Category Archives: External Programs



This last week and a half has been fairly chaotic with my classes finally culminating in a paro (a student strike) in all of the universities. As a result, I haven’t had class this whole week, and it’s likely that the strike will at least last for several weeks more. These strikes are something quintessentially Chilean and apparently occur quite often in the universities. At first, I was confused that the student body could go on strike with no repercussions. However, I’m starting to realize that it’s just another part of Chilean culture and is not necessarily good or bad – it just is.

The way strikes function in Chile starts with the students. It’s a grassroots operation in a way. Usually there’s some event, some sort of impetus for the strike that creates discontent among the student body. The students then hold a vote where they either vote in favor of the strike or against it, which determines whether the strike will happen or not. Strikes can last anywhere from a couple days to several months, so it’s not uncommon for a strike to last a measly three months, for example. Whenever there is a strike, especially a longer one, there are no classes during that time, and the semester usually ends several months late.

In the case of this strike specifically, the impetus is the sexual harassment and assault of female students by their professors,. Given that my university is currently on strike, the students obviously voted for the strike. There have been many incidents in Chilean universities in which women have been harassed by their older male professor, and many believe that there is not a sufficient protocol in place to protect the victims. In these cases, the male professors oftentimes don’t face any significant consequences and usually keep their jobs. With the rise of movements like #MeToo and others empowering victims of harassment and assault, it’s hardly surprising that Chilean students are fighting this norm of silencing the victims. They are bringing this issue to the forefront.

One of the most common forms of protest in Chile is the marcha, or “march,” much like as in the United States. In the three or so months that I have been in Chile, I’ve witnessed at least three significant marches from the near vicinity, with a couple smaller ones speckled in there. They always start from a central meeting point, usually from one of the many plazas in Valparaíso, and everyone marches until they reach the barricades set up by the police which marks the end of the march. In many ways, the marches are the same as the ones in the States, with people carrying banners and signs and shouting various chants.

However, even though these barricades signify the end of the march, they don’t necessarily mean the end of the protest–in fact, in many ways, they’re just the beginning. When the protesters reach the barricades, the police are always waiting on the other side to make sure that the march doesn’t escalate into violence. When it inevitably does escalate anyways and the protesters begin to throw bottles and rocks at the police, the police break out the guanacos. Guanacos are these huge military trucks that spray water filled with tear gas, and they’re often used to break up the protests when the police decide they’ve had enough.

A little interesting fact is that there are usually women on the sidewalk at the marches selling lemon slices. Why lemon slices? Because when tear gas gets in the eyes and the face, trying to wash the gas out with water makes it even worse. The water reactivates the gas, bringing back that burning sensation. However, lemon (and other acids like vinegar) somehow neutralize the chemicals in the tear gas and thus helping to alleviating the pain. So, if you’re ever attacked by tear gas or accidentally find yourself in the near vicinity (like myself), grab some lemons, and you’re good!

Although I am enjoying my unexpected vacation, I do hope that the protocol gets passed soon so that classes can resume, and I can continue the student grind. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just be catching up on my various readings and enjoying one of the most authentic Chilean experiences – the student strike.


**Education Abroad and Overseas Campuses encourages students to actively engage in their host communities in a variety of ways; however, we caution students about the potential danger of participating in demonstrations or other events where large crowds gather and create the potential for violence to escalate. We advise that before deciding to go near or participate in a demonstration, students research and make themselves aware of potential safety or legal risks, as well as any pertinent laws about engaging in a demonstration as a visitor.


Danish Déjà Vu: Preparing to Study Abroad a Second Time

Danish Déjà Vu: Preparing to Study Abroad a Second Time

Hang on… what’s going on, here? Why am I back on WordPress? Blogging for Temple’s Education Abroad Office? Where am I? What’s happening?

