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Academics in Chile

Friday, November 18th, marked the last day of classes at la Universidad Católica. While this was one of the first sure signs that time in Santiago is winding down I can’t relax too much yet; I still have three classes to worry about and a slew of assignments to complete over the next two weeks. Conveniently, I’m also going to be spending the next four days without wifi, which only complicates the end-of-term academic onslaught. However, with the warm weather and increase in people selling ice cream on the metro, my mind is definitely looking forward to finishing up the academic side of study abroad. Before I do so, I just wanted to do a more comprehensive overview of academics in Chile. When I was investigating programs it was hard to find a lot of definitive information that really explained how difficult (or easy) classes were in Chile or how they were structured. While most of this information will really be comprised of my own opinions, I hope it is helpful to anyone curious about academics in Chile!

Naturally, your academic load will depend on the facultad, or department(s), where you take classes. As a refresher I am in four courses here: a history class and a Spanish grammar class with IFSA, a Spanish literature class, and a psychology class. My IFSA classes are definitely the least amount of work, but they will not end until the second week of December. While the grammar class is optional, I elected to take the history class, and I’m not sure if I would make the same decision again. I’ve definitely learned a lot, but the class is a bit too unorganized for my liking, and the fact that it continues into December made traveling at the end of the program nearly impossible. My Spanish literature class has by far been the source of most of my work, but it was also my favorite class because I loved the professor and nearly all of her lectures. My psychology class is decent but has been challenging because of the required readings which are fairly dense and (naturally) all in Spanish. The class is also a little disorganized, but after four and a half months in Chile my patience has only increased. This is the class I take at la Universidad de Chile, and due to student strikes last semester won’t end until after the IFSA program, meaning I’ll have to take our final exam early.

Depending on the facultad where you take classes, you may interact with lots of other foreign students or just a few. As far as I know I’m the only student from the US in my psychology class and one of two international students in my Spanish literature class. However, friends in political science/international relations/business courses report having tons of other international students in their courses. Different facultades also structure exams and tests differently; at la Católica some departments schedule their tests all on the same day, while others have no such set schedules. Across facultades most classes are lecture-based, with little interaction between professor and student aside from a few back and forths set off by questions. That being said, my professors at both la Católica and la Chile have been extremely accommodating and made time to meet with me when asked.

One of the great things about studying abroad with IFSA is the freedom to choose your courses and the academic experience you’d like to have. As a Spanish and Psychology double major I wanted the freedom to be able to take a variety of classes, and even though I don’t believe I’ll be getting credit for the psychology class I’m taking it was still an incredibly worthwhile experience to learn about psychological evaluation in Spanish, and more specifically from a Chilean point-of-view. If you see your time abroad as a chance to escape a difficult curriculum or branch out, you’ll easily be able to do so since IFSA offers the chance to take classes at multiple universities (which I highly recommend!!). If you’re concerned about taking classes that will transfer back to your home university IFSA is also a fantastic option; the universities in Chile are very large and offer a myriad of classes, so you’re bound to find ones that work for you. Even though I find the bulk of my coursework to be fairly difficult I’ve also still had a decent amount of free time to explore Santiago, take weekend trips, and hang out with friends, all while being able to stay on top of things.

A major difference has been assessments. At my college in the US we’re on the trimester system, a ten-week onslaught of papers, projects, and presentations that make a semester seem like an obstacle course; the distance you have to travel is relatively short, but you’re confronted with hurdle after hurdle without a moment to catch your breath. Here in Chile the semester system is the norm, and assignments are much less frequent; in my psychology class, we literally have only two tests, each representing 50% of our total grade. Yikes!! There is also an emphasis on tests over essays, and on group work over individual work. With everything in mind, my academic experience here has been overwhelmingly positive; I’ve gotten to learn from incredibly intelligent classmates and passionate professors, delve into literature I never knew existed, and tried my hand at deciphering psychological tests developed specifically for Chile. While the stress of the end of the semester is definitely immense, I feel supported by the network of professors, ayudantes, and other resources available here, and am excited to wrap up classes and do a bit more exploring of Santiago before my flight home.

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