domingo, 16 de marzo de 2008

Slow start to the school year

FINALLy classes have started, and I'm officially a student of la Chile, but things haven't taken off quite as quickly as in the quarter system...according to some other students, a lot of the carreras (programs) kind of write off the first week to freshman hazing (the other students throw eggs and various smelly and colorful liquids at the new kids, cut up their clothes and hair, and take their backpacks ransom, so all over the city are parrot-colored jovenes panhandling for coins. Thank God I don't look 18.) and students taking an extra week of vacations. In a similar spirit (not really), I missed my first GIS class early Monday morning after an incomplete recovery from a bout of food poisoning, and I showed up early to my Tuesday Sustainable Development class only to find that it had been eliminated because of underregistration (kind of depressing implications there...). Success, finally, on Wednesday with my Geography of the Sea class, with an enthusiastic profesora that speaks clearly as a bonus (and field trips!). According to her, Spanish speaking geographers have officially decided to use the feminine ending on the Spanish word for geographer for both genders as a shout out to feminism (woot woot). Also on Wednesday was the University-wide trip to the beach, intended for the mechones (freshmen), but really attended by everyone, so the profe let us out early and told the rest of the class to take care of the foreigners. Then a mad rush to get bus tickets to the beach, and a two hour bus ride, people smoking and drinking and standing around with brief moments of calm as we passed through toll booths. We settled ourselves on the sand at Cartagena, various carreras grouping together with all sorts of cheers (CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE). Students here only take classes in their carrera, and usually only with the other students in their cohort, so it's cliquey like high school, but my classmates so far have been friendly. Then a confused search for our bus among the hundred-something waiting on the street, and a short adventure when the bus driver thought he could clear a train trestle and definitely could not. Roof windows were scraped off and fiberglass EVERYwhere. To make things even more interesting, some drunk guys found out we were exchange students and began to chant about "500 years of robbery" and about how the West thinks it can take advantage of Latin America because they have Latin rhythym and dance the samba. Superfun. At least we finally got to a metro station safely.
My agronomy class didn't work out because I don't remember calculus, but this week I started Globalization, copper, and the new Chilean Economy, where the professor began the class warning us about how economics programs now just churn out professionals and are no longer interested in research and academics, and how the Pinochet years have emasculated Chilean academics, and finally how Chile has no chance of catching up to the technosavvy Asian economies like Japan in the current economic system, so what to do? It should be interesting...
The UC program offered a day trip to the nearby port-city of Valparaiso, heralded as the San Francisco of Chile because it has hills and trolley cars. The day of exploration was a little superficial because of time constraints, but we saw the touristy parts, and it's close enought to return on a weekend. Plus our tour guide looked like Gene Wilder with less interesting hair. He argued that it's a somewhat egalitarian city because although the poor have to live on the outskirts and travel great distances every day to get to work, they live on the hills and thus get the best view of the ocean. I'm not sure I buy this.
There was also a day trip to the Aconcagua valley, which was an action-packed day. The professor from Irvine in charge of the UC program here, Heidi, did a lot of her research in fruit-packing in the valley, so she gave us background on Allende's agricultural reforms on the bus before introducing us to some of the people who helped with her research, including the first union of female fruit-packers in Chile. Then we went to the house of a mapuche family who served us various typical foods and drinks and talked to us about the state of indigenous people in the valley. We got a 20 minute lecture on the evils of George Bush and Western Imperialism (capital letters) which, although there was obviously truth in what the guy was saying, automaticlaly put us on the defensive and made for a few moments of awkwardness. Then we got a tour of a family table-grape "packing" (as the companies are called) and free samples of grapes. Finally we went to same family "microempresarios", or microindustries, I guess, which families use to supplement income. First a chicharia, where they produce chicha (kind of like cider, but with grapes) in massive copper vats in their backyard, and then we climbed the hill to another family's house that doubles as an empanaderia (where they make empanadas), and we had incredible empanadas with gorgeous view of the valley.
I've moved into my boarding house, and all the other students are fun, though I've been too busy to be home that much. There's hot water and refrigerator's and everything. Already romantic drama has hit some of the residents...It's like the dorms in that respect but not in any others, thankfully.
For Easter weekend (semana santa) a few of us are going up north to the mystical Valle de Elqui, which apparently has the clearest night sky in the world and is the center of pisco (un alcohol made from grapes) production.

Hope everyone does okay with finals!


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