Mel in Chile: A Lens

It has been exactly a week. The most interesting aspect of “the life of a university student” is that political affiliation is a big part of the identity of public universities. Chile is an incredible place to study political systems as it is the only place in the world where a socialist government was elected democratically and without military intervention. This government was overthrown in a military coup only a few years after it was established. The years of Pinochet’s military dictatorship brought the implementation of strict neoliberal economic reforms and fast privatization of important industries. Many will argue it was precisely this period of free markets and capitalist ventures which brought Chile the macroeconomic “success” it currently enjoys. It is considered one of the most stable economies in Latin America. However this same period of military dictatorship also carries painful memories of vast and blatant human rights abuses the government committed against dissidents. Leaders of socialist parties were assassinated, thousands  of civilians who opposed the neoliberal reforms were tortured as political prisoners, and thousands more would simply disappear; they are called the “desaparecidos”. It is without a doubt that Chile’s “economic miracle” came at heavy price.

The bittersweet taste of “macroeconomic” success is not simply nested in the past. Chile continues to be a country with one of the highest margins of income inequality in South America. Access to health care and higher education (along with other industries) is concentrated in the hands of elites. I imagine many will remember the student led protests in 2011.

I apologize! This was not meant to be a history lesson on Chile’s economic and political evolution. I started the blog with the statement that university life for students in Santiago is very interesting. I have found that the universities in the city have a strong political identity. After only two days in the city, I heard from other Chilean students which universities were rightist and which were leftist. After walking around other campuses in the city, I also began to see the role of politics in the university.

This group of SIT students has come to study politics and economics in Chile at an incredibly special time. September 11th will be the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Chile. My host family, professors, and other students say there are many things that go on around the city. At USACH (my university), as in other universities, there are forums, discussions, panels and other events the university has organized. There are also events that will take place throughout the city. My group will actually be traveling to the North for our first excursion so we will be away from all the activity.

Then on November 17th Chileans will vote for their president.  It will be the first presidential election in which voting is voluntary.

In conclusion, I feel very lucky to be in this program during such a specific time in Chile. I am not simply here taking classes, making friends, and sightseeing. I have the opportunity to “experience” the country through a specific lens. I walk around the metropolitan areas of Santiago and I don’t simply see huge skyscrapers housing foreign companies. I also think about the implications of such economic growth. When I am in the university campus I don’t just see other university students. I think of how their identity as students was formed through the movement, and how they help form the identity of the university.

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This is a view of Santiago from the San Cristobal hill. Note the Andes in the background!

It has been incredibly helpful to have this lens. Another student studying abroad in Brazil and writing for the Traveloges for UR mentions how easy it is for study abroad students to be “tourists”. Being a “tourist” is not bad. I am already planning a backpacking trip to Patagonia after the program is over with another friend studying in Valparaiso and I will do as much traveling as I can. That is to say, if you have the opportunity to travel you should take advantage of it. However you should also take advantage of the fact that studying abroad gives students an opportunity to create a lens. It gives students the opportunity to travel not to simply visit places and appreciate their presence in space but to also see what isn’t physically there.

I can feel myself becoming poetic as I sit in the cozy kitchen of Pedro and María on this cold night in Santiago, Chile.

Better to stop now before I start writing of the wisdom of the wind and the courage of the sun or something.

Have a great week everyone 🙂

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2 Responses to Mel in Chile: A Lens

  1. You are indeed a very lucky person! I loved Chile when I visited last January. BTW if you are going to stay at Santiago check my map http://duranvirginia.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/architecture-planning-a-trip-to-chile/ it will soon be summer again 🙂

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