Chile is a wonderful country. Its coast stretches for a total of 4 3000 kilometers, from the driest desert in the world in the north (Atacama), through Mediterranean regions in the center (Viña del Mar), to a rough, cold-rainy paradise in the south (Patagonia). With an area of almost 757,000 square kilometers, Chile is more than twice the size of Germany, but with a good 17 million inhabitants it only has a good fifth of its population. These facts can easily be read on Wikipedia – and yet they shape Chile in a very special way. A country at the end of the world that is primarily defined by its diverse nature and its solitude. Maybe also because it is somehow still searching for its own cultural identity.
I studied at the Universidad Viña del Mar (UVM) in the fifth region of Chile from March to July 2011. Viña del Mar is the fourth largest city in the country with almost 300,000 inhabitants – and enjoys the image and flair of a seaside resort. Tall apartment buildings line Viña’s coastline, the streets run in blocks, there are many bars, restaurants and supermarkets, a shopping mall with a large cinema and an excellent public transport network. Viña itself appears as a city more North American than South American and is populated in the summer months (which begin in the southern hemisphere in late October and extend into early March) by tourists from Santiago de Chile, an hour and a half away, or from Argentina.
If you take the Micro, as the buses are called here, 20 minutes south, you will find yourself in a completely different world: Valparaíso, next to Santiago probably the most famous and legendary city in Chile, is much more colorful, much wilder and much more “South American “As Viña. She has more flair. More magic. More character.
- For information about Chile and South America, please visit programingplease.
I lived in Viña, in an apartment on the coast five minutes from a supermarket and three minutes from McDonalds and Starbucks. If you study at the UVM and don’t know South America, I recommend that you also live in Viña. It’s safer, it’s more convenient – and it’s really beautiful.
The Universidad Viña del Mar is a private university with a large international office. The support from the organizers is excellent, from day one you have personal contact with the person in charge, Carlos E. Torres, who you can turn to with any concerns, questions and problems. Thanks to him, I had already found an apartment as well as Spanish and French roommates before my arrival. Carlos also organizes regular excursions during the semester; sometimes cultural and traditional (guided tours through Santiago and Valparaíso, visit to a Mapuche village), sometimes designed for fun and action (paintball, horse riding). On these excursions, but also in the joint courses, you quickly get to know the other international students. In spring 2011 we were almost 30 – from Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and the USA. I felt very comfortable in this group – but quickly made contact with Chileans. Because they are open and interested in foreigners. And because I went to university with them.
I studied cinema and audiovisual communication at the UVM. These are regular university courses that I was only able to take because of my previous knowledge of Spanish (almost five years in school and university). Without previous language knowledge (which is queried in a test at the beginning of the semester), you mainly attend Spanish courses, in which you are then with other international students. There are also thematic courses (Latin America in Cinema and Literature, Cultures in Contact) that are held in either Spanish or English and are open to both Chilean and international students.
Most of the lecturers are very different from those I was used to in Germany. They are more individual, they teach with more passion and more temperament, have their very own view of things – and are not afraid to make them known, even if they do not always meet with approval. I really enjoyed these differences to Germany – even if it might not be for everyone.
As a budding journalist, it was important to me to gain journalistic experience in Chile in addition to my studies. Eye on Viña (www.eyeonvina.com), an English language website about the region, gave me an excellent opportunity to do this, especially because I could work in Spanish and English. For a good two months I wrote regular articles for Eye on Viña, created photo slideshows and videos, conducted interviews and participated in the editorial meetings. I can only recommend working with Kayla Young and her colleagues to students with a good command of English and little journalistic experience. They are always looking for support and are happy about every helping hand.
Chile is considered to be one of the richest and safest countries in South America. I can confirm that. Especially when you come from Bolivia and for the first time see asphalt roads with road markings and signage in front of you, it becomes clear to you how great the social and economic differences really are within South America. From the consumer’s point of view, Chile offers everything that Europe or North America can offer. At a comparable price level!
However, there is also poverty here – and many things are just a little different from what we are used to in Germany. It starts with the fact that no one is ever on time – and ends with having to go to three different places in a stationery store before finally holding your notebook in your hand. These differences may seem a little strange at first, but believe me, it doesn’t take 2 weeks to get used to them! And besides, that’s exactly what makes studying abroad an adventure. To be able to discover how the world you suddenly find yourself in differs from the one you are used to. And in what it is alike.
By the way, Chileans don’t speak Spanish. You are talking Chileno! That is, they talk quickly, they shorten and change words or create their own. My Spanish roommate said that he hardly understood a word himself during his first week in Chile. It took a little longer for me – but one thing is certain: if you can understand Chileno, you can understand Spanish in any country in the world. And after a semester in Viña del Mar everyone should understand Chileno.
And one more word at the end: Anyone in South America has to travel! I’ve been to Patagonia, San Pedro de Atacama, Perú, Argentina and Bolivia. I drove through the desert and the largest salt lake in the world, camped at the foot of glaciers, climbed Machu Picchu and crossed Lake Titicaca. I was sweating, freezing, thirsty, hungry and – more than once – completely soaked clothes. I’ve slept on buses, in tents, in freezing cold hostels and cheap hostels.
It was great. Just great!