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Classes in Chile

This slightly lengthy post will reflect on about class structure in Chile, and the differences between La Universidad Católica and La Universidad de Chile. I’ll first try to explain the general university environment before breaking down the differences and similarities between the two universities I’ve enrolled in.
As a student at a small liberal arts college in rural Minnesota, attending classes at universities with over 20,000 students in the midst of a major city is a very unfamiliar world. Carleton has 2,000 students, and it takes roughly 10 minutes to walk from one end of campus to the other. Most of my classes there are discussion-based, with reading usually assigned as homework and frequent assessments that more often than not are essays or research papers. While in class students are quiet, and most of the time we’re given opportunities to discuss questions and observations with those sitting around us In Chile, classes are usually lectures where the professor still interacts minimally with students . Homework consists of reading, and assessments are much less frequent and almost always tests. Classes usually start late, and students pass time by taking notes, surfing Facebook, sending messages on WhatsApp, and chatting with each other.

While classes in Chile and at Carleton definitely have their similarities and differences, the biggest changes for me come when I switch university campuses. I’m taking four classes here: two with IFSA (history of Chile and Spanish grammar), one at the San Joaquín campus of La Católica (Spanish literature), and one at the Juan Gómez Millas of La Chile (psychological evaluation). In my comparison, I’ve tried to omit differences that might just be based on the fact that the classes I take are from different departments, but this likely still influences things.

At La Universidad de Chile, the differences from La Católica start the minute you set foot on campus: the walls are covered with graffiti and posters reflecting the demands of the frequent student strikes, classrooms are locked until the professor shows up, and there’s a police vehicle always stationed at the McDonald’s by campus. Students unabashedly scroll through their phones during class and chat with each other openly despite the professor’s constant shushing. At La Católica the campus is very manicured, with crosses hung in the corner of each classroom and a network of landscaped paths that snake around the grounds. Students also spend time on their phones in class, especially since Pokemon Go arrived in Chile shortly after us IFSA students did. Both campuses frequently have students sprawled outside, though at La Chile there’s a lot less green space, and both give off university “vibes”, though in different ways.

The administration at the two campuses also differs significantly. I attended orientations for both, and found La Católica’s to be more reminiscent to what I experienced at Carleton: we were briefed on university policies, taught about drinking culture, and informed of various student activities on campus available to foreigners. La Chile’s orientation consisted of a history lesson on their Casa Central, or the main building of their campus in Santiago, touting their status as the oldest university in Chile. Both did have some delicious snacks afterward, though! However, after orientation it got significantly tougher to work with La Chile and sign up for classes; even though I registered there over a month ago my schedule only just arrived, and I’m currently going through the process of getting an ID card. At La Católica registration was much simpler, faster, and efficient.

With all this information in mind, I personally prefer La Universidad de Chile to La Católica. The difference for me is the students: at La Chile the student body is much more diverse than that of La Católica, which is primarily upper-class. La Católica reminds me a lot of Carleton, and other universities I’ve visited in the US, with its well-resourced libraries, elitist vibe, and more controlling administration. As the source of frequent strikes, La Chile also seems much more in touch with reality that La Católica which, like Carleton, is often accused of existing in a bubble. It’s also important to note that student protests at La Chile complicated registration for foreign students. As I’ve mentioned previously, classes there started much later than those at La Católica, and as a result end much later. Each facultad, or major, decides when to strike, which is why each facultad is on a different academic calendar. At La Católica students rarely strike; according to a friend there was once a half day strike there which was highly unusual. Due to the different academic calendars, only myself and one other person on the program have classes at La Chile. Students in Chile are protesting because they are seeking a different framework for education, and are frustrated by rising costs and poor facilities (among many other things) because despite a growing number of students many universities have yet to see upgrades to their facilities.

I wish I could have taken more classes at La Chile, but I’m grateful to be able to experience both universities. As it is, I spend the majority of my time at La Católica; my class at La Chile meets only once a week, and I have class at La Católica in the afternoon. Also, campus Juan Gómez Millas of La Chile is a lengthy bus ride from my homestay, and a combination micro/subway ride from the San Joaquin campus of La Católica. It’s unfortunately impractical for me to switch from campus to campus! For those considering IFSA’s Santiago program, there is also the option to enroll in the Universidad de Diego Portales, but no students this term chose to do so because the university failed to upload their classes online, making it impossible for us to register. Overall, the Chilean university system has been a welcome break from the liberal arts, and the differences between the two are, in my opinion, nothing outrageous.

20160823_075831 One of many murals at the Juan Gómez Millas campus of La Universidad de Chile 20160901_091802 Some of the banners hanging in the social sciences facultad building at the Universidad de Chile
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