Well folks, I’m back at it, studying abroad for the second summer in a row! I spent last summer taking in the heat of Morocco, and this summer I’ve opted for a cooler location: Denmark. Don’t get me wrong — studying and practicing Arabic in real-life situations was great, but I’m spending this summer working on my more recent academic love of geology! You heard it here first! I spent last summer on the top of a dune in the Sahara, and roughly a year later, I’m headed off to study the Langjökull Glacier in Iceland!

Hang on. Iceland, you say? What’s this? I thought it was Denmark! Well, yes. Let me break things down–known as “weathering” in geology! Way back in the fall of ’17 (forever ago, I know), I was finally in my very last GenEd course, Geology of the National Parks. A typical English student, I had saved my science GenEds for last, but got lucky when I found out there was a National Park-themed one. Little did I know, I would grow to love the geology part of the class even more than the parks part! I completely, unabashedly fell in love with geology and even took a upper-level geology course this last spring for fun. You read that right: I took a 3-credit class for fun. That’s how awesome geology is!

In a last-ditch effort to cram as much nerdy geology stuff into my schedule as I could before graduating in May 2019, I started perusing study abroad programs and came across DIS. Through DIS, I found two classes which sounded perfectly suited to my interests: Environmental Philosophy (Session 1) and Climate Change and Glacier Modeling (Session 2), in which students travel to Iceland for a week to study a glacier hands-on! Even though I’m looking forward to that trip, I’m most excited to immerse myself in Danish culture and enjoy the art scene in Copenhagen. I’m focusing on geology-related subjects, but I could never abandon the English-major side of myself. I already have a couple of trips planned to engage with Denmark’s literary history in my spare time! I’m going up to Helsingør to get a tour of Kronborg Castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, led by Horatio, the only surviving character of the play. I’m also going to take a trip out to see Lejre, the fabled site of Beowulf’s battle with Grendel! I’m thinking it will pair well with the two copies of Beowulf (Burton Raffel, Thomas Meyer) I’m bringing alongside John Gardner’s Grendel.

And a few months later, here I am, packing a suitcase that looks much different from last summer. A year, I stocked up on flowy pants, breathable shirts, and plenty of sunscreen for a summer under the North African sun. Now, I’m pulling together my hiking boots alongside a wool sweater and a couple of cooler items for Copenhagen. On paper, my summers couldn’t be more different! Unlike last summer, I won’t be living with a host family, I won’t need to rely on my second language, and I (hopefully) won’t sweat through every item of clothing I own. With these differences, I hope to find a little more freedom and independent exploration in Denmark; sure, I’ll have to work a little harder to engage with Danish culture and meet locals, but I’m excited about taking that challenge on.

Although I can imagine the differences already, I also think that there will be quite a bit of carry-over from my previous experience. I already know some of the ins-and-outs of homesickness, adapting to a new culture, and (of course) sniffing out where the best food is! Even though I have a few pre-departure jitters, I feel so much more prepared to tackle a few months in a new country with a new language and culture due to my prior experience. Living in the hectic sooqs (markets) of Morocco made me feel prepared for anything. My experiences with SEPTA and Rabat’s trams have really geared me up for tackling Copenhagen’s seemingly endless public transit system. I know what will make me feel better if I’m missing home, and I’m even skilled in the art of non-native-speaker charades! I can’t wait to feel out these preparation predictions and see which of my skills actually carry over.

Next time I post, I’ll be all settled in Copenhagen. Farvel for nu! Bye for now!IMG_20180517_204018.jpg

Heimat Zurück: Final Reflections

Heimat Zurück: Final Reflections

I have been back in the States for a few weeks now, and it still feels like everything was such a dream. Two and a half weeks have passed since I rode my last U-Bahn and had my last Döner, and today I decided to peruse through some of my pictures. While looking at a picture of my friends and I in the Szecheyni Baths in Budapest, it finally hit me. I really did that. My classes ended and I hopped on a plane to Hungary and ran around Budapest for a few days. Sitting in my Temple apartment writing this post, I can’t imagine something like that spontaneity and adventure being the norm, but they were.

The journey home was a long and emotional one.

