Living La Vida Buena
By Julia Scheibmeir '12 Guest Writer
“Dang, this place sucks.” That is the running joke between students on my CIEE Valparaiso, Chile program, because it couldn’t be further from the truth. I wake up every morning to a view of rows and rows of colorful houses along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. My host family lives high up on a hill or cerro, and each day as I trek down I can’t help but admire the incredible artistry of the city. Each step of my journey leads me to a new mural or work of street art such as a juggler, a puppeteer or a street comedian. There is a market or feria every day of the year in the city below my hill, where people of all ages sell indigenous jewelry, fruits, flowers and wood crafts.
So why did I choose to study in a place where I was clearly going to be so miserable? Well, Chile has sounded appealing to me for quite some time now just from flipping through pictures in guidebooks, but my interest was reinforced when I spoke to Claremont students Claire Calderon ’12 and Nasya Sierra (CMC ’12) and they assured me that I would have a blast this semester.
Abby Trimble (CMC ’12) and I travelled for two weeks in the south of Chile before our programs began (hers in Santiago, mine in Valparaiso). Every day was a new adventure for us blonde gringas, and we met interesting people everywhere we went. We tried our first Pisco Sour drinks, watched our first handball game (the team resided in our hostel for the night), were serenaded on the street and were even attacked by huge flies in the otherwise incredible mountain resort town of Petrohué. We gave up on planning after our first attempt at chasing after a bus, as we quickly realized that Chileans run on a different schedule—the man behind the counter told us that the bus had “seemed full” so it had left early).
Chile is famous for having a distinct dialect of Spanish, and I have found that to be very true. There is a “chilenismo” or slang word for just about everything. I have a lot of new vocab words floating around in my head, but the tricky part is figuring out which are okay to say in the classroom and which should be reserved for late night parties with friends. One of the first words I learned here was “chocopanda.” It sounds like a cereal with chocolate panda cookies, but it actually means “mullet.” Chocopandero refers to the young, hotshot male who proudly sports a chocopanda. A second word that will tell you something about Chilean fashion is the “banano” or fanny pack. U.S. style from the ‘80s is all the rage here in Chile, and fanny packs are not a symbol of a geeky tourist, but rather a convenient purse to keep money safe from pickpockets.
Academic classes here at the Catholic University in Valparaiso are quite similar to classes at the Claremont Colleges. An average class consists of roughly thirty students, one professor and an assistant to the professor. Homework assignments can be found on a virtual classroom site, and instead of having to buy books, since many of the students can’t afford expensive books, the teachers have their students pick up photocopies for a few cents from photocopy booths around the city. I find this to be a great system, because it greatly reduces the cost of the students’ education, and photocopies are easy to share and replace.
Overall, my experience here in Chile has been spectacular. I’ve visited Neruda’s houses, I stood outside the La Moneda building in an attempt to spot Obama, I’ve been working daily as an intern for a local newspaper and I’ve been trying to make the most of each day abroad. I highly recommend studying abroad to every underclasswoman at Scripps, and I know that I’m going to return to school with a fresh perspective on life and learning.