Back to School, Back to School, to Prove to Dad That I’m Not a Fool

It finally happened. After over three months of break and nearly three weeks of summer in this foreign (I still get to call it that, right?) country, I am back in class. But getting there wasn’t that easy.


First off, the program I’m working through to be here in Chile (CIEE), offers its students the ability to take classes at three different universities in Santiago: La Católica, La Universidad de Chile, y La Universidad de Diego Portales. Most of the kids on my program are taking their classes in one of the three, some taking them in two. I, obviously, am taking at least one class in all three, for solidarity’s sake, you know? I’m taking two political science courses at DP – Programas y Políticas Contra la Pobreza en América Latina and Elecciones y Marketing; taking a culture course at La U – Chile, Chilenos, y Su Cultura; and a theater course at La Católica – La Escena Interna 1. All four have been great so far, and I’m still the only gringo in 2 of them, so I know I’m doing something right.


But let me tell you, readers, choosing your courses as an American in Chile is harder than grabbing a salmon with your bare, sweaty hands.


First off, most of the universities require you to physically go to a registration office to sign up for a course – what is this, 1974? – and then when you get there, sometimes the course has been dropped, has changed its time, or isn’t even being offered this semester at all. Plus, Chilean college kids study differently than we do: they, more or less, decide what precise career they’d like to pursue upon matriculation to the university, and they only take classes in that “carrera”. So, my trying to take all of my different liberal arts courses is difficult to schedule – all of the classes I wanted to take overlapped because I was trying to apply an American system onto a Chilean one. Oh also, each school within each university has its own campus (again, more or less), so to take different courses in different disciplines also means that you’re schlepping across the city to ensure you’re getting your “humanities” in. And then, once you’re enrolled in the classes, it’s very hard to figure out when school actually starts, or if your professor will actually show up. Three times I went to different classes and was turned back away because either a.) there was no class that day and I just didn’t get the Chilean memo, b.) the professor wasn’t ready for the school year to start so he didn’t show up, or c.) I actually just left on my own accord because I realized talking about Kant’s philosophies on metaphysics and physiology were probably still out of my spanish vocabulary range. But this week it’s clicked, and I finally feel like a true, working, understanding Chilean student.


And since that moment, I’ve been loving my classes. The professors are interesting, animated, incredibly individual, and care about their exchange kids. The classroom dynamic is funny – kids have a much more jovial, joking demeanor with their professors than I see in the states. It’s not uncommon for students to, light-heartedly, make fun of the professor or crack jokes in the middle of a lecture. I do find myself following the Professor intently as he paces across the room, watching him like a hungry dog eyeing your steak fat that you probably won’t finish, because it helps to me to understand what it is he’s saying. But maybe once I get over that I’ll start to look like the other natives in my class? Well, maybe I’ll have to get a mullet or a single dreadlock first to actually accomplish that, and I don’t know how likely that’ll be (you’re welcome, Mom).


So, finally back in the swing of things. Feels good. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about what I think about the classes once we really start getting into the heavy material. Syllabus week is a pretty international phenomenon.


For now, it’s time for me to go seek out an American bar that’ll be showing March Madness games. It won’t be easy, so if you’ve made it down here to the bottom of the page, I’d appreciate your blessings.


If y’all keep reading, I’ll keep writing. Until next time, folks.

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