The last few weeks in Berlin were an incredible, blissful blur. After two months of gray, melancholy, and cold days, the sun came out. And just like a flower in the spring, Berlin blossomed. There is a saying in the city, “Frühlings kam und Berlin war die schönste Platz der Erden” or “Spring came, and Berlin became the prettiest place in the world.” Words do not describe how remarkably the city transformed in my last few weeks there. During the winter, people were sheltered inside, grumpy, and gloomy. As soon as the sun came out, however, everyone was happy, active, and spending the least amount of time inside as possible. It seemed like a whole new city. Every day we were outside. Whether it was playing soccer at Templehofer Feld, walks along the Spree, or nights at KlunkerKranich, a rooftop parking garage converted into a disco-bar, we were always outside. A major highlight of all of these beautiful Sundays was spending the entire day at Mauerpark, a frenetic open air market that sells literally anything and everything in the world, from food to street signs to German military jackets. Everything about this market is quintessentially Berlin, especially the fact that it is set up in the former “death strip,” or space in between the two sides of the Berlin wall, where East German guards had free will to shoot refugees fleeing westward–another example of a place that has an incredibly dark history, transformed into a vibrant center of happiness and celebration.

But, like all good things, my time in Berlin had to come to an end.

My program totaled only 44 American students from all across the country, which is minuscule compared to study abroad programs in other European cities. Because of the prog intimate size, we all became one big, diverse, dysfunctional family. Saying goodbye was hard. Although a few groups of people came from the same school, most of the students were the only representative from their schools, like me, and almost no one had met each other before the program started. Although I never doubted that I would find friends, I also never thought that I would find a family. I had never met a single person before January, and yet it felt like we had known each other for years. While the goodbyes were emotional and difficult, I was thankful for the lifelong friendships that I have made with people from across the country.

After saying goodbye to my friends, I headed home to have a farewell drink with my hosts. Predictably, we spent a few hours at a local kneipe talking about American and German politics. The next day, in my much improved German, I thanked them, bid farewell, and headed for Tegel airport. Naturally, I couldn’t rip it off like a band-aid, so I headed to Dublin for a 12-hour layover, and spent one final night in my ancestral home before I headed to my real home.

Getting off the plane, I began to notice things I had never even thought about before. Signs were in English. Prices were in dollars. I could approach customer service workers with full confidence. After a much needed stop at Dunkin Donuts for my first, real, Bostonian iced coffee in months, I headed home for a much needed nap.

Now, almost three weeks later, I have begun to fully adjust. Having returned to the U.S. so early, I decided to spend the month of May on campus, getting some work done and making some money.  Although my first walk past the Bell Tower felt surreal, it now feels like I never left.

Re-adjustment has not been totally painless and my bank account reflects the semester of travel. Yet, every second and every (euro) cent were so incredibly worth it. Although this past fall I was debating whether or not it was the right choice, I can’t believe I ever even considered not doing it.


Sundays at Mauerpark


Sunny days along the Spree


A Holiday Weekend Well Spent: Exploring the Atacama Desert

A Holiday Weekend Well Spent: Exploring the Atacama Desert

Last weekend all of Chile celebrated International Workers’ Day or, as it’s called here, Día de los trabajadores. Although this holiday has its roots in the United States, it’s better recognized thousands of miles away in Chile and in other parts of South America as May Day. International Workers’ Day is the first of May and is a national holiday, meaning that everyone has off from work, including university students like myself. Like many other people, tourists and Chileans alike, I took advantage of this long weekend to travel to the north of Chile to the Atacama Desert. Since I don’t have classes on Monday or Friday and classes were cancelled that Tuesday, I had a lovely five-day weekend.

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world – so dry, in fact, that the climate produces natural mummies, preserving them in almost perfect conditions, right down to their clothing. It is also one of the places where many men and women were taken and killed under the Pinochet dictatorship in the seventies and eighties, the same people who are now known today as the desaparecidos. There are bodies that are still there to this day, reminders of the darker parts of Chile’s history.

