The first three weeks … or bits and pieces of them
I realize that I promised that I would write sooner, about my host family and Chilean Spanish and such things, but a lot of stuff got in the way, of which I will try to share with you as much as possible in this blog post!
So, a lot has happened in the past three weeks. I have more or less settled into the routine of living with a host family (more about them later, of course) and know my way around the city to some extent. Ok, that last part is more lie than truth – I may now know how to get to the IFSA-Butler office and how to get to two campuses of the Universidad Católica de Chile, San Joaquín and Oriente, but that’s about it. Oh and I know how to get to Bellavista, a district high in night life, fairly well. But considering it’s on the way to the IFSA-Butler office, that’s not really all that great of an accomplishment.
Side story (prepare yourselves, it’s a long one!) in relation to not knowing my way around: This requires some introduction. My second week here – the my first Monday here, to be exact – we went as a group to register our visas and to apply for our cédulas, or ID cards, at the Registro Civil in the center of Santiago. The line at the Registro Civil is insanely long. Apparently a lot of people need ID cards. Even though that day Chilean citizens and foreigners were split into two lines, we still had to wait almost two hours before we were able to go talk to the officials. Everyone else’s – all those who already had a student visa, as there were some of us who still didn’t at the time – meetings went quite smoothly. I, however, was lucky enough to encounter a problem. My last name in my passport was written differently than the name on my visa. There was an explanation for this, namely that my last name as it is written in my passport, Höllerbauer (it’s German; I’m an Austrian citizen), is sometimes difficult to reproduce because of the umlaut. Regardless, because of this, I was not able to apply for my cédula, despite having waited in line for two hours, and was told to go ask for a rectification of the visa and then come back … to do the whole process over again.
I had planned to do this on Tuesday the 7th, but having arrived at the Extranjería, where I thought I would have to ask for a correction to my visa, I realized that I did not have my passport, which was the essential part of the whole thing, containing my visa as it did. So that was a wash.
I went again on the previous Friday, and that endeavor was decidedly more successful, though not without its own hiccups. But I have come to expect that here in Chile, not because it’s Chile, specifically, but because studying in a foreign country always comes with its own snags. Mary, who was very kind in sacrificing her day to accompany me on my adventure (she knows the city, unlike me, which turned out to be a very good thing) and I first went to the Extranjería. Amazingly, we hardly had to wait in line at all (good luck that would fortunately follow us almost the entire day). There, however, they told us that we were in the wrong place, and that we had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Giving us an address, they sent us on our way. Fortunately for me, Mary knew where the address was, and so we walked there. At the Ministry of Foreign Relations, they told us to go talk to Immigration. After waiting a little (there was only one man ahead of us!), we were able to talk to an official and explain the matter to him. However, instead of changing the name on my visa to read Höllerbauer, he told us that he could only change it to Hoellerbauer, which is the international spelling of my name (and the version my family uses in the United States). This didn’t take very long but complicated things slightly because it meant that we had to go to the police again to register my visa … half way across the city. Once there, however, Mary had the brilliant idea to simply ask for a rectification of an already existent visa registration. This allowed us to skip all the lines (and the room was filled to the brim with people), we didn’t have to pay anything. With the new and improved registration card in hand we walked back the way we had come (another 20 minutes or so of walking!), to the Registro Civil. Here, Lady Luck deigned to stop shining as strongly. We had to wait in line for almost three hours before we were able to talk to an official. The official, however, turned out to be extremely nice and everything went smoothly. She told me that I would have to come back in 10 days to pick up my cédula and sent me on my way. I’m really grateful for Mary’s help because without her, I’d probably still be wandering around Santiago!
In regards to the city itself, however little I really know my way around it or not, I love it. I try to walk as much as possible, first of all because it’s much cheaper that way (the public transportation system isn’t that expensive, but using it daily builds up, and it’s amazing how much money one can spend when that money isn’t in dollars), but also because one simply sees much more of the city that way. Last week a few of students from the program and I went to a sort of gallery of old and used book stores along one of the major roads in Santiago, Providencia. They were all tiny but stacked floor to ceiling with books. Even the doors had shelves on with filled with books! And outside there were tables set up with even more books. The books there are extraordinarily cheap, especially in comparison with regular book stores here in Santiago (I saw the Song of Ice and Fire books in large form paperback for 19.880 Chilean pesos at the bookstore on Católica’s San Joaquín Campus. That’s $41). But you can only find such things if you actually take the time to walk around the city and get to know it better instead of taking the micros or subway everywhere. Plus, it’s great exercise.
