November 2011 Archives

Subjectively Objective

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I was reminded by a reader of mine, my Chilean university adviser, professor, and a good friend, that what I am putting across in these blogs is told from my point-of-view. I agree with him and feel it should be mentioned. I am just an observer. I am a foreign observer that tries to make sense of objectivities with a subjective lens. This is definitely a oxymoronic challenge. I feel it cannot be accomplished, thus it is important for me to "warn" all readers of my natural bias.

I am choosing to blog about Chilean culture and history, the Spanish Language, etc. in terms that Honors Program students (the main audience) might find interesting in place of just describing what I did every day which is what many of my fellow students are doing. I find blogs like that to be boring and uninteresting to the audience so I chose the more informational route. That being said, I must make some subjective comments in order to iterate the information I would like to get across.

I encourage you all that if you are interested in any of the subject-matter presented, research it on your own or do not hesitate to email me with questions or comments:

Thank you for tuning into the blog and I look forward to presenting this information to you all come February.

Classism in Chile

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As most countries do, Chile exhibits a difference in wealth and socioeconomic status. Living in Viña del Mar, Chile, a populous city (I have only lived in suburbs up until now), there are a mix of burroughs around the city that have distinct levels of wealth. The ones in the lower class are generally called, "los flaites" whereas the ones higher up are called, "los cuicos". I live in a upper-middle class home in a middle-class neighborhood. We do live close to upper class homes as well as low-income housing.

When I discuss meeting and hanging out with Chilean friends, I am always asked where they live and what they're last name is. When I tell them where they live, they respond, "Oh, that's good". I was confused at first by this, but it matters to my host-family who I spend my time with and their socioeconomic class. Generally those of the "lower class" are uneducated and you can tell who they are by their poor speech. The classes are usually distinct in a way I am not used to.

The classism in Chile could be more apparent because of the switch from suburb to city life, however I do think that the classes are an important facet of the culture here in Chile. Because there are these more distinct lines yet communities of all classes, us gringos have been taught what to do in certain situations, for example with the beggars or gypsies. We are always told to make sure we have our items secure. Robbery is a much bigger problem here than where I grew up, that is for sure.

All a part of the learning experience, I suppose.

Gender Inequality

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The cultural preference to males is quite apparent in Chile. The men mainly work the high-paying jobs while the wives typically stay at home, raise the kids, cook dinner etc. This traditional mindset unfortunately leads to a concept called "Machimso" or in English "Macho-ism". This is the concept that males need to be super macho. They do all of the work and women wait on their heels.

This concept is VERY apparent in Chile. It shows in the male/female dynamics of everyday life stemming from the young to the old. Typically the worse situations are the ones that include older couples, much like my host-parents. Yet it occurs and is indoctrinated from old to young. My host-parents, for example, are an excellent example of the machismo culture. My host-mom does not work, she stays at home and cleans, cooks dinner, etc. When my host-father comes home from work, he sits at the table and waits for her to serve her EVERYTHING that he needs. If she is sitting too with him/us on the opposite side of the table, he will just say, "There is no spoon" and she will go running. This is shown in many other ways in their relationship. It stems down to the entire family. My host-sister, 43, also is expected to do a lot more work around the kitchen/house even though she works 6 more hours a week than my host father. My host brother, 27, goes to school and works, but nowhere near full-time and he does not do a thing around the house. I have not seen my host-father nor host-brother do a single piece of housework (besides electronics and carpentry) or anything in the kitchen.

When I ask to help clean up after a meal, the women in the family look at me as if it is absolutely unnecessary. It seems they would prefer otherwise. I feel my host-brother and father also do not like when I do it. Yet, if I can have any impact on them in a positive way, I am going to continue

A story that exemplifies this relationship and the inequality between men and women concerns the first time my girlfriend came over to my house to meet my host-family. After a grand pasta dinner, I asked like I always do if I could help and my host-mother responds, "No, my son, just rest". And then my girlfriend proceeded to ask if she could help and my host-mother response, "Yea, of course". I also helped clean up to not make the situation worse.

My girlfriend, Rhiannon, who is also down here in Chile, is a Gender Studies minor and is doing a research project on the role of females in the Catholic Church. She has come up with some fascinating observations. Understandably, a lot of these machismo values stem from the prevalence of the Catholic Church in Chile (72% of the population are Roman Catholic).

Regardless, it is a phenomenon that is improving, however, with the increase in education and publicity of women as leaders. Yet, interestingly enough, in a country that is less traditional, more modern such as the U.S., we have never had a woman president and in Chile, a more traditional nation had a woman president in office and was adored.