Despite the darker aspects of the Atacama Desert, it remains a beautiful (albeit mysterious) place to this day. While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit some truly incredible places, like Laguna Céjar and Valle de la Luna. Laguna Céjar is a naturally-formed salt lake in the middle of the desert, and it is basically the Chilean equivalent to the Dead Sea. The salt levels are so high that you can do a trust fall into the water, and the water won’t go any further than your shoulders. It’s really a surreal experience. I rented some bikes with a couple of my friends, and we rode our bikes there, enjoying the desert views on the hour and a half ride there (and back).


One of the other highlights was going to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). It almost looks like a different world with the red dust and sand everywhere, with random rock formations around every corner. Many say that it looks more like Mars or some other distant planet rather than Earth. It’s because of these otherworldly qualities of the Atacama Desert that NASA actually tested its Mars rovers there. It’s so dry and inhabitable that it is the perfect doppelganger for Mars.

As much as I love Valpo, I do get a little stir-crazy, so it was so nice to take a trip to yet another region in Chile to explore my host-country a little more. The best part of the north of Chile in the Atacama Desert is by far the beautiful landscapes and the arguably more beautiful sunsets. On my last day in San Pedro, I had the opportunity to watch the sunset from the top of one of the huge rock formations in Valle de la Luna, a perfect end to a beautiful trip.


The Melting Pot of South America

The Melting Pot of South America

This weekend I went to Santiago, the capital city of Chile. Although I had spent a couple days there when I first arrived in Chile, my second time there was completely distinct. Like many of my travels around Chile so far, this was another trip that was organized through my study abroad program. This one was focused on the various immigrant communities and experiences in Santiago. To prepare for this trip, my classmates and I had to read various articles about the demographics of Chile, in addition to reading about the different waves of immigration Chile has experienced in the past. To my surprise, Chile has been almost as much as a “melting pot” of cultures over the last couple centuries as the United States, with many different immigrant communities present in Santiago, a beautiful city in itself.


Just for some background knowledge–at first glance, Chile is a fairly homogeneous country. Much of the population consists of a mix of Spanish and indigenous ancestry with some Western European ancestry, as well. However, over the years, immigrants from all parts of the world have arrived in Chile. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of immigrants were from Europe. Some of the more significant arrivals include the mass number of Jews who were fleeing the Holocaust in the 1940s, as well as many Spaniards fleeing the Spanish Civil War several years earlier in the 1930s.

However, there were many immigrants that were not European; for example, there is a huge Arab population in Chile. Many Chileans have Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, or Palestinian ancestry. Many of these immigrants arrived in Chile in the 1930s, but there were many more who came later in the 20th century as well. In Chile, the Palestinian population is probably the most significant out of the four immigrant groups mentioned, with Chile having one of the largest Palestinian populations outside of the Middle East.

While in Santiago, I got to attend a lecture hosted by a Palestinian-Chilean (or Chilean-Palestinian, a semantic difference that is still hotly debated) man. His name was Marcelo – a classic Chilean name — and he told us about the immigrant experience in Chile, as relating to the Palestinian population here. From Marcelo’s lecture, I learned that the majority of the Middle-Eastern immigrants were professionals, namely businessmen. Many opened restaurants and stores, providing much-needed sustenance to the economy. Now that several generations have passed since the arrival of the first Middle-Eastern immigrants in Chile, many have since assimilated, although cultural enclaves, like the Patronato neighborhood in Santiago, still exist. With this said, it’s an incontestable fact that these immigrants and their descendants are an important and visible part of the rich social fabric that makes up this country. Even in Valpo, there are kebab and shawarma places on every corner, just one sign of this diversity present in Chile.

