A Travellerspoint blog

Vamos al Paraíso

Novia del Océano

semi-overcast 11 °C
View Chile Study Abroad 2007 on KKS's travel map.

I am starting to gain the slightest familiarity with the city of Valparaíso, a city Pablo Neruda described as the “ocean’s sweetheart.” Today our COPA group took a tour of several “cerros” (hills) that I have been to before: Bellavista, Concepción, and Alegre. Our guide told us that there are 45 hills in the city, served by 25 “ascensores” (only 16 of which are functional). I’ve decided to make it a goal to ascend all 16.

The city has a rich cultural heritage, owing much to the immigration to the city from England, Germany, and Italy, among other countries that occurred from 1848-1914. The city has “Zonas Típicas” to designate the original immigrant communities, often showcasing a unique application of the Old Country’s architectural style adapted to suit a terrain unlike that to which the immigrants were accustomed. The houses were originally painted bright colors so that a mariner’s house would match his boat.

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We visited La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile (the other two being in Santiago and Isla Negra). I think Eva would particularly love the house… very asymmetrical with diverse textures and colors that somehow cohere amazingly. The house is, of course, situated high on a cerro with large picture windows on every wall facing the Pacific. Neruda himself was greatly invested in the interior design of the house.

Beside the bronze bed, Neruda placed a chest of drawers and night tables from a ship. “Navegante de boca soy,” (“I am a fake sailor”) he said, because he preferred looking at the sea from land rather than sailing the ocean. (museum description)


The house, which is now a museum, had epigrams and poetry of Neruda’s sprinkled through the rooms. I’ve been reading his “Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada” (Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair), though it takes me nearly an hour to look up every unknown word in a 16-line poem, only to be left entirely clueless as to the MEANING of the poem.

“El niño que no juega no es niño, pero el hombre que no juega perdió para siempre al niño que vivía en él.”

“The boy who doesn’t play is not a boy, but the man who doesn’t play loses forever the boy that lived inside him.”

Valparaíso was once the most vital port in South America, until 1914 when the opening of the Panama Canal made it nearly obsolete. The city suffered ups and downs in the decades that followed; I believe we are currently in an up swing. Our guide on a boat tour of the “bahía” (bay) said that the sailors of yesteryear gave the city the charming nickname “Pancho Gancho.” Apparently there was a large “iglesia” (church) near the waterfront for San Francisco; the name Francisco can be shortened to Pancho, and Gancho in Chile means friend or ally.


I’ve been having the strange sensation of hearing a foreign language and not being able to recognize what it is. For some reason, when I hear people talking in the next room, it sounds like Telugu to me. I have to tune my ear and actually pay attention to be able to pick up the words and convince myself that, unlike with Telugu, I might be able to understand what is being said.

A group of us also spent almost three hours yesterday walking from our homes in Viña del Mar north to Reñaca, a beach that becomes saturated with Chileans (and other South Americans) every summer. Luckily, as it is the middle of winter, no one was there. We followed a road somewhat similar to the Pacific Coast Highway, with the pavement cutting into steep cliffs and water crashing onto huge rocks below.

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Even though it is the middle of winter here, the weather is still relatively mild by Chicago standards. There are large palm trees lining Viña’s main boulevards and many flowers in bloom throughout the city. Runners are common near beaches, and many Chileans spend lots of time outside near the water, often clustering near “kioskos” holding a pyramidal three color lollipop. I can only imagine that, in the summer, the city teems with people and music and activity. Farther north the landscape becomes desert and farther south it remains cold with few large cities, so Chileans are magnetized to the central coast. It is a climate I have never spent much time in and is definitely a lovely place.

Posted by KKS 22:10 Archived in Chile Comments (6)

Empezando El Semestre

semi-overcast 12 °C
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Today, the first day of second semester classes at PUCV, I walked across Viña del Mar to the department of art building for a class entitled Lectures on Cinematography. To my surprise, I was the only student who showed up for the class! And I had expected it to be filled with gringos, as the title included the letters “Cine--"! However, the young professor seemed rather cool with the situation; I’ve heard that Chilean students often miss the first day of school (and also many subsequent days…).

The professor, Alfonso Iommi, explained that the class would consist of watching three movies together: The Good Shepherd (“El Buen Pastor”), The Good German (“El Alemán Bueno”), and any other movie of the students’ choosing. I had hoped that it would be a class studying Latin American films, but I think that finding a good professor and a non-gringo filled class are reasons enough for me to stay in this one. And I’ve been wanting to take a film study class, which are hard to get into at Brown due to prerequisites.