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2 weekends ago, my girlfriend Rhiannon and I went on a trip to Santiago, Chile for the weekend. I thought I would upload a post about Santiago as a city itself and our experiences there.
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Santiago is the capital of Chile as well as the country's largest city area and population wise. Located an hour and a half from the Viña del Mar, it is easy and cheap to travel to. It is also seated at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range thus serves as a popular housing destination for travelers of winter sports. It has a bustling nightlife and the culture/history of the city is worth the trip. However, it does have some negatives that us as gringos have noted. The pollution in the city is awful. The smog above the city makes it difficult to even see the Andes from not very far away. One can tell when in the city that it is not a very friendly place for your lungs. At the same time, the heat of the city, it was bordering 85 degrees in mid-Spring is excruciating. The air pollution does not help this factor. Also, the noise levels are crazy loud. This was a problem for my girlfriend and I even though we stayed outside the center of town. Also, the city has a large issue with unemployment (beggars on the street) and robbery. A girl in our group was assaulted and then robbed in the middle of the afternoon earlier this year in Santiago. Although the numerous negatives of Santiago, like I said, the culture, history and architecture of the city are incredible. It is a fun place to be (if you bring ear plugs and an inhaler).

I am now going to upload some pictures of our trip to Santiago and discuss a little of the setting of each picture.
The picture above is my girlfriend Rhiannon and I standing in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace of Chile. This building has had quite the impact in Chilean history, being the location of the military coup d'etat in 1973 and death of Salvador Allende. For those interested in history, I highly recommend to check it out. For a summary of its history, check out its Wikipedia page:

The picture above is of the University of Chile on the most populous road in Santiago. This is the location of most of the student protests that have been taking place here in Chile for the past 9 months. Most schools (I believe this one as well) are on strike and do not have classes in session now. The school's philosophy and law department are heading the protests, thus the headquarters for the student side (the other side being the government) is headed at this location. One can notice the banner, graffiti and general dirtiness of the building. Rhiannon and I ate right across the street and discussed the movement.

The picture above is the Museo de Derechos Humanos (Museum of Human Rights) located in Santiago. The museum was opened up about a year or two ago, thus the architecture and interior is very modern. The exhibits concern the fascist military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1989. It was quite moving and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only issue was the fact that there wasn't enough time to get through the whole venue!

The picture above is of the Santiago skyline with the Andes in the background. I took this photo from the top of Santa Lucía Hill, a hill in Santiago that a fort was built on in the 1800s. Notice the smog above the city that obstructs the vision of the Andes. Also note the modern architecture, which depicts the opening-up of the South American economies and exposure to democracy and capitalism.

This last picture is of one of the largest cathedrals in South America. It is located in the Plaza de Las Armas in central Santiago. It was a cool place to see because of how large it was, extending an entire block! (That is almost a quarter-mile). It was built in the 1700's. The Catholic Church has had a very large impact on the Chilean culture with almost 75% of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholic.

Español hasta ahora

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I suppose that it would be prudent of me to discuss in the blog my development of Spanish throughout the last 4 months. In my eyes, the main goal of this experience was to learn Spanish and hopefully become fluent. I suppose in all of your eyes, it has seemed like an experience to observe differences in culture. Either way, they are both valuable parameters of knowledge of which I can say from this trip I have benefited.

My Spanish skills have undertaken quite the rollercoaster ride of a journey while being here in Chile. There are days where I feel incredibly confident and almost fluent, and then there are the intermittent days that I feel like I need to be working so much harder. This is the only way to describe the experience, a rollercoaster ride. It is so up and down all the time. Yet this ride seems to be moving in a positive direction.

I would say that I am getting closer to being fluent, but just lack time. I can get across basically whatever I would like to say, even though I may have change the way I say it to accommodate the amount of verbs and vocabulary I know. What lacks is the vocabulary, the new words that I haven't yet come across or taken the time to study. This can only come with more time and more exposure to the language. I'd say that if I were given another year, I could sufficiently call myself fluent, but as I do lack a significant portion of the vocabulary, I don't think that I can say that I am.

At this point in time, with less than 4 weeks left in my adventure, I am starting to get scared that the knowledge I have acquired up until the point that I leave will be all I will learn in my life (my Spanish minor will be complete when I return). At the same time, I know that there exist options for me to continue, such as Spanish Club at UMD, or working/volunteering with Spanish-speakers, etc.


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One of the biggest differences between the United States and Chile that I myself have noticed is the ubiquity and acceptance of cigarettes. I heard at one point in time that some 30% of adults in Chile smoke cigarettes. It is all around. We have had to become desensitized to it because we are around it so much. Let me give you a couple of examples that will illustrate how much it is a part of our daily lives.

