Demos, dogs, and ¿dónde vivir?

Hola chiquillas y chiquillos,

I’ve been here in Santiago for more than four months now and given that I have finally finished all classes and exams for this semester, I thought I’d celebrate this by writing an again long-overdue blog. Even though I said this one was gonna be about my trip to Cuba and Argentina, I’ll make it about what studying at Pontificia Universidad Católica and living in Santiago is like and why you should apply to come and study here.

La universidad:

  • First of all, the language of instruction is Spanish. No surprise there. Chilean Spanish, however, WILL surprise the hell out of you, onda brígido. It’s hard to explain but it’s about as far from Spain’s Spanish as deep Glaswegian from Queen’s English. There’s a lot of chilenismos, words and idioms that no other Spanish speaking country uses, but fear not, loh vai a cachar. Your pals are well aware of the way they, ehm, enhance this beautiful language and will make sure you keep up. I had teachers from Cuba and Spain and that, lemme tell you, ith another thruggle.
  • The usual course load for a full-time student is five per semester. PUC advises exchange students to take between three and four, depending on your language level, but in the end this decision is up to your Glasgow coordinators. Do yourself a favour and try and talk them into letting you take four a semester max, because
  • uni is a lot more work than in Glasgow. You’re in the most renowned institution in the country and people pay astronomic sums to study here, so you’re expected to actually work, brutal. You’re continuously assessed, with each piece of assessment counting towards your final grade. To be honest, this sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. You’ll get used to it and the single pieces of assessment aren’t too hard. Most professors even offered me to write my exams in English. You still can’t really ditch the reading part, though, but depending on your subject there might be quite a lot of readings in English, too.
  • you’ll now probably be like NOOOO READING MEANS PRINTING MEANS CASH MONIES. Good news is no, it doesn’t. You get to print up to 100 pages a day for free, you only need to bring your own paper. Bad news is, that’s a straight up F You to trees.
  • check buscacursos.uc.cl for the different courses they offer and make sure to check what campus they’re taught at because there’s four, even though you’ll most likely be at San Joaquín in south Santiago. There’s so much choice and the good thing is you can just go to a bunch of courses over the first week or two at the beginning of the semester before course inscription. Now, and I learnt this the hard way, there’s obviously courses that are very popular and they fill up fast. As exchange students have to enroll in person, just make sure you’re at your faculty way early on the day of inscription.
  • Working your grey cells hard every day will make you hungry eventually. There’s about a billion fancy cafeterias on campus, but they’re extortionate (sound familiar?). You can either bring your own food and heat it up (there’s microwaves everywhere), or, and this is THE DREAM, buy it right outside the main entrance at San Joaquín. Every day there’s vendors selling all the goodies you want, fresh fruit, sushi, lasagna, ice cream, chips, empanadas, sandwiches, or my personal fave, burritos, all homemade. Forget the times you went to Byres Road for shitty overpriced burritos. For the bargain price of luca (1000 pesos, ~1 quid) you’re all set. There’s vegetarian, vegan, or, if you’re from California, gluten free, options. The vendors also sell cigarettes, phone chargers, SIM cards, books, clothes, arts and crafts, toys, incense sticks, and other things I should probably not mention on the internet. The vendors don’t really have a license to sell stuff on the street so when the cops show up they’re gone faster than flatscreen TVs on Black Friday.
  • another factor that might influence your decision, especially if you love the SRC’s Dogs on Campus, is that there’s dogs on campus 24/7. There’s a student volunteer group that takes in stray dogs, takes them to the vet, and feeds them. They wear either green or red collars so you know which ones are safe to pet (the dogs, not the student group), but you’ll find out anyways as soon as they cuddle up to you when you’re outside chilling on the lawn (Fun Fact: my faculty has its own legendary dog, Chupapiedras, with his own Facebook page, and boy, does that dog organize parties.)

