Valpo Or Bust


(Not) Too Cool for School

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 23:08

So I guess once a week more or less is a good blog frequency, no?  I knew the second I signed up for this thing that my entries would be sporadic and few-and-far-in-between… Sorry about that, guys.  I haven’t had a blog in a long time (oh, the days of xanga), and I feel that some people let their blog take control of their lives, rather than vice versa.  There’s just so much living going on down here that it’s hard to churn out these posts with any frequency.  Meh.

This past week was my first week of classes, which amazes me ceaselessly because my compatriots back home at Messiah are already finishing up their Spring Break.  It seems that the semester here will be considerably shorter here anyway – classes only run from March 17th through July 3rd, but on the other hand, the class periods themselves are longer than most Messiah classes (every class period here in invariably 1.5 hours; in turn, Messiah’s class periods this semester are either an hour or an hour and twenty long, if I’m not mistaken).  Maybe that’s a falsehood – I haven’t done the math, that’s just the way it seems to me at any rate.

As I touched on in my last post, the whole class selection process here would make any college in the United States self-destruct.  I learned this past Thursday that even though I formally signed for classes last Friday, that day (which went surprisingly smoothly) was essentially an exercise in pointlessness – I can, in fact, add or drop any class I desire by simply attending (or not attending) said class.  In about two weeks or so, after I’ve created my final class list through this trial-and-error method, I will turn this final list in to my study abroad organization.  It is only then that I will truly be enrolled, once and for all, in any given class.

Unique, huh?

Fortunately, this informal Chilean method of class selection has already worked in my favor.  I’ve already had to drop two of the initial six classes that appeared in my original schedule:

Hispanic America, Mon/Thu 10:05-11:35

Modern History of Chile, Tue/Thu, 11:45-1:15

Art and Society in Prehispanic Chile, Wed, 11:45-1:15

Grammar for Foreigners 3, Mon/Wed, 3:40-5:10

History of Latin America in the Twentieth Century, Thu, 5:20-6:50

Translation/Informed Interpretation Workshop, Mon, 5:20-6:50/Fri, 11:45-1:15

Why did I drop the classes that have been crossed out?

The only hour and a half I will ever spend in Hispanic America, a class with Chileans (as opposed to a class exclusively with foreigners), almost made my mind explode.  This much is unfortunate, too, because the first ten minutes I spend in the class were very enjoyable.  The teacher, a younger woman maybe seven or eight years my senior, was extremely amiable.  I could understand her clearly, and even her suggestion that I introduce myself was a success (I made all the Chileans laugh by calling myself a gringo, a vaguely derogatory word for English-speaking Westerners that is much more friendly in Chile than elsewhere in Latin America).

Then class began.

The teacher immediately launched into a four-hundred word a minute monologue about something that I didn’t really understand.  It wasn’t necessarily a Spanish failure, I don’t think, but more a history one – what I didn’t know before entering the class was that Hispanic America was a class created by history majors for history majors.  Third year history majors.  I also didn’t know that it was part of a continuing series of classes, but I found this out quickly because every thirty seconds the prof asked us if we remembered information from previous classes.  I didn’t.

It was at that point that I decided that achieving a passing grade in the class would likely be more difficult than dividing by zero.  I decided to drop it like it’s hot.

The other class I decided to leave – the Translation Workshop – was throughly enjoyable the whole way through.  Unfortunately, while abroad, I have very specific criteria I have to adhere to for my abroad class to count for credit back home.  History, Literature, Politics and Linguistics are all safe.  Unfortunately, this class – a workshop designed to show us how to us Windows Paint to paint over Spanish words and insert English words – definitely would not have been a worthy Spanish major course, so I dropped it as well.

So what’s left?

Modern History of Chile is exactly what it sounds like.  We didn’t get too deep into anything on the first day, but it seems like it could be pretty good.  The professor is a nice guy, although he’s occasionally hard to understand because he suffers from the standard Chilean accent – ignoring half of every word he says and combining many words into one long stream of consciousness.  Still, it’s their native language, so I guess I won’t criticize…Slowly but surely getting an ear for it.

Art and Society in Prehispanic Chile is boring.  And also exactly what is sounds like.

Grammar for Foreigners 3 makes my life better.  It’s a small class (only 10 or so of us), which is a perfect size.  The professor is the man and a half – he’s very open and unintimidating, and says that about of the class time will be material he has planned, but the other half will come from our suggestions and difficulties.    Big win.

History of Latin America in the Twentieth Century could be my favorite history class ever.  It’s kind-of co-taught by two teachers who are both very cool guys, and very charismatic.  Again, I’ve only had this class once, and we didn’t get too deep into anything, but it should be good.