The professor went on to describe the class as a “taller” (“tai-yehr” meaning workshop) in which the class watches the movies together and then each student individually begins writing a 5,000 word essay. We then work on the essays together in class… for the 10 weeks that follow? Either this is a strangely easy curriculum or I misunderstood what the professor was saying…

I later went to a class (just to sit, not to enroll) in the social work department called Modernity & Social Problems, which had about 40 students, about a third of whom were international students (mostly from the US, but also from Austria, Mexico, and one guy from “País Vasco” (and NO, he is NOT from Spain, he will tell you)). The professor spent much of class going over requirements, which include two mid-terms, a group project, and a final exam for those under a certain average grade. She seemed accustomed to having many “extranjeros” in her class and made all of the 40+ students introduce themselves to the class by name, place of origin, and field of study. It’s interesting to think about how a Mexican student must see this semester in Chile differently from a student whose native language is English. I’ve wondered if it would be like my going to Edinburgh or Melbourne … but of course it is impossible to draw an accurate parallel.

My last class of the day was the required Spanish class through the COPA program. After being warned that our classes in Chile might be very different from those in America (professors don’t respond to email, have little audio-visual material, cancel classes at the last moment with no warning, change dates of exams at whim, etc…), I have to say, it was nice to have the comforts of home in this Spanish class made for us Americans: a syllabus with every date the class was meeting, the assignments for that day, a percentage breakdown of essays / quizzes / participation / etc, handing out workbooks, PowerPoints… It seems like the classes with the most “extranjeros” are taught somewhat differently from the others. Since most of my classes (I hope!) are not filled with “extranjeros,” I should be able to test in what other ways the classes differ.

The COPA program generally allows students to take classes at La Pontífica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV) as well as at La Universidad de Valparaíso (UValpo). However, due to recent “huelgas” (strikes) at UValpo, we are taking all our classes at PUCV. My hermano Víctor told me that there is a great difference between the people at the two universities. At PUCV (his own university), he described the people as more “fría,” (meaning cold) though he couldn’t elaborate more than saying that they are maybe more traditional. Meanwhile at UValpo, there is a greater diversity of students, like punks and Rastafarian types, he said.

I have definitely seen a fair share of “punk types” here in Viña and more pairs of Converse than on Brown’s campus (imagine!). I’ve also heard that Avril Lavigne “Girlfriend” song on the radio twice… which is about two times more than I’d like for a semester abroad in Chile.

It seems that everyone in the COPA program is a bit sick… I’ve been having a sniffly nose the last few days. I wonder what happened to my circadian rhythms when I jumped from Chicago summer to Chilean winter, almost from the longest day of the year to the shortest! My hands definitely got chapped from the cold in these first two weeks (I bought a small tin of “Crema Lechuga” —Lettuce Cream—to remedy the problem… I have no idea where the Chileans came up with that). Overall the cold outside is very bearable, but I have to bundle up whenever I’m inside the house in the evening. The cities are very picturesque, though, and I’m eager to see the slow march from winter to summer here.

My familia went to the “Zoológico” in nearby Quilpue this weekend. It was 100% outdoors and built up on a hill, so visitors had to scale upwards to see the exhibits.


Posted by KKS 21:25 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

La Vida Académica

Clases, Cursos, Ramos, Carreras, Facultades...

sunny 17 °C
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PUCV put together an impressive schedule of activities to welcome the international students, hailing from Japan, Colombia, Austria, and, YES, Norway, among others. Groups of students were assigned a “monitor” to give tours of the campus (which has buildings flung all over Valparaíso and Viña del Mar) and to answer questions about courses in their respective departments. Each gringo student was given a thick list of courses (a list that regular PUCV students never see since they’re automatically enrolled in the courses of their department (“carrera”) and have no choice in the matter), so it seemed that we were all basically choosing based on which title sounded cooler: e.g., “Historical Evolution of Cinema” vs “Poetry and the City 2,” both classes in the art department, or “Ecology of Chile” vs “Implementation of Fieldwork Laboratory,” both in biology. No surprise, the classes with the coolest names aren’t necessarily the best. I’m very glad we were able to consult with the students … I myself attend such events at Brown basically every semester, even though the classes I’m interested in don’t change all that much.

We have until August 29th to shop the classes and decide what to take. Apparently some professors do not look upon fickle gringo students kindly and even lock the door once the class bell rings so that students may not enter the room tardy. This makes it impossible to take consecutive classes on different sides of campus, since public transportation would be required and there are only 10 minutes for passing. (Actually, the micro buses are incredibly frequent; I think the longest I’ve had to wait was about 30 seconds.)

In any case, the classes I’m planning on shopping starting this Wednesday, August 1st:

- Spanish 4 (required for the COPA program)
- Historical Evolution of Cinema
- Latin America in Text and Images
- Cinematographic Lectures
- Poetry and the City 2
- Implementation of Fieldwork Laboratory
- Urban and Rural Geography
- Modernity and Social Problems
- Introduction to the Contemporary Chilean and Hispanoamerican Short Story
(The Chilean doppelganger of my Brown class “Philosophical Themes in the Contemporary American Short Story,” no?)

No class on Friday = always a good thing.

