|For winter quarter in 2019, I have been studying abroad in Santiago, Chile through CIEE’s Open Campus Program. Open Campus is designed so students have the ability to study in up to three countries throughout a semester. Students are able to create their own experience by piecing together the three blocks in any way they want: some of my friends spent time in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, others touched three different continents, and some spent the entire eighteen weeks deeply connecting with one country. I chose to stay in Chile for twelve weeks. I took six-week long classes mostly focusing on the past and present political environment in Latin America which overall, was great, but it was a shock when I had a midterm exam at about the same time I got a grasp on the metro system. Outside of classes, I got to see the volcanoes and lakes of Southern Chile, the beach and wine country of the middle region, and the geysers and sand dunes in the Northern desert. I stayed with an incredible host mom and her three-year-old daughter and felt constant support from the CIEE coordinators based in Santiago.
I got a glimpse of this extremely long and diverse country through traveling as since it is so long, it has extremely different climates throughout. As my program coordinator Eve always told us, “if you have only seen Santiago, you have not seen Chile.” The north houses the driest desert in the world while the south enjoys the gigantic glaciers of Patagonia. Between cheap flights and an extensive bus system that can pretty much take you anywhere in Chile, it was so easy to explore all that this amazing country has to offer! Even though I loved the lively city of Santiago, I always craved quick weekend escapes to swim in crystal clear lakes or hike around volcanoes. Even with everywhere I was able to go, I still feel like I only scratched the surface.
I also spent much of my experience learning to navigate Chile as a white student from the United States. Chile has a complex history that included a seventeen yearlong military dictatorship that lead to the torture, disappearance and death of thousands of Chileans. In the three years preceding the dictatorship, Salvador Allende was the democratically elected, socialist president of Chile. Richard Nixon, the president of the United States at the time, was threatened by this socialist president in South American and helped the Chilean military to violently overthrow this government and begin the repressive dictatorship. This history is not unique in Chile, but most other countries in South American can be characterized by a dictatorship that was brought to power with the help of the United States. The United States and other Western countries also have a history of exploiting natural resources in Latin America such as hydroelectric dams, mines and deforestation that has led to the murder and relocation of many indigenous communities, environmental damage, and unstable economies. Media in the United States is quick to judge the economic and political conditions of Latin America through dehumanizing rhetoric but fail to recognize how most of the current hardships faced in these countries are because of self-centered meddling by the United States.
In addition to seeing all of the natural beauty Chile has to offer, it has been important for me to learn about this history while trying to navigate political, cultural and racial power dynamics.