To touch on the controversial semantics of defining one’s identity, Marcelo explained that he defines himself as both Palestinian-Chilean and Chilean-Palestinian, which is why I use them interchangeably in the previous paragraph. Although there are many people who prefer to put one identity before another, embracing one identity more than the other, he explained that he sees both nationalities as having equal weight in his cultural identity, so one is not necessarily more important than the other. Something important to note is that Islamophobia is much less of an issue in Chile currently than it is in the U.S., so there’s less of a stigma in defining oneself one way or another. It’s more of a way to connect with one’s heritage, whether it be with one’s Chilean roots or Palestinian ones.

Another significant immigrant population in Chile, albeit a much more recent one, is the large number of Haitians living here. Unlike many of the other immigrant groups that arrived way back in the 19th and 20th centuries, Haitians have really only started coming to Chile as of 2007 or 2008. Of course, there are many immigrants coming from neighboring countries in Latin America that I have skimmed over, like the many Peruvians, Bolivians, and Argentinians that live here, not to mention the huge numbers of Colombians and Venezuelans arriving as of recently. It’s also important to mention the large Chinese and Korean population in Chile, evidenced by the number of Chinese restaurants all over Santiago (and Valpo, as well). We got a chance to go to the main market in Santiago where there are people from all parts of the world selling their goods.


Coming from the United States, a country born of immigrants, it was really interesting to learn how different immigrant populations in Chile have interacted with and adapted to Chilean society. I never knew that Chile had such a varied and diverse population. Although Chile has its own struggles within its diverse population, there’s something powerful about seeing another country fully accept its immigrants, something that gives me hope for the United States and its future arrivals.


Savoring the Last Bit of Summer in Chile

Savoring the Last Bit of Summer in Chile

The leaves are starting to change in Chile, and, even though it’s mid-April, we’re having some beautiful fall weather. Because Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are flipped. So, from mid-November to the end of February it’s summer in Chile. Right now, it’s fall down here (my favorite season), and I’m trying to enjoy every bit of it before winter starts in June. It’s already getting a little chilly, the first hints of the quickly-approaching winter. I’ve heard that winter in Valpo isn’t that extreme; it’s mostly just windy and rainy, but it’s definitely going to be weird to have the height of winter be in July which, for me, is normally one of the hottest months.

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to the sand dunes in the neighboring town of Concón where I enjoyed the last bit of this warm weather. I went with some kids from my program, and we all rented tablas (boards) to surf down the dunes. It was incredible, even though I was covered in sand by the end of the day. We climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set over the water – all in all, a perfect day.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-14 at 10.56.43 AM

Also, this weekend was my host mom’s birthday, so we had a huge family lunch on Saturday to celebrate. We started off with a delicious fish soup  (and obviously bread–the main-staple of Chilean cuisine) but the main course was the star. My host uncles had a massive pot filled with various shellfish cooked with white wine and vegetables. There were clams, mussels, and other various shellfish I didn’t recognize. Each of us got a bowl filled to the brim with this mix of seafood and broth. I was in heaven.

My real family is from Baltimore, Maryland, so I’ve basically been eating seafood since I’ve been in diapers. Although Chilean-style shellfish is significantly different than Maryland-style (with no Old Bay to be found, unfortunately), it’s still delicious. And the best part is that I got to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day! For dessert, we had a pastry called brazo de reina (queen’s arm); it’s a type of cake roll that’s filled with gooey manjar, the Chilean version of dulce de leche.

Tomorrow, I start volunteering at MingaValpo. It’s an organization dedicated to providing a safe space for children in one of the neighborhoods of Valparaíso, and I’m pretty excited. Being that tomorrow is my first day, I still don’t have many details about my role in the organization, but I do know that I will be helping in the garden workshop where I’ll be teaching kids from the community about how to grow their own fruits and vegetables in an urban environment (along with having fun and playing some games). I’ll definitely have more updates in the weeks to come, but for now, wish me luck!

Reflections While Wining & Dining in Isla de Maipo

Reflections While Wining & Dining in Isla de Maipo

The good news from last week is that my reading controls went fairly well! The bad news is that I now have another two tests this week for each of those classes (History of Universal Art and History of Chile), so the studying really hasn’t subsided. Although I’m definitely struggling a little bit in these classes, it’s worth the pain because I can already tell how much my Spanish is improving.