Santiago:

  • Studying is only one part of the exchange experience and given that you’ll live in the seven-million-people capital of Chile, you’re gonna have to find a crib. Santiago is divided into a lot of barrios but I’d recommend you look for a flat around the city center, that is, around metro station Baquedano along lines 1 and 5. Good barrios to look for flats in are Santiago, Providencia, Lastarria, and Italia. With 250 quid a month including bills you will live more than comfortably and might even have a swimming pool and a gym in your building and, depending on the floor you live on, a breathtaking view of the Andes and/or the skyline. Or you might not see even see the building down the road because of the smog.
  • Chile is pricey compared to the rest of Latin America. The average trip to the supermarket might be a bit more expensive than in Glasgow. However, try La Vega, and other pop-up and farmers’ markets and do your weekly shopping there. It’s fresh and local food for a fraction of the supermarket price. Like, a kilo of avocados (which are called paltas here, not aguacates) will cost you 2 quid or less. ‘Nuff said.
  • What you will blow your dollah on especially in the beginning is transport. It takes a while to get your student metro card (TNE, Tarjeta Nacional Estudiantil) so you’ll have a bip! card and the one-way metro trip will cost you almost a quid (with the TNE it’s 25p). There are life hacks, though: 1) you can try and jump the turnstile or push through with another person, but metro staff are eagle-eyed, 2) you can try and sweet-talk and/or flirt metro staff at the counter into selling you a student ticket showing them your Uni ID, or 3) you can take the bus which you in theory pay with the same bip! card but which no one ever pays. At least that’s what a friend told me, I wouldn’t know.
  • There are some other things to consider when coming to live here. What do students do best? That’s right, procrastinate. There are many wonderful ways to procrastinate here. Procrastination galore. Santiago is a very cultural city with tons of museums, amazing parks and plazas, theaters, bars and restaurants, an-hour-away beaches for surfing and mountains for hiking and skiing, etc. Santiago excels at one other thing: nightlife. There is something for every taste and you can literally go all night and into the morning. Around 90% of clubs and bars are centred in Barrio Bellavista and you can literally party 24/7. My go-to club is MAMBA (not sponsored by Mamba), with its thumping techno beats, graffitied walls, and the charm of an abandoned industrial loft people squat in. There’s no way you won’t find something of your taste, so just go explore. You’ll find out about the best parties in town, like rooftop pre-drink DJ sets and secret raves, through mouth-to-mouth propaganda, so keep your ears open.

Seguridad:

With club next to club next to bar, alcohol, drugs, and sketchy people are never far, so Bellavista can get a wee bit rough at night. Even though I have not once felt unsafe here or in any other part of Santiago, things can happen just like everywhere else in the world so use your common sense and you’ll be fine. Don’t walk around alone late at night in areas that you don’t know well and if you really must, put on a hoodie and walk like you’re batshit crazy. All joking aside, know your nightbus home, because the metro stops running around midnight, or invest in an Uber if you’ve had one too many. Only carry the cash you need on a night out, don’t flaunt your phone on a busy street or at a crossroads, watch your stuff in the metro, etc. And if something should happen and you are being robbed, remember that phones and money are replaceable.

Talking about safety, two more things. Chile is a politically very exciting place so there’s lots of protests and marches in Santiago. You should definitely go and experience how people stand up for reform; it’s incredible to march along with tens of thousands of people of all backgrounds against gender violence or in favour of education reform, but go with friends and know when to leave. Towards the end, the demos -most start at Plaza Italia and head along the Alameda until Los Héroes- can get quite violent and you’re really not missing out if you don’t have the teargas, water-cannon, or stone-throwing experience.

Chile is also one of the most seismic countries worldwide, so you’ll most likely witness an earthquake, called temblor when weak and terremoto when it’s stronger (Fun Fact: there’s a signature Chilean drink called terremoto made of pineapple sorbet, fermented wine, and grenadine syrup or Fernet. Have two and you’ll understand where the name comes from). Buildings are constructed to withstand earthquakes and people are so used to it they won’t even blink an eye, so tranqui, just stay away from windows in case they blow. We had a 6.4 one about three weeks ago and this is how people reacted:

temblor en Chile

… exactly, they didn’t.

The probably most appealing part of coming to Chile for a year is that you will have a three-month summer break from December to March. Imagine all the possibilities. I’m moving out of my flat to save the rent and then I’m going travelling around Latin America for three months. I don’t think you need another argument to convince you to apply here.

I’ll be back soon with more tips on studying in Chile so hasta pronto! If you have any specific questions, shoot me an e-mail to 2141779M@student.gla.ac.uk. I also try to work that InstaG so follow me at @svendoingphotos.

Take care y mucho love!

Sven

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