School is in session!…NOT

¡Hola todos!

I was on my university campus this morning when I realized you guys are probably curious about my classes and whatnot. I would gladly devote posts and posts to telling y’all about school (I’m kind of a nerd), but honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to say…In the past 5 weeks I’ve seen the inside of a classroom 5 times, all because of the student-education movement.

As I mentioned several posts ago, university and even high school students take the ongoing protests very seriously, going so far as to “take over” entire school campuses. These tomas usually consist of students banning the entryways to keep people from getting on and off campus and generally camp inside or in front of the gates. Although this is impressive on its own, what I find even more surprising is that professors and administrators seem to support these actions as well (and not just those working in the humanities department, but all across the board). For example, one of my professors casually mentioned during the first lecture that the syllabus was only temporary: “Cambiaré el programa en el caso de que el paro siga o los estudiantes tomen el campus. I’ll change the program in case the strike continues or students take over the campus.” Right, no big deal.

I was curious about the involvement of professors in this strike business so I asked our program director about it. According to him many people are afraid that strict adherence to the law and harsh punishments for protesters somehow reminds them of politics during the dictatorship era. Because of this, students involved in the movement are given leeway when it comes to rule-breaking and may be one reason why professors oftentimes side with the students. Incidentally, this notion is also the reason why a lot of protests (whether authorized or not) erupt in violence: the penalty for minors is usually an informal reprimand before being sent home.

So how is this affecting my courses? Usually when there’s a strike and classes are cancelled the missed lectures are tacked on at the end of the school year (i.e., the semester is extended). I’m a big fan of not having school as much as the next student, but I would prefer to finish my semester at the beginning of December when it’s supposed to so that I have enough time to travel.

Luckily, in order to help out exchange students, professors are generally very willing to meet despite the strike, and they often hold classes or at the least come up with a plan to continue teaching so that we’re done by December. Over the past two weeks I’ve met with all of my professors and we’ve arranged for me to work on projects and papers that will count towards my grade. These are just temporary solutions (they believe the strike will continue till the end of September), but if the paros continue after that we’ll have to come up with other grade-able assignments.

Here are a few pictures of the campus, just so you get a feel for it. I’m hoping to have more up soon!

Outside the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities.

The amphitheater from above. This is where students meet to discuss the ongoing strikes and vote whether or not to stop or continue.
The amphitheater/hangout spot from the bottom floor.
Hard to see, but this is the outside of the campus library.

On a different but slightly related note, a couple of encounters in the past few days have made me wish I stood out a little more as a foreigner. I know this is a weird thing to wish for, especially while studying abroad in a foreign country, and of course I want to immerse myself in Chilean culture…it’s just that things get a bit funky (and awkward. Pretty awkward) when you look–and to a decent extent speak–the part but have no clue about social customs, norms, and just how things “work” in general, because people expect you to know certain things and end up thinking you’re an idiot…

Okay, that sounds pretty confusing and crazy, but I’ll explain. Before I do though, for those of you who have never heard me speak Spanish before, I have a natural accent and I almost always sound like a native speaker. Couple that with my brown skin tone and, as I said before, I really look and sound “Latin American”.

So, two days ago I was at my internship (at the Red Cross) and I was told to ask a patient for his personal information (name, age, address, etc). This involves knowing basic Spanish, something that I could definitely handle. I thought I’d start with something easy so I asked for his name. This is what I heard: Hlekjawilskdfnskf. I’ve already mentioned that Chileans speak Spanish ridiculously fast and squish words together, but what I also realized is that I’m not familiar with names here. In CA I’ve gotten used to hearing certain first and last names, so even if I don’t catch all of it I can still make an educated guess and get it right, spelling and all. Chilean last names–even first names, for that matter–are different than Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, etc, last names (names that you hear frequently in CA). A lot of people, myself included before I came down here, think that Latin America is this one big lump of Spanish speakers. We couldn’t be more wrong: Mexico and countries in Central and South America are more different than they are alike. You can’t even say that they all speak the same Spanish since each country has so much slang and such a varied vocabulary (more on this later). Anyway, it took me two minutes to figure out what the patient was saying and another five to figure out how to spell it. Eventually he just handed me his ID card…so embarrassing. After I copied down the info he asked, smiling somewhat patronizingly, “First day, huh?” I politely smiled back, “Yeah, but it’s not that…I’m actually not from here so I’m not familiar with the names and streets and stuff.” “Oh, you’re not?…Wait, where are you from?” “I’m from the U.S..” I replied. “Really? You speak Spanish really well, though.” If you count not being able to hear “Hector” correctly, then yes, I’m smashing at it, I thought wryly.

This probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it weren’t for Encounters #2 and #3 today…

I met one of my professors to talk about projects I could work on if the strike were to continue throughout September. He wanted me to write an informe about several texts that were on the syllabus. Not knowing what that entailed I asked him. He stared at me for a few seconds not knowing how to answer. “You don’t know what an informe is? It’s an informe,” he finally said. “Is that like an essay?” I asked, “I don’t have any experience with informes because I’m a foreign student, so…” “Oh! Is that right?” He asked me where I was from. I gave him the usual spiel and he nodded, “Yes, yes, but where are you originally from?” “I was born in India, but I moved to California when I was two,” I said. “Right. But what about your Latin American roots?” “Um…excuse me, what?” “Do you have family in Central America or something?” “Uh, no, no, my family is from India.” “But where did you learn Spanish then?” “When I was in high school and then I continued throughout college.” “But you don’t have an American accent!” Following this exclamation we had a 10-minute debate about my ethnicity and by the end of it he was still convinced I was lying to him about not being Latin American. Okay.

After the meeting ended I went down to the library to check out the books I needed for my class assignments. This library system is similar to the one they have at the Biblioteca Nacional (i.e., it’s insanely confusing), so I had to ask a librarian for help quite a few times. At one point he got up from his desk when he saw me struggling with one of those self-checkout machines. In my defense this machine looked nothing like they do back home and its card slot thingy was really weird so how was I supposed to know that I don’t slip the card in all the way? Anyway, he did that for me and then looked at me like I was really slow :( I didn’t even have time to explain before he walked away…

Okay, so I just reread everything I’ve written so far and feel like hitting myself for wishing to be more foreign (seriously, I like this blogging business, it’s like free therapy). I’m sure you guys have already figured out the obvious: I have two options. I was assuming that trying to look like a foreigner would help me look less stupid, which it probably would, but I forgot there’s another awesome-er alternative: just get to know the Chilean culture really really really well! Duh! I’m usually a pretty smart cookie, so I can’t explain this lack of sound judgment. Actually, I think it must be all the hot weather we’ve been having lately…yes, that’s it…the drastic change in temperature has clearly messed with my head. Obviously I’m not going to advertise that I’m “just visiting”. Heck no techno! If I’m going to try, I might as well go all the way, right? No use in starting something if I don’t see it through to the end. New study abroad goals: return to California speaking English with a Chilean accent, kiss people on the cheek to greet them, make thousands of photocopies at the library, put mayo on everything, talk really fast, and say po every other word. Huzzah!

And with that marvelous piece of self-advice, I will now bid you ¡buenas noches! I hope to have more updates concerning school and (classroom) education soon. Oh, speaking of education, one of my professors shared a quote with us the other day that I really liked. He told us that while giving a lecture in an auditorium he saw these words on the wall at the back of the room:

“Profesor, por favor apúrese, afuera la vida nos está esperando.”
“Professor, please hurry, life is waiting for us outside.”

And with that, ¡Chao! until the next post :)

Oh wait, just kidding, completely forgot some important news! Next week I’ll be starting another huge trip that I am very very excited for: I will be spending a week in Argentina! I’ll have a post up closer to the departure date about what I’m hoping to see/do/etc and of course will try to update as frequently as I can while there. BE EXCITED! :D

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