The beauty of experiential learning.

Three Things I Have Learned From Living In Santiago:

1. There’s always room for one more on a rush-hour metro train.

My nearest metro station is the second-to-last stop on the blue line of the Transantiago system. The very last blue line stop, Tobalaba, is the transfer point between that line and the red line, which goes directly through the middle of the city and connects into every other line. Because of this, when I get on the metro in the mornings to go to school, basically everyone who wants to get from the blue line to the red line is already going to be on the train I catch. Every car is always packed, and it takes a lot of “¡Permiso!” and occasionally some elbowing to get far enough inside that the doors won’t slam on me. Then, at Tobalaba, every single person on the train gets off and a good 90% of us head for the red line platform, where we line up barely behind the yellow line waiting for the next train to arrive. As soon as it does, everyone shuffles forward as one; woe betide the red line passenger who wants to get off at Tobalaba during the morning rush hour. We cram into the red line train (which usually already has quite a few people in it) and try not to fall on top of each other as we speed off towards the Centro of Santiago.

The worst part, for me, is definitely the heat. We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave in Santiago, with temperatures above 30 ºC, and whenever it’s the least bit hot outside it’s guaranteed to be boiling and miserable on the metro. They have fans in the stations, but not in the trains, and with the ambient heat plus the body heat of dozens and dozens of people, a rush-hour ride on the metro is pretty much like a mid-level circle of hell.

2. Writing on walls is an effective method of communication offline as well.

In Santiago, basically every flat, vertical surface is covered in graffiti. In the Centro neighborhood especially, every building has something written or spray-painted on it, from basic tags in black paint to multicolored designs elaborate enough to be commissioned murals. There’s also tons of protest graffiti: calls for a new constitution, a different antiterrorism law, an end to private schools and universities that use their state subsidies to make a profit. There are tons of references to mistreatment of the Mapuche community, as well as the ongoing fight of the people in Aysén, one of the southernmost regions of Chile, who are currently trying to get the government to help them out with basic costs of living. A lot of the policies and practices being protests are remnants of Chile’s seventeen-year military dictatorship — the constitution, the antiterrorism law, the government responses to peaceful marches and protests, are all things that were established between 1973 and 1990 during the dictatorship. The current education law is technically not left over from the dictatorship, but although it has a different name and wording, educational policy experts say it contains exactly the same policies worded in slightly different ways. Basically, people in Chile have a lot to protest, and they’re not afraid to write about it all over the walls of Santiago.

3. It’s usually smart (and educational!) to ask what’s in your food before you eat it.

Chilean food, so far, has been pretty unremarkable — don’t get me wrong, it’s all perfectly yummy, but I’m not exactly going to run home and open a Chilean restaurant. The best things so far have been the empanadas, which are kind of considered the national dish. They come in all sorts of flavors, from cheese to veggies to seafood to combinations of things I’ve never really considered putting together, like cheese and shrimp*. The most common are empanadas pinos, which are cooked in the oven rather than fried and contain ground beef, onion, garlic, black olives, hard-boiled egg, and raisins. I only discovered this last ingredient while doing research for a presentation in my Spanish class, and I think it may be optional, because I don’t remember tasting it when I ate an empanada pino my first weekend here. I might have just not noticed it, though, because raisins? In a meat-filled pastry? Not something I would expect.

It would be impossible to teach every word for every kind of food in a Spanish class, so I only learned a certain quantity of names for foods, and I’ve been finding my vocabulary in that area is kind of lacking. I was taught how to say strawberry, but raspberry? Blueberry? Blackberry? Nope. I don’t like zucchini, but I don’t know how to say zucchini, so my host mom keeps making me dishes with it. On our Drop-Off activity, each pair of us had to find out what two Chilean food items were. A couple of my friends misunderstood the chart, thought their two assigned foods were one thing, and went around asking a dozen or so people for dulce de leche hot dogs. My host mom also told me that the girl who stayed with her last semester went out and bought some jerky (charqui in Spanish) and ate a bunch of it before she realized that the kind she had bought was made from horse meat instead of beef. I’m beginning to think that the program orientation should take us on a tour through a supermarket and teach us all the words for everything before we go to our host families, because it’s always good to know what’s in the thing you’re having for dinner.

*Since the dough is usually made with lard, this type are extra-super-not-kosher! Not that I care, I just find it kind of amusing.


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