Hi, I’m Jeremy and I am currently on an ANU Global programs exchange in Chile. In all honesty, I came to Chile without any expectations or preconceptions because I knew almost nothing about it. Besides being a country in South America, I couldn’t have told you a single thing about it.
l assume the same is true for at least some of my readers so here’s the basics. Chile is a long, thin country along the western coast of South America. It shares most of its border with Argentina, who are of course key football (soccer) rivals, and the rest with Bolivia and Peru. The official language is Spanish, spoken with a notoriously difficult accent and complex local slang. It has a population of approximately 16 million people, with more than 6 million in the capital city Santiago (where I am living).
I am studying at Universidad Catolica de Chile, one of the top two in the country. For this semester, I needed to complete Spanish and Arts Elective modules as part of the Arts half of my Law/Arts degree at ANU so I chose Historia de Chile Siglo XIX (19th Century Chilean History), Seminario Cultura Chilena (Chilean Culture), Don Quijote (the famous Spanish Miguel Cervantes novel) and Shakespeare. None of these are anything like the courses I have studied at ANU so it has certainly been a change of pace, especially when combined with the challenge of studying in Spanish!
Chilean university tends not to favour large “lecture” style formats of 100+ students like happens at ANU, with classes all tending to be more similar to the “seminar” style 20-40 student approach. My courses here have honestly made me appreciate the larger style format more, as I prefer the actual class to be focussed on getting the core information without too much interruption for individual questions or discussion - but of course that comes down to individual preference.
Exchange is an opportunity to try something different and push boundaries. I’m more interested in Spanish than ever, and look forward to comparing the Chilean accent and slang to other countries in South America, Spain and even the United States. As strange as it may sound, my on paper grammatical skills have probably decreased on exchange but my actual Spanish ability has shot up massively as in the instant nature of every day exchange I have developed much more of a “feel” for the language (especially the subjunctive mood) than a textbook formula approach. My courses have convinced me that I’m never going to be a Chilean historian, but that international business or South American tourism will be serious contenders on my list of post-graduation plans.
Exchange isn’t all study though. Chileans have incredibly small social circles, which has made making local friends particularly challenging. I was absolutely baffled by this until my Chilean Culture course hosted an enlightening lecture on social trust. As it turns out, the average Australian has about a 75% “social trust” in strangers and more than 95% for acquaintances, friends and family. In Chile, trust in strangers is more like 30%, with acquaintances and friends rising to only 70% and exclusively family members being permitted a 95%+ level of trust. In other words, the average Australian is more open to a total stranger than the average Chilean is to their close friends! Social gatherings of more than 4 people are incredibly rare and essentially limited to big occassions like birthdays or weddings.
It is no wonder then that my closest Chilean friend - Esteban - I made by unintentionally breaking into his apartment (it’s a long story). Here’s a photo of his recent birthday dinner, with me being given the honour of holding the celebratory vodka jelly shots.
Of course university is also a good place to make some new friends, so here’s another birthday party, this time of my classmate Felipe, that I was invited too.
I would like to thank Bernard Wheelahan and Pacific Hydro for the generous travel grant they have awarded me. Along with relieving the general financial burden of an overseas exchange it specifically permitted me to visit the city of Valparaiso on the Chilean coast in order to see some parts of Chile outside Santiago and also to see some more of South America in Peru and Colombia after my exams are over.
Like everyone says at the end of every exchange report, my time here has been fantastic and I highly recommend every ANU student go on exchange. It can be hard at times, but it will change you permanently and for the better.
Que te vaya bien (take care),