Colby, ¡Saludos de Chile!
¿Cómo estai Colby?
That is Chilean slang for “estás,” one of the many “chilenísmos” I have learned studying abroad here. I am writing from Santiago, the capital city situated next to the Andes in the center of the longest country in the world.
Chile is one of the most developed countries of Latin America, but it is definitely a country of contradictions. The government, although a democratic republic, still exercises laws from the harsh dictator Pinochet who hasn’t been in power for more than 20 years. Despite its economic development (Chile is the world’s leading producer of copper), the socioeconomic inequality gap is one of the greatest in the world.
Nevertheless, spending a semester down here has been a great learning experience, and I am in love with everything about the Chilean culture and environment, except for maybe the earthquakes. It is a bit chilly in Chile now that it is fall, though Santiago still manages to be super toasty during the day, probably due to the depleted ozone layer in the region. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and dinners aren’t eaten until around 9 or 10 p.m. (a lot different from my 5 o’clock dinners at Foss).
It took me a while to adjust to the Spanish; they speak ridiculously fast and like to drop sounds, and the “chilenísmos” are numerous. But add on “po” to all of your sentences and you are good to go!
I’m down here on an SIT program called Comparative Education and Social Change. In a nutshell, we are observing the Chilean education system and learning how it is interconnected to human rights and the extremely unequal socioeconomic society that exists here. Chile’s social stratification is extremely evident when looking at the education system; the system is privatized (set up by the former military dictatorship of Pinochet), and the public schools really suffer from a lack of funding by the government.
In 2011, there were huge student movements and protests for a free and fair education system because university is way too expensive and the quality of secondary public schools is awful. The movement actually stopped many universities and secondary schools from continuing the academic year. As a result of the protests, the government made small compromises, but nothing that satisfied the students, so the fight has continued. I actually had the opportunity to meet some of the student leaders of the movement; they were so inspiring. I want to bring their courageous activism to Colby. This program has made me think a lot about the public education and higher education system in the US as well; I have been surprised by the number of similarities there are.
My most recent excursion was a week-long stay in the south of Chile in Temuco with a Mapuche community. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous population of Chile (“Mapu” means land, and “che” means man). The Mapuche were colonized by the Spanish and have faced severe violence, forced assimilation and oppression for hundreds of years and have lost most of their territory, religion and culture. It is believed that a “true” Mapuche no longer exists. I stayed with a Mapuche family in “el campo,” or in the fields, of Temuco.
I lived in a very simple house in a family of four with no running water and no heat, but with plenty of pigs, cows, cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys and ducks. Bread was freshly prepared every day, as well as everything else we ate. I observed three different schools and learned about intercultural education, a movement that teaches the youth Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, as well as Mapuche culture in order to to revive it and keep their traditions alive. My group also finished constructing a traditional Ruca, once used as a home for the Mapuche but now used for community gatherings. We also played the Mapuche sport Palin and immersed ourselves in this new Mapuche life affected by globalization and development.
I’m in love with this country and everything it has taught me about education, culture, development, globalization, good relationships and myself! My time here has whizzed by, and I am doing my best to take it all in. See you in the fall Colby! ¡Ciao!
-Hillary Sapanski ’13