At the University

cigarette smoking is very common. We have a courtyard that all of the classes open up to, and at any given time you can walk into said courtyard and find Chileans smoking cigarettes. It is common for the youngsters in college to sit in the courtyard in between their classes and smoke a pack amongst their friends. Because of this, some of the gringos in our group have also taken up the habit of smoking cigarettes between classes, a habit I have tried hard to not pick up on.

At restaurants

there is no policy on smoking inside. When going out at night or even sitting at a restaurant during the day, you are bound to have your clothes smelling like smoke until they are washed again. For those with asthma or allergies, this is problematic. To find a group of people not smoking cigarettes when out in a club/bar is rare.

At public events

there is also no smoking policy. For example, I was at the Chile vs. Paraguay international soccer match last week and there were people smoking cigarettes like crazy in the stands. Apparently second-hand smoke has not yet influenced the politics in the country to act.

The reaction of most gringos

has been quite different. For example, there are those who have chosen to embrace the culture of smoking cigarettes like it is no big deal. They enjoy the fact that cigarettes are between $2 and $3 cheaper here and take advantage of it. On the other hand there are those who really cannot stand it, and get really annoyed. As far as what my reaction is, I really do not care whatsoever if anyone is smoking around me. I do understand the opinion of those who are worried about there own health, yet at the same time, we are in a different culture and people have to learn to accept that. I don't partake, and yea I do get annoyed at the fact that my clothes often smell or that cigarette smoke gets into my eyes. But, if I had to choose between the people who smoke around me, and those who judge others (and thus the majority of the people) for smoking cigarettes, I would choose the ones who are embracing themselves in the culture. I guess I'm just an observer in this regard.

Car alarms

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This is not necessarily an educational post, but just more of a quirky observation. The car alarms in Chile (and Argentina for that matter) are horrendously obnoxious. The U.S. cars (I am trying not to say American, because it truly is politically incorrect) only have a monotone consistent alarm that goes off every second. In Chile, the cars have that, plus the sound of ambulances, police cars, and seemingly every noise pattern known to humankind. These soundbites rotate on a pattern that each pattern lasts for about 5-10 seconds and then it moves on to the next one. This lasts for 1 minute or so. If I can, I will upload a soundbite to show an example. Honestly, it is so much worse than in the U.S. but also a little entertaining because you have no idea which sound pattern will come next!

Vanity of Chileans

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Myself and many other foreign students have observed and discussed the vanity of Chileans while being down here. Chileans can be very vain at times. They care a lot about material things as well as how they and others look. Presentation is crucial to a Chilean.

For example, all of the Chilean students who go to my university are always looking as hip as possible. For instance, no girl wears anything but skinny jeans (I really have yet to see anything different). The color doesn't matter, but as long as it is in-style jeans. The girls always look impeccable. We walk past these groups of Chileans and much of the commentary is concerning a new piece of clothing or how that person looks, etc. Another example of this quality is my host-family. They will be the last ones to admit it, but they are all quite vain. Appearances matter. They will be the first one to say if you look skinnier or fatter (yes, they do tell you when you look bigger). When we (my roommate and I) give the family a gift, they seem to treat us better (not that it is bad at all to begin with). The family members do not leave their rooms unless they are all clothed impeccably. I have not once seen any one of them wearing pajamas or something of the like. Another example is when they are watching TV, they will critique the people on TV based on their looks. This may seem similar to that of the U.S., but it happens quite a bit here and everytime the TV is turned on. "Oh how good-looking that woman!" "That man is so old and ugly", etc. I cannot nor should I generalize this to every Chilean, but most of them we have encountered seem to have a quality like this.

More than in the U.S., Chileans value their looks and material things a lot. They're great people still, just very caught up appearances.


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Ají chileno is a species of chili pepper native to Chile (ironic, I know). I LOVE ají verde (green ají) which is shown in the picture above. I eat it with almost every meal. If not, I substitute my addiction for spicy food with the "Cream of Ají" which is similar to buffalo/taco sauce but creamier. This has come to be a staple of my diet here in Chile (yes, I actually do eat healthy food other than this).

The taste is similar to that of a red pepper, but with a lot more spice to it. I would say that it is not quite as spicy as a fresh jalapeño. This is one of the most spicy foods to consume in Chile. I was disappointed in this when I first arrived as I was the ignorant American that thought all South American food is spicy.

Chilean's Knowledge

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There is a somewhat distinct characteristic that most adult (30+) Chileans share: the knack for knowing everything. When it comes to a doubt about anything (be it politics, food, why you are sick, etc) Chileans will always have an answer to share.

For example, my girlfriend had a sinus infection for a long time while down here. Her host mom noticed that she was sick and my girlfriend's growing frustration of why it was there. She thus gave her a lecture that she doesn't bundle up enough when she goes out and gets cold thus causing her sickness. Honestly, a correlation could hold, but not a causation.