The umbrella Programa Internacional de Intercambio Estudantil (PIIE… international student program) and my program COPA also create a dozen or so classes just for gringos. The titles are very tempting: “Recent Social Themes and Politics of Chile,” “Contemporary Latin American Poetry,” “Art and Society in Pre-Hispanic Chile,” "Urban and Regional History of Valparaíso.” However, I have decided that I do not want to take many classes with gringos, even though I think these classes would definitely be the best at accommodating the abilities and expectations of international students. I think I’ll be doing quite a lot of reading this semester…

We have been exploring a bit more of Valparaíso, which is a very beautiful and historical city. The entire city is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The downtown unfolds along the sea (with a metro line running parallel to the water), and the houses climb up into the “cerros.” I went with a group of gringas to a fruit and fish market and officially got stares from 100% of the people eating lunch as we walked past.


The city has a dozen or so “ascensors” (funiculars) that actually serve as public transport to lift people up the steepest parts. We rode a short one, Ascensor Concepción, yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the view from the top.

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[The Chileans love foosball... aka TACA TACA.]


Posted by KKS 20:08 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Los Primeros Días

Soy Una Gringa

12 °C
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Though I'm somewhat anti-blog, I've decided for some reason to keep this log of happenings during my semester abroad in Chile. I'll try to put photos up here and update de vez en cuando, and please drop me a line!

After a bit of an ordeal in Miami (through which I actually ended up arriving in Santiago 2 hours earlier than expected), I traveled with the COPA/IFSA-Butler study abroad group to Olmué. We stayed in a Chilean-style resort within a somewhat rural town of over 14,000 near the Parque Nacional La Campana. The national park boasts that on August 17, 1834, our old friend Charles Darwin ascended the La Campana mountain and wrote about the experience in his “Trip of a naturalist around the world”:

“We spent the day in the top of the hill, and never the time has seemed as short as at that moment. Chile lied to our feet as an immense landscape limited by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.”


While in Olmué, the group had several orientation activites to prepare us for life in Chile: the peculiar “modismos” (slang), how to behave with our families (“A messy room is sure to upset other members of the family”… how strange, I know.), and the near-certainty of being stared at, mugged, and possibly held at gunpoint. Apparently 80% of the students from last semester were victims of some crime. So far I’ve been trying to carry as little as possible and holding my bags close. Vamos a ver.


On Saturday, the moment arrived for the 35 gringo students to meet our adoptive families. Luckily the student who lived with my family last semester sent me an email a few weeks ago, so I had already gotten the low-down and ample reassurance. As I stepped off the coach bus, I spotted my family, and my mom (whose brightly dyed blonde hair stands out) seemed to recognize me too. We drove to the apartment with my Chilean Mom Ana María, 24 year-old Chilean brother Víctor, 10 year-old Chilean sister Andrea, and Víctor’s “polola” Evory (in Chile, “polola” is girlfriend and “novia” is fiancée).


I will be living with this Chilean family for the next five months in Viña del Mar, the upscale counterpart of adjoining Valparaíso where La Pontífica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso is located. I haven’t picked classes yet (they start next week), so in the mean time I’ll be learning the lay of the land and how to get around on the micro (“meekro”… known in other Latin American countries as an autobús camión colectivo, guagua…), a pint-sized bus that careens around town wearing about 10 different signs on its windshield, making it quite tricky to locate your destination on the list in enough time to signal the micro to stop. The micro from home to the University goes along Valparaíso’s version of Lake Shore Drive called Avenida España, which is literally just feet above crashing waves.


So far in Viña/Valparaíso, we’ve had a few events to familiarize ourselves with the very dispersed PUCV campus, and tomorrow we’ll meet with real live Chilean students to get the scoop on which classes to register for.

It is winter here in the southern hemisphere, but the climate is Californian/Mediterranean, so it’s cold and sometimes rainy. Apparently it recently snowed in Valparaíso for the first time in recent history, and everyone says it’s an unusually cold winter. The outside weather is definitely doable for a Glencoe / Providence resident, but the unusual thing is that the houses are not heated at all. So you come inside the house still wearing a heavy jacket, scarf, socks, and shoes. A fellow gringa and I were marveling at how much energy this must save on a national scale. It reminded me of an observation my sister Eva once made in India. When she realized how much toilet paper and garbage is avoided because Indians generally don’t use toilet paper, she could visualize an entire nation of Americans flushing toilet paper simultaneously; the thought was rather alarming.

Being abroad for six months is quite an interesting concept. It’s so much longer than a two week vacation, so I’ve been telling myself to take my time photographing things since I have so much time to explore. But at the same time, especially once school starts, I can imagine the weeks flying by and realizing that so much of the great unknown will remain greatly unknown. But at this point, I am very curious and enthusiastic about being here. My Spanish is already improving, and the bits of the city I’ve seen so far are lovely, sprawling between house-covered “cerros” (hills) and the Pacific.

It’s always a big pride (?) boost when people start talking to me in Spanish. This has happened twice so far. Once, I was riding a micro on my very FIRST day in Viña del Mar, and an older woman sitting next to me started asking me a question, something about whether the micro runs near the marina. I sort of couldn’t understand her, but I said that I had just arrived on Saturday and didn’t know my way around yet.

The second person was an American Airlines employee in the Miami airport. So I’m not sure if that counts. But it’s still cool?


Posted by KKS 22:46 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

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