After being here in Chile for about a month and a half, I’m really starting to get comfortable here, and it feels a lot more like home. Although I miss my friends more than they will ever know, I’m making new friends here, and it’s a little less lonely. I feel extremely grateful for this opportunity, and a lot of this is due to how incredible my study abroad program is.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m studying abroad through an external program called IFSA-Butler. I think a lot of students are more hesitant to choose an external program for various reasons. They might be worried about the credits transferring, or getting everything approved, or even not knowing any other Temple students that are going. It all boils down to the fear of the unknown– something I completely understand. I went through a lot of the same worries myself, and, honestly, doing an external program has been more difficult for me than if I had done a semester at Temple’s campus in Oviedo, Spain–a program that many of my Spanish major friends have raved about. However, despite the extra paperwork and deadlines that accompany an external program, choosing this external program in Valparaíso has personally been the perfect fit for me.

For example, IFSA-Butler allows me to directly-enroll in classes with Chileans, something that is pretty unique to their program. With IFSA, I can take normal university classes with Chileans, program courses with the 22 students in my program, or classes with international students that are also studying abroad in Valpo. It’s the perfect fit for me because there’s a lot of flexibility within the program, something that can be hard to find in other study abroad programs.

Of course, a more set program might be good for someone who likes a little more structure, which is completely valid. My program has been great for me because I’m fairly independent, so it was nice to be able to create my own structure with my classes and everything. With how many study abroad programs there are out there, everyone should be able to find one that is a good fit!

Amidst reflecting on my study abroad experience so far, I had an exciting weekend experiencing more of Chilean culture. One highlight was a wine festival in Isla de Maipo, a small town about two hours away from Valparaíso in the central valley of Chile. Wine is one of Chile’s main exports (the others being lumber, salmon, and copper). Chile produces mass amounts of wine each year, and, as a result, wine is incredibly cheap here–a decent bottle costs the equivalent of 6 U.S. dollars. I also visited a vineyard there and got to see the whole wine-making process, something that I had never seen before. After visiting the vineyard, we went to the festival, where there were tons of food stands, handmade goods, and, of course, wine.


One of the highlights of the festival was trying choripan for the first time. The word choripan is a combination of chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread), so it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s basically a fat grilled sausage in a piece of crusty bread with a salsa of tomatoes and onions on top. It’s just as delicious as it sounds and is definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten in Chile so far. The festival itself was awesome with lots of handmade goods and wine galore.


While at the festival, we also went on a tour of the town Isla de Maipo, a small town whose claim to fame is the aforementioned wine festival. One of the most memorable parts of the tour was visiting the memorial for the fifteen men who disappeared after the coup d’état of 1973 that brought Chile into an era of fear and paranoia under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the U.S Operation Condor.  The memorial is in memory of the men from that town that were taken away and murdered by the forces of Pinochet, a sad reminder both of what governments can do to their own people and also the United States’ role in Latin American history.

Apart from the solemn visit to the memorial in Isla de Maipo, I really enjoyed learning more about the wine-making process and getting to explore yet another region of Chile this weekend.

Far Too Recent History: The Stasi Museum

Far Too Recent History: The Stasi Museum

Spending any amount of time in Berlin means being unable to ignore history.

Not a single brick of the city today is without a connection to some of the most important episodes of world history and geopolitics throughout the 20th century. Some sites are unmissable; you can walk along the last remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery or play some soccer at Tempelhofer Feld, the massive park at the former airport that was once the only way out of Berlin.

Some are less visible; you can take the S-Bahn all the way out to Teufelsberg, the remains of a former American/British surveillance center that sits atop a mountain of rubble from WWII, or walk around Mitte and see the intact headquarters of the Luftwaffe, the Nazi German air force.