Another example includes me complaining about how my back was hurting one day. I thus was lectured for 30 minutes straight on how too much hot sauce will cause back problems (and noticing I love the Chilean hot sauce) and how I should cut down to help my back out. I realize there again may be an effect but it probably has more to do with my heavy backpack that I carry on my back up and down a hill for at least 30 minutes a day.

Chileans seem to have an answer for everything, but I've learned to take any answer to any doubt with a whole bunch of salt.


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Last month, I went on a trip to Córdoba, Argentina - "The Rome of South America". It was quite beautiful and we all had a great time. I'd like to dedicate this post to some of the aspects, differences between Chile and Argentina, and anecdotes from the trip.

In Argentina, the Spanish is quite different from that of Chile. Argentinians have an almost Italian accent to their Spanish (if you can imagine that). They extend (especially those from Córdoba) their A's E's and O's. That being said, it is a slower dialect, but with a different accent. This provided some advantages and disadvantages. Relative to Chilean Spanish, which is much faster, with more contractions and distinct vocabulary, Argentinian Spanish was a lot easier to follow because of the speed. However, us foreigners from Chile found it difficult to pick up on the accent. When we got back to Chile, however, I felt a surge of capability to speak Spanish with the Chileans because I had tested new corners of my "learnability".

As in most of Latin America, the drivers in Argentina are crazy (but crazier than Chile, we noted). The amount of aggressive tactics used as well as speed infractions put the U.S. to shame. This occurs in any case from civilian drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, anyone. They weave in and out of cars and it is scary/uncomfortable. Traffic laws seem (from an American's opinion) unenforced.

In Argentina, the meat is SO rich. Argentina is known for its meat production worldwide (I'm pretty sure the U.S. gets some 10% of its meat from Argentina). The price and freshness of the meat is unbeatable. We had some "Asado's" with seemingly endless amounts of meat. We didn't get sick or anything because the meat down there is quite clean and they prepare it really well.

Now I'm going to discuss some of the things we did in Argentina:

The first night we chose to stay in the hostel (which was an award-winning hostel) after a long day of traveling. We spent the night drinking on top of the roof eating grilled meat. It was a beautiful night and we definitely made the most of the amenities provided in this excellent hostel.

One day we traveled to Villa General Belgrano, a town 2 hours from Córdoba to celebrate Oktoberfest. This Oktoberfest is the third largest in the world because of the concentration of people of German descent in the region. I learned why this is before the trip and I was shocked. After WWII, the Nazi's left in Germany fled to South America and many of them actually settled in Córdoba. Thus the "Las Pampas" region of Argentina is rich in German culture. This experience was a ton of fun and definitely worth the trip/expensive entrance fee/beers.

Justin in action.

On the last day, 2 friends and I chose to go skydiving. It was an incredible time. It is still very difficult for me to describe the feeling. I'll let the picture handle the description:
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I survived.

Grading System

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In Chile the grading system is out of 7 instead of out of 10. I found this to be confusing for awhile yet have gotten used to it. One needs to get a 4 or higher in order to pass. This puts the pass/fail line at about 57%, 2 percent lower than the U.S. Don't let that fool you however because it is actually much more difficult to get a perfect score (or even an A for that matter) here in Chile than it is at least at UMD. Although the classes themselves have less work involved, when there is a work needed to be completed such as a paper or a presentation, much more is required for each grade.

When students go to the university in Chile around 18 or 19, they go to their only schooling beyond high school. Students must know what they want to do as their career before the apply. I'm not sure if I could have done that as I have switched my mind several times. For example with students going to school to study law, they go to school for 6 years and get their J.D. (equivalent of). There is no graduate school to be applied to for Chilean students. That being said, Chilean professor really don't stress getting worked up over grades. They have said to us that everyone will pass, but I don't think that they understand (or care) about the fact that our professors and counselors at home are going to take those grades into account. This, especially for a student who is interested in going to law school, does not make me happy.

Following the thoughts of my last post, the U.S. educational system is so much more organized and technologically advanced. Up until now, I have really taken it for granted. Again, something only a semester in another country could have done for me.

Water Not Free

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An interesting thing that all gringos have come to notice in their time in Chile is the fact that water is never free. When at a restaurant in the U.S., one can order water and expect it to cost nothing. Here in Chile, water is just as or more expensive than pop, beer, or wine at $3 on average. Unfortunately so, I find myself purchasing pop or alcoholic beverages because its the same price. I am really starting to miss certain amenities such as this that are available in the U.S. At the same time, it makes me appreciate some of the things most of us Americans take for granted.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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