Classes have started!…sort of…

Bathroom at Universidad Católica

Above: Sign indicating a bathroom in UCatólica.  Remarkably one of the clearest messages I’ve received from my university experince.  It’s a stunning metaphor, really. I’m the flailing legs (much like Brueghel’s Icarus), and that brilliant, porcelain masterpiece is the Chilean university, or as I affectionately like to call it, Leviathan.

I’m finally settling in and gathering my bearings; I’m getting to know my family a little better, and I made a friend recently that showed me the ropes of navigating through Chilean classes.

The Chilean system of education is chaos.  The first class I attended is Sociology of Organization; its goal is to explore the continuum between chaos and order.  Initially, I didn’t know if I could handle that topic in Spanish, but now I realize that I need to study chaos and order if I want to survive this semester.

So here’s what I’ve learned in the past three weeks:

Initially, I signed up for seven classes.  The first couple weeks are generally a mad rush of frantically adding, visiting, and dropping classes.  I’ve finally settled on Social History of Latin America, the Sociology of Organizations (both at the University of Chile), Spanish for foreigners (at the University Católica), and an internship at Mano a Mano, an HIV research initiative at the Universidad Católica.

It’s taken me a long time to write about classes; I honestly have no idea where to begin or how to form some explanation of the phenomenon that is the Chilean university.  For example, one of the most frustrating experiences has been figuring out my Sociología de la Organización class.

My cool friends, Emily and Charles

We could figure out Chile… or we could use Brie’s orange peels to eat yogurt…

First of all, I’d never seen a description of the class.  I had no way to find one in the course booklet or the UChile website.  My directors didn’t know how to help me, nor did the counselors with whom they are associated because most students take classes in the Facultad de Humanidades y Filosofía (In Chile, each faculty is a separate entity, and students only take classes through their faculty.  The faculties are split into departments, such as Education, Sociology, or Anthropology in the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales.).  I sent an email to the “profe” to ask him where I could find the readings and for more information on the class.  He didn’t respond, but in class when he called my name, he asked, “Didn’t you send me an email?  You don’t know how to find the readings?”  One of the girls next to me saw that I was clearly gringa and took pity on me, writing down the website to visit.  This faculty has a separate website to view all classes, apparently.  Unfortunately, that syllabus listed over twenty texts, and I had no idea if I should buy them, try to find them in the library, or even which texts we would be reading, let alone when we would read them.  Usually, students don’t buy books.  Everything is photocopied.  But there was nothing in the photocopy room for me.  Ugh.  The next class I worked up the nerve to ask a student for some direction, and she was super-gracious and friendly.  I followed her to the photocopier, we copied the reading for next class, and then she took me to the computer room to show me how to find other readings.  Apparently, the sociology department has a Gmail account on which students post readings.  Each person then logs on, selects their course, and reads/prints out what other people have posted.  !!!  There is no way I could have ever known that!  And it took me two weeks to figure any of this out!

This is a perfect example of a significant cultural difference between Chileans and Americans.  If I want to get information in the US, I can make a phone call or shoot someone an email.  Usually, that will do the trick.  Or at least, the result is probably the same as if I were to go in person with the same inquiry.  Not so in Chile.  If you want anything done, you must go in person.  Even to register for classes.  Someone might tell you that there are no chorus ensembles available, but if you go in person to talk to them, they suddenly find information.

Other school-related tidbits:

If your profe (short for professor for those who aren’t used to being intentionally playful with words) doesn’t show up for class because he doesn’t feel like it, deal with it.  Move on.Intentionally playful

It’s not cool to come into class, sit in your desk, and wait for the profe to come in.  The cool kids (Chileans) wait outside the classroom and follow the profe in.

More to come…!


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