the difficult issues some students encounter regarding race, sexuality, income differences, etc… This leaves the issue on the shoulders of the single or multiple students struggling with that issue and squanders an opportunity for the entire group to learn from it and be able to support the struggling individual(s).
  • The excursions we are provided are obligatory which takes away weekends in which we could travel to destinations we chose ourselves. This makes it difficult to find a routine in our city when each weekend is taken by either an excursion or personal travel but are torn as we feel the need to take advantage of our time here to see the country. Last semester the excursions were optional which seemed to be a better system.
  • There are several Chilean students assigned to our program called monitores. Apart from orientation they are barely ever seen and are supposed to be our entrance into Chilean social communities in a way.
  • While the information we received before arriving was useful in some domains, it lacked many specific details.  For example, the end of term date is listed as July 10, whereas classes end June 24. The weeks in between are assigned for exams. However, unbeknownst to us, exchange students rarely ever have to take exams and those two weeks are allotted essentially for travel. I gave myself two extra weeks of travel time after the assumed end date (July 10) and had to buy a new plane ticket home when I learned that I now had a month to travel. Other useful information would have been that the university is spread out across two cities (not a closed campus), the difference between classes with Chileans and classes with other exchange students, etc…
  • Only one of my five classes is interesting and the same has been said by many students in my program. This is not specifically an IFSA issue apart from community and culture.
  • The excursions we go on are incredibly disorganized with timing (arriving to the airport as our plane boards), food (staff having to make extra runs to the store to buy food or arriving at a restaurant without a reservation and asking for a table for 17), and often standing around for up to an hour while the staff figures out logistics.
  • On the day long excursions host families provide food but for the 5 day Mapuche trip students must pay for food when everything else is pre-paid. This means it’s coming out of our pockets in the moment instead of added onto the fee paid before arriving (often paid by parents). When the issue was brought up we were told that it was simply policy. Further, it makes the excursions students vs staff when previously it had been the two groups enjoying the excursions together.

 

Overall, IFSA-Butler does an amazing job of easing our transition into Valparaíso while holding our hands unnecessarily in some instances and pushing us blindly forward in others. Hopefully some of the issues will be fixed for future semesters. This does not touch on Valparaíso on a city as a whole (which is an amazing pro in my personal opinion and is addressed in other posts on this blog) but rather sticks to IFSA as a program. Again, this is my own personal opinion and I hardly included every possible pro or every possible con, these are just the ones that stood out as the most important.

 

Thanks for reading!

Will

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One Response to “IFSA-Butler Valparaíso Pros and Cons”

  1. Patti Brown Says:

    Hi Will,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post, and I’m happy that you’ve had such a good experience overall with IFSA-Butler. We put a lot of effort into our pre-arrival preparations and on-site support such as orientation and class registration, so it’s always great to hear that students are finding our help valuable!

    I am, however, sorry to see that you have not enjoyed the Community and Culture course. As with most courses, Community and Culture has to accommodate the great variances in students’ backgrounds and perspectives, in this case differing levels of sophistication and understanding of intercultural learning, and this can be challenging to even the most dedicated instructor.

    As with our other program courses in Valparaíso, you and the other students will be invited to give a review of the course and the instructor at the end of the semester. We always welcome constructive feedback from students and are continually tailoring our curriculum to meet students’ needs and interests. Beyond that, though, I would also welcome an email from you with some of your specific thoughts on how we can tailor the course to be a more effective tool for students to develop the intercultural skills needed in today’s global world. I also encourage you to speak with Mark Sinclair about your concerns so that he can address them with the instructor and make sure that future Valparaíso students have the best possible cultural and academic experience.

    I will contact you in the next few days, so please keep an eye out for my email. In the meantime, do enjoy the last few weeks of your program in beautiful Valpo and be safe traveling home!

    Sincerely,

    Patti Brown
    Executive Director, Special Program Initiatives
    IFSA-Butler

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