World Class

A semester in Chile

May 15, 2011

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For Jessica Howard, a junior at Bates College majoring in chemistry and education, taking a break from science meant traveling to the end of the world. In a program based in Santiago, she took classes in comparative education, social change, and intensive Spanish. She visited different schools and did her independent study in Chapod, a rural town in south-central Chile. “I chose Chile because I wanted to travel to a country that would be a bigger culture change than Europe, a country where I would be immersed in a unique culture and a different language,’’ says Howard.

BACK TO BASICS: “I lived in three different homestays, very different [from] typical dorm life at college in the United States. One of my homestays was in a rural town where I actually walked to school every day and showered without running water. Heated rainwater and a cup was all that was given to me. This particular homestay was in Chapod, and I lived with an indigenous (Mapuche) family.’’

WHAT’S TO EAT? “Sopapilla (a fried bread), juju (a naturally grown vegetable that has not been cultivated, similar to spinach), avocado on anything and everything, and manjar (a caramelized condensed milk) are some favorites.’’

NOT BY THE BOOK: “Chilean Spanish is very different from the Spanish I learned in class. Chileans, like most people, have their own phrases, words, and abbreviations for certain things that simply are not known elsewhere. Learning these phrases and getting used to using them in my Spanish as well was one of the most difficult parts of communicating successfully. My biggest faux pas when it comes to the language and culture was not always using the formal form of the subject ‘you’ when speaking with professors, the elderly, and people you are not close with.

CLOSE CALL: “The way you greet people in Chile is much more personal and close than in the United States. It does not stop at a handshake, but even when meeting or introducing yourself to a random stranger a typical greeting is a hug and kiss on the cheek. This etiquette goes for everyone in all situations.’’

SCREEN TIME: “There was one game show that was very odd that people loved to watch. At points during the show women would strip down to swimsuits and then shower if the contestants or groups got questions right. In addition, they would chop off people’s hair and weigh it to determine the winner.’’

SONG AND DANCE: “One of the most popular dance songs in Chile is ‘Danza Kuduro’ by Don Omar. In my rural homestay I was introduced to Mapuche music by a band called Kechu Werken. El Huevo is a very popular night club in Valparaiso. It has different floors and dance rooms, all with different types of music, different bands, and occasionally with dance classes as well.’’

MOST MEMORABLE: “When I went canyoning in Puerto Varas, or the time when I was accompanied 20 blocks home by a friendly stray dog, or the marches and protests of Sept. 11 (the date that marks the start of the dictatorship in Chile in 1973), a hill in Santiago called Santa Lucia with a great view of the city, [and] my rural homestay with the Mapuche family.’’