Along the lines of some of these less-pronounced, but still incredibly sobering, historical relics is the Stasi museum. Nestled in the heart of Friedrichshain in East Berlin, surrounded by blocks of monotonous Soviet-Era apartment complexes, the Stasi museum is housed in the former headquarters of the Stasi, or Staatsicherheitdienst, meaning “State Security Service.”

The Stasi was the official state security service for all of East Germany, or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), and was responsible for all surveillance and intelligence in the DDR, both foreign and domestic. It has been described as one of the most expansive, effective, and repressive agencies to ever exist. After touring its former headquarters, one begins to understand why.

The front door to the museum is in a massive, four-block wide series of interconnected buildings that would seem to the unassuming passerby as a large office park. Upon entry, it feels like you stepped back in time. Everything is devoid of color–there is floor-to-ceiling wood paneling and beige, boring carpets covering solid granite or hardwood floors. The only decorations to be seen are the various stone busts of Marx or Lenin that seemed to be at every corner.

The imposing front door to the museum

Our first stop on our guided tour was the foyer where a small model of the headquarters stands in the middle of a room flanked by Hammer and Sickle DDR flags showing just how extensive the place is. Outlined on the map were various places for signal intelligence, domestic surveillance, and interrogation cells. In the back of the lobby was a distinctly soviet era contraption that looked like a food delivery vehicle, but was actually a front for capturing and transporting alleged dissidents and enemies of the state.

Our guide explained to us the history of the Stasi; how they were formed upon the establishment of a totalitarian state in East Germany, how many party officials and Stasi leaders were those who were jailed for being communist during the Nazi era, and how they commanded a group of 91,000 official employees, and hundreds of thousands of unofficial informers.


It’s important, presently in 2018, to reflect on those numbers. The guide was talking about a network of nearly half a million spies in a country of around 17 million. That proportion is far higher than the Gestapo or KGB ever were. Stasi informants were your neighbors, your family, and your friends. The Stasi was so concerned about the possible overthrow of its government and defection of its citizens that it had to hire unofficial informants to inform on its unofficial informants. Everyone was always on high alert.

The rest of the tour focused on explaining what people were involved in the surveillance and how it was collected. Housed in the exhibit halls were remnants of devices that you would think came straight from a Roger Moore James Bond movie: cameras hidden inside neckties, mailboxes, and birdhouses. We then learned how lavishly the high-ranking party officials lived while the general populace was forbidden from using Western products and had to wait 15 years (years!) just to get a car.

As I left, I realized just how fresh this memory is for so many current Germans. The Wall fell in late 1989, so anyone from the East who is over 40 has at least some memory of living under a brutal totalitarian state. I also reflected on how much of a difficult transition that must have been for the older DDR citizens who went from living through the Nazi era and the Stasi era, to living in the reunified Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a liberal democratic country. I know that if I had to live with the constant fear of my neighbors and friends spying on me, I am not sure how I could adjust to life in a free society. Besides gaining a newfound knowledge about a major part of German history, I also gained a newfound respect for anyone who lived through the DDR.


Surveillance equipment hidden in a car door

The lone hallway decoration: a profile bust of Lenin

A Perfectly Pleasant “Pascua”

A Perfectly Pleasant “Pascua”

I’m reaching the end of my extended weekend, and I’m so not ready for classes this week. I have two “reading controls” – tests that are solely on the readings for my classes, as the name suggests. In addition to my two massive tests, I also have two essays due this week. At this point, I’m really just trying to take it one day at time.

Something interesting about classes in Chile is that the readings for the class aren’t neatly organized by date and class on the syllabus as with most classes in the United States. Instead, the professor gives you a massive list of readings to complete at some point (preferably before the first reading control). Although I appreciate the decreased rigidity of the classes, it definitely takes a lot of self-discipline to sit down and actually complete all the readings without a set due date.

Besides the dark cloud of impending failure hanging over me this weekend, I did have a lovely Easter weekend (also, quick fun fact – Easter in Spