When life gives you lemons, go to a protest.

This probably isn’t the update you were anticipating, but I hope it’ll be entertaining nonetheless (I swear I’m working on a desert trip post)! Today I’m going to talk about my new university, the classes I’m taking and give a brief introduction to the Chilean student/education movement.

The “real deal” classes I alluded to in July started on Monday. Unlike most universities in the U.S., La Universidad de Chile, or La UCh for short, is split up into various campuses; luckily for me, the classes I’m taking are all in the same place since they’re literature and history courses (part of the Philosophy and Humanities faculty).

My friends and I went to check out the campus on Sunday to make sure we knew how to get there and how long the commute would be (for the record my commute is ~40 minutes and involves taking the metro and a micro (bus)). When we got there, the gates were locked and there were shards of glass and pieces of broken wood on the pavement inside. A security guard patrolling the area told us that some people had vandalized the campus the night before so they weren’t allowing anybody in. “I don’t know whether there will be class tomorrow…I guess we’ll find out.”

Fantastic.

So we went to the campus the next day not really knowing whether or not we’d be having class. We got there and success! school was in session. Then came the fun part: looking for the actual classrooms. I’m so glad I got there early; it took me 45 minutes to find out where my classes were going to be held. Let me explain: yes, there is a physical course catalog and yes, there is an online system where you sign up for classes. BUT neither of those necessarily provide accurate and up-to-date information. For example, the course that was supposed to be in room 104 was moved to room 214 about a minute before the start of class (I saw about 40 students run downstairs and then back up two flights because of this last-minute room change).

When I asked a student I met in the main office whether it was normal to not have a schedule for two of my class I was told:

-Oh yeah, that happens all the time. You just don’t go to class unless they post the schedule.
-Um, okay. Where will the schedule be posted?
-On the bulletin board in the main office, I think. But sometimes it’s posted online. Other times you just keep showing up wherever you think the class is and maybe you’ll get lucky.
-Hmm, right. And when will this schedule be posted?
-Yeah, I don’t really know.
-You said you were a fifth year, right?
-Yep! I’ve almost figured out how to not miss class the first week *Grin*

Marvelous.

Since all this confusion is supposedly super normal, I’m not really gonna worry about scheduling conflicts…The classes themselves are pretty interesting. I think being a Spanish language and literature major is definitely a big help–I recognize a lot of the authors and their works, and I’m used to writing in-class and take-home essays. Woo! :)

After a busy Monday and Tuesday, I thought I would probably get the hang of things by today. Ha. I showed up to a deserted school this morning. There were only about a handful of students walking around, and perhaps about five staff members. I naively asked the secretary whether professors and students are usually late to class:

-Professors are usually about 5-15 minutes late but don’t bother, they won’t be coming in today.
-Oh, I didn’t realize today’s a holiday…
-It’s not…they’re not coming to class because there’s a strike today.

Silly me, of course university professors don’t come to class when there’s a strike in support of high school education. Duh! Well since going to class was obviously optional, I thought I might as well see what all the fuss was about. Yep: I went to the rally.

But before y’all get too excited (Aai and Baba: breathe…), I took pains to be as safe as possible: I went with a group of friends, people knew we were out there, we stayed away from the main areas and big crowds, we were a safe distance away from the crazy people, and we made sure to leave before things got out of hand.

You might think I’m overreacting to a simple student march, but believe me, protests in Chile–especially those in Santiago–are not just any protests. This isn’t a bunch of students walking down Telegraph Avenue, holding hands and chanting “WE ARE THE 99%”. These are students who are far more leftist than any leftist in the U.S. (I joke about going to school with Communists but it’s actually kinda true).

The recent Berkeley protests are much tamer than anything I saw today; it’s like comparing Doctor Banner to the Hulk. For example, student groups marched in downtown Santiago this morning despite the government’s rejection of their march permit. We saw dozens of military and police cars and buses on the street, including a few guanacos, police vehicles that spray water and chemical irritants at people and whose purpose is to disperse crowds. There were students throwing rocks at the cops (called pacos) and creating road barricades out of broken gates and street signs. I had always wondered why I never saw street names anywhere (seriously, you can walk for blocks without knowing the name of the street you’re on), and now I know: protesters pull them out of the ground to block the roads. Sweet.

In addition to the guanacos, the police also fired tear gas canisters. Even though we weren’t close to where they landed, the wind spread the gas pretty far. It was my first (and hopefully last) experience with tear gas and it was no bueno. Tear gas works by irritating mucous membranes–namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. You usually feel it in your nose first, then your throat, and finally your eyes; it’s sort of like cutting a ginormous onion while gargling chili flakes.

In case you ever plan on “checking out” a protest hereabouts, you should take at least 4 things with you:

  1. A scarf or a mask to cover your face
  2. Comfortable shoes
  3. Sunglasses or goggles
  4. Lemons

The title of this post is a play on the saying “When life gives you lemons…”. I learned from locals that chewing or keeping an open lemon (i.e., something acidic) in front of your face helps lessen the effects of tear gas. Almost everyone I saw today was nibbling on a lemon; a lot of people carry them all the time, just in case. I’m not sure how much they help since I didn’t have one on me today, but it probably does something.

Overall the rally was a good, er, cultural experience to have. Not one that I’m anxious to repeat, though, since the participation of foreign students (from what I’ve heard) is 1) not all that safe and 2) not all that helpful. However, it was interesting to see the difference between protests here and those back home, and I’m looking forward to discussing the movement with students at my school.

That’s all I have for y’all today, hope it was entertaining! As always, comments/questions/etc are welcome :) ¡Chao for now!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Anita Aunty says:

    ..I am enjoying your blog..I have read all of them…please be safe..

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