Side story (much shorter, in case anyone was worried): I accompanied my hermanito Benja as he was walking the dog, Macky, this Wednesday. As we turned to keep going around the block, he asked me how I was liking Santiago so far. I responded that I was amazed at how green the city was, telling him that all the cities I knew were much drearier somehow. He looked at me askance. Then came this gem, from a 10 year old: Santiago es 80 porciento cem – no, no, es 80 porciento smog, 19 porciento cement y 1 porciento césped. (Translation: Santiago is 80% smog, 19% cement and 1% grass). But I think that’s not exactly true. The area of the comuna in which I live (Providencia) is actually very green. And it’s far enough away from the center of the city that it doesn’t really feel like you are in a humongous city.
Also, quick story about my first experience with student protests: On Wednesday, August 8th, students organized a march in order to make the government aware of their lack of satisfaction with how the government had responded (or failed to respond) to the protests of the past year. These marches usually are very peaceful and only sometimes turn violent at the end, when small groups of more militant protestors begin to throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police. This time, however, the students had not been given permission to march, which made the whole situation even more precarious than it usually was. Because of this, IFSA-Butler forbid us to go to the IFSA-Butler office during the day (because the march would be in the center of the city, where the IFSA-Butler office is located) and told us to inform our host families where we were the whole day. As it turned out however, the carabineros blocked off access to la Moneda (the Chilean Whitehouse), which funneled the students into the south of the city. Thus it was that I walked up the steps of the Santa Isabel metro station on my way to Campus Oriente and saw a burned out micro, broken glass everywhere, a police water gun truck and carabineros in full riot gear. Luckily enough for me, the worst had passed, in that students and carabineros were no longer facing one another. But all the street signs had been torn down and all of the traffic lights in the vicinity had been absolutely destroyed. This was especially unfortunate for me because this was the first time I was making the trip between Campus San Joaquín and Campus Oriente, and I had absolutely no idea where to go. I decided to ask a carabinero if he knew where the nearest D18 micro stop was. And here I learned a very important lesson: carabineros, so soon after battling students, are not your friends if you yourself appear to be a student. The carabinero I had asked sent me completely in the opposite direction. Only after walking the wrong way for two blocks did I realize my error. But I did eventually find my way to my class (on time too!) and am actually really glad that I had this experience. Watching the news that night I learned that in total 3 buses of Transantiago (the public transportation network) had been burned. The students really want to be heard.
Oh also, it’s slightly scary how politicized the students are here. Even the high schoolers! Just like the university students, high schoolers organize tomas (literally taking or occupation, where they occupy a place and don’t allow classes to be held) and paros (a strike, where they refuse to come to school). I read in the news on Thursday about a colegio (combination high school and middle school – I promise I will try to explain all this better at a later time!) whose students had retaken the school buildings after having been pushed out for a third time by the police. Saying that they had been given permission to occupy the buildings until at least Friday, they said that while the previous three times that they had been pushed out by the police had been peaceful, any further attempts to dislodge them would be met with resistance. I can’t imagine high school students in the USA attempting anything of the sort.
I understand that I haven’t actually talked about my host family. I will do that as soon as I get around to taking pictures of all of them! In the mean time, I guess a quick introduction will have to do. I live with a family of four – the mother, Gloria, and her three children, Camila (20), Benjamín (10) and Sebastián (12). They are all really nice. I spend most of my time at home with Benja and Seba because they are home the most (being only 10 and 12 that makes sense). They are learning English in school, and they keep trying out English phrases and words on me. It’s really funny because the way they pronounce some things makes conversing this way actually really difficult. But that’s probably what it’s like for them with me! Last Thursday I helped Seba study for an English quiz and it made me realize how little I actually remember of English grammar.
I realize this blog post is just as scattered as the last one. I’ll try to figure out a way to give them more structure. Also, I was going to put this up last week, but I think I tried to bite off more than I could chew and never finished (I more or less ran out of time due to reading for classes and other things). In addition, I have realized that it might make more sense to write shorter blog posts, more often, especially considering that a lot of this information would have been more interesting when it was more current. I promise I’ll talk more about my classes in my next post, which I promise will come sooner rather than later!
P.S. Here are some pictures of Campus San Joaquín and Campus Oriente (the really pretty one with all the palm trees that somehow survive during the winter) and the view of the mountains from the field where my soccer class takes place (it was a rather cloudy day. I’ll try to take better pictures this week, because it’s supposed to be nicer). There also a few pictures of my host family’s house. Oh, and the kid holding the pizza is my host brother Seba. That pizza was really yummy, by the way.