Unfortunately, after dropping those two classes, I’m one credit short of what I need for my study abroad requirements.  So I’ll probably end up finding another class to take – probably a class about the history of Valparaíso – but I’m not exactly sure yet.

I’ll be sure to let you all know how it shapes up.




Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 00:35

Forgive me, guys, for the epic lack of updates since the earthquake.  I wanted to get an update out immediately after the quake just to give everybody a sense of what was happening here in Chile, and of course to let everyone know that I was all right, but as of late I’ve been remiss about updating.  Boo.

A brief chronological synopsis:

The Saturday of the quake (it technically occurred at 3:34 AM), our study abroad program, International Studies Abroad, moved us to a resort in a small country town called Olmué, about half an hour away from Valparaíso and and hour or so from Santiago.  There is very little to say about my stay there, except to commend ISA for their actions.  I know several of my fellow students complained a lot about staying in such a remote, quiet town where there is no night life to speak of, and to tell the truth, even as someone who hates big parties, I thought it was pretty dull.  But after living through the fifth (I think?) strongest earthquake in recorded history, a little boredom was a welcome change of pace.  ISA kept us safe and made the right decisions every step of the way; I cannot thank them enough.

After two days in Olmué, we were distributed to our host families.

And let me tell you, my host family is amazing, although not really in a way that I can describe in words.  All the standard adjectives fit: nice, kind, understanding, fun, etc.  But try describing your own family in so many words in a virtual journal – it doesn’t really work.  Suffice it to say that although I had a great childhood as an only child, I’m very much into having siblings for these five months.  I’ve actually even found a new Canasta partner in my hermanita, Dani.

Since I arrived last Monday (1/3/10, which is the Spanish dating system, by the way), most of my time has been dedicated to exploring Viña del Mar, the city in which I reside, and Valparaíso, the city where  my university is located.  My experience so far has been a growing experience, obviously, in more ways than one: of course, the language barrier has an impact on everything I do here, but almost as importantly, acclimatizing myself to city life has been quite an experience.  I’m used to American individualism – if you want to go somewhere, you take your car and you just go.  All my life, I’ve traveled from place to place via car maybe 98% of the time.  The point then becomes moot when I’m at Messiah  – a five minute walk will take me anywhere I desire.

Here, though, public transportation constitutes 98% of my transit from place to place – a completely new concept to my suburbian mind.  Here in Chile, public transportation comes in three flavors: metro (self-explanatory), buses (colloquially called “micros” here), and colectivos.  Literally translating to – you guessed it – “collective” in English, colectivos are, if I’m not mistaken, a form of taxi that is indigenous to the Andean region.  Essentially, it’s a car that works in the form of a bus – rather than one passenger entering and selecting a destination, colectivos follow predetermined routes.  The advantage to colectivos is that they can get to places that traditional buses can’t; here, among the tall cerros of Valpo and Viña, a bus is more of a liability than a help, and I can imagine that most buses would instinctually run away from some of the hills (read: mountains) in this region.

All good things must come to an end, however, and after more than a full week of descanso, of vacationing and relaxing and exploring my new home, it’s time to get to work.  Today was my first day of formal orientation in La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (or simply La Católica for short), and though the orientation itself, which consisted in viewing a presentation and some traditional and modern Chilean music and dance, was not too strenuous, the class lists we received reminded us that things are about to get very busy very fast.

Even before I set foot inside a classroom on my first day of classes, this Monday (15/3), I will undoubtedly have to endure the epic headache that class selection will be.

It goes something like this:

Here at La Católica, there are two different types of classes I can choose from: classes with extranjeros (that is, classes with just international students, and classes that integrate international students with Chilean students in one classroom.  Though I can take some classes with extranjeros, how many I can take is, to the best of my knowledge, a limited number.  That number is a mystery to me.  Also, whereas Messiah College is set on a 3-credit class standard (almost every class I take in Grantham is worth 3 credits), here they dispense credit numbers at random: there are far more 2, 4, 5 and even 6 credit classes than there are 3 credit classes (at La Católica). To add to this mess, a class that counts as 2 credits here (at La Católica) isn’t necessary worth three credits back home at Messiah.  To combat this insanity, Messiah has what is called a Course Equivalency Database, an online database that establishes what classes abroad count as in Messiah language.  But because this program is so new (only its second semester with Messiah), there’s hardly anything in this database for us…which is a total fracaso (fail).


At any rate, by Friday night, this will all be figured out, and classes will start Monday.  At 8:15 in the morning.  By then my house will have water (we lost it for 72 hours starting yesterday for pipe repair), and what will be life as normal will begin.

More updates then. =)

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