The first few days
So, I was going to write on the first day. But that didn’t happen. And then I decided to write on the second day. But that didn’t happen either, obviously. And now it’s my fourth day here, and I am just now getting to actually writing this blog post. There’s been so much to do! We just moved in with our host families today and I have a little time to rest and relax, which I am using to do write the blog.
The first thing I noticed when I landed – or before I landed, when the pilot announced over the intercom that the temperature at the destination was 31 degrees Fahrenheit – was that it was really cold. One of the first things that Isa and Mary, the two IFSA-Butler employees that met all of us flying in at the airport, told us was bienvenidos al invierno (welcome to the winter)! And indeed, it really is winter here in Santiago. In the morning and evenings the temperature hovers around zero degrees Celsius. It’s cold enough that one can see one’s breath. As I have learned, however, it warms up quite considerably during the day. For example, on the second day we went to La Chascona, one of the houses of Neruda, and when we left the hotel we were staying in, it was very cold, so I put on a sweatshirt and a coat. But by the time we got there, after eating lunch at Patio Bellavista, it was warm enough that I actually had to unzip my jacket and roll up the sleeves of my sweater. But I realize I am getting way ahead of myself.
On the 25th, my first day in Chile, I landed at the Santiago airport, Arturo Merino Benitez, around 9. By the time I had gone through immigration, picked up my luggage and gone through customs (all of which went very smoothly), it was about 9:40. I was met by Isabel Yévenes, the resident director in Chile, who welcomed me to Chile. We waited for the other students to arrive and then were driven to our hotel, Hotel Bonaparte. We were able to rest a bit before orientation started. We learned about how to stay safe in Chile – only the section about earthquakes was a bit worrying, but they assured us that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded – and then about the public transportation system in Chile. In Chile, the buses are called micros and together with the metro form the major components of the Chilean public transportation system.
The sign for the Metro here in Santiago.
For the metro, we were all given a Bip! card, which you use to pay for the metro. You can put money on it like a gift card at metro stations and the Bip! kiosks scattered around Santiago and then just wave it in front of the scanners in the metro stations. In Santiago, the price per metro ride depends on the time of day: it’s more expensive during the “rush hour” times when people are going to and returning from work, and less expensive earlier and during the middle of the day. After orientation, we had a very nice dinner at the hotel, after which I and a few other students went to buy some supplies at a grocery store. It was my first experience with the Chilean currency, the peso!
Oh, side story. I exchanged money at the airport at 467 pesos per dollar. But on the first day, we all went to a part of the city where there were many places to exchange money … and there the exchange rate was 490-491 pesos for a dollar. Very vexing.
On the second day we saw a bit more of the city. In the morning we walked to the Providencia (the name of the region of Santiago in which our hotel was) campus of la Universidad Autónoma de Chile – one of the universities at which we can take classes – where we were given a general orientation. They informed us of all the activities we can participate in, as well as giving us Autónoma backpacks.
After eating lunch we were able to wander about around admire all the wares, before leaving for la Chascona. On the way there, we passed a lot of colorful houses and some very beautiful murals, like this one in the street leading up to the house:
La Chascona, which is at bottom of San Cristobal – but more about that later – was a house of Pablo Neruda’s that he had built for Matilde Urrutia, his lover and eventual third wife. La Chascona, we were told, comes from the indigenous word for wild hair, which described Matilde perfectly. The house was built in various stages and so has a rather disorganized appearance, but the view of the city is amazing and the house itself, along with its gardens, is very, very beautiful. The interiors of the house are very small because Neruda wanted it to feel like a boat, an effect enhanced, during his time, by the no longer functioning water channels that would give inhabitants the appearance that the house was rocking.
The view from the top is simply breathtaking. Though the famous – or rather, infamous – Santiago smog hid most of the Andes from view, they were simply too massive to be kept hidden entirely, their white, snow bedecked peaks visible through the white fog.
From the viewing area we walked up the steps to the statue of the Virgin Mary. From there, the highest point of San Cristobal, the Andes appeared even more impressive.
Side story: Must of the public bathrooms here cost money. The ones at Patio Bellavista cost 300 pesos, and the ones at the foot of San Cristobal cost 150. It’s not very much, but it’s something to be aware of!
On the third day, we sat inside most of the day, listening presentations about how to register for classes at la Universidad Católica and la Universidad de Chile, two of Chile’s largest universities. It is very different from how registration works in the USA! First, it’s probably a good idea to give a short introduction to the Chilean education system in general.
First, a brief history of Chilean universities. Unlike most America universities, whose various colleges were always under the umbrella of their respective universities, the various schools (called facultades) of the large and older Chilean universities only came together after they had been operating as independent colleges for a while. Because of this, the various facultades operate very much independently of one another. The prime example for this is the fact that various facultades start classes at different time. For example, classes of the Department of Economics at la Chile (which is what they call la Universidad de Chile) start on March 30th, but those of the Department of Social Sciences begin on August 6th.
In Chile, students attend university for 5 years. Unlike in the United States, where students can decide more or less exactly what they want to study at college and can even change their areas of studies, in Chile, the students are stuck in the Carrera that they test into after completing high school. Although this is been changing slightly recently, Chilean students generally have to take specific classes each semester in order to graduate on time. If they miss, or fail out of, a class, which is only offered once every year, they have to wait a whole year before being able to take it again, setting back their education a significant amount of time. If that class never happens to be offered again, they actually have to switch schools and start all over again in order to be able to do that. Also, because of the independence of the facultades, registration is rather complicated for international students. Chilean students have an assigned set of classes they have to take, but for international students who can take classes at all, or at least most, of the facultades, registration involves going to the secretaries of each facultad (which are scattered all over the city) and then asking the secretary to sign oneself up for all the courses one is interested in. For us international students there is a “window-shopping” period, in which we can see which classes we like, if we can understand the professor, and if the work sounds doable.
This weekend, we have to make a list of 10-15 classes that we would like to take at la Chile, 10-12 classes we would like to take at la Católica, 6-10 classes that we would like to take at la Autónoma and 6-10 classes we would like to take at Diego Portales, another private university. We aren’t going to sign up for all these classes, obviously, but it’s just to give us a starting place from which we can begin to eliminate options.
That evening, we went to a humongous restaurant called los Buenos Muchachos. It really was enormous and actually quite cold! But the food was delicious and there was live entertainment with a band and singers. The place had a very festive atmosphere, which was awesome. At the end, everyone got up and danced to the music and had a great time.
I was going to write a bit about my host family (today is just my second day with them!) and my first experiences with Chilean Spanish, but I will leave that for a later blog post because most of you have probably already stopped reading anyways! I realize this blog post has a very rambling nature to it and is extremely long, and I’m very sorry! It’s just that there is so much to say! And it’s really my fault for not writing earlier. I’ll try to write about my host family soon, but until then, ¡chao!