Last weekend I met a bunch of other Fulbright students in the coastal city of Valparaiso for a get-together weekend of talking about our project updates and progress, life in Chile, and things we have learned so far. There were about 7 people there and we all chipped in and rented a house on top of Cerro Concepcion, right in the middle of all the restaurants and hills of the city. Saturday morning we all hung out and chatted about our projects and any difficulties we were having and offered insight and ideas to the issues and/or questions posed. It was nice to be able to just talk about how things are going with a variety of people with different backgrounds. For me it was helpful to take a step back and explain my conceptual model; it made some things much clearer not focusing so much on the specifics and details. We are also all at different points of progress in our projects, and while some people are doing well and advancing quickly, the majority are getting a little frustrated at the slow pace of their progress. Many people mentioned how much slower Chilean’s work and that they often have to ask 4-5 times to get someone to do something for them. I feel as though my project is advancing at an intermediate pace, mostly due to the fact that I have taken a couple trips and that my class has been taking some of my time. The semester is nearly finished, so soon I will be able to focus all my attention on my project.
After our morning workshop, we had lunch at one of the dozens of cafe’s scattered near our house and then had the afternoon to do whatever. Me and a few others wandered the crazy streets of Valparaiso, admiring the street art and getting a workout walking up and down the steep hills in search of an amazing view. On our walk we encountered a parade in full swing downtown. It was unlike any parade you would find in the US. Instead of floats and cars throwing candy at kids 20 feet away this parade consisted of groups of people walking, playing music, and dancing in elaborate costumes. It was the coolest thing to see. Marching bands followed large groups in costumes who had a dance routine. The pictures to the right are of a few of the types of costumes and dances there were. The parade took place in a narrow, very crowded street which amplified the excitement and music.
That night we met everyone for supper and then made some mulled wine and ate chocolate back at our house. It was a very relaxing evening because we were all speaking English and were able to just passively enjoy the conversation instead of working to understand and speak Spanish. We all agreed it was a nice break. Sunday morning we finished our workshop by talking about the differences in culture and what it’s like to be a “cultural ambassador”. I hadn’t really thought much about that due to the fact that my office is full of Chileans and non-Chileans alike so we are all sharing things about our cultures every day. That is something I am really enjoying. I never imagined how different the countries of South America are from each other, from the accent, to the food, to the traditions. We are all getting excited for July because US Independence Day is the 4th, Argentina’s is the 9th, and Colombia’s is the 20th! We are all planning how we are going to celebrate each holiday. Anyway, the Fulbright workshop weekend was a great success and I had fun seeing the city, catching up with everyone, and discussing things. It’s crazy to think that in a couple weeks we will be at the halfway point of our time in Chile!
Back in the office it’s nearly back to business as usual, with nearly everyone back from various trips and conferences. The weeks go by much quicker when the office is full of people, and lunchtime is much more fun. Soon people will be going on field trips to collect samples and visit mines and what have you. I, however, will have to wait until August or September as I have visitors coming in July as well as mine and Andrea’s trip to Peru(!!!). The spring semester will start the beginning of August, but I’m still confused as to how the student protests affect undergrads and the schedule of classes. For the past month the majority of the universities in Santiago have been shut down, with students literally locking themselves in the buildings to prevent classes and work. It’s all part of the student protests for free education that have been going on basically since the 90’s. College is free in most other South American countries and apparently the political party who won the last election did so by promising free education back around 2008. Alas, many years later they still have yet to actually make good on their promise. Students have been very upset, and in 2011 there were practically no college classes for the entire year. I remain pretty unaffected by the protests, as my one class is over and I am with graduate students who are funded by different parties, but lately the campus has been very empty and students are always painting signs and debating over loudspeakers outside. They take a vote every Monday and Thursday on whether or not they want to continue going to class or not (I think). It’s very different than in the US, where there are no protests so the only reason classes are cancelled is because of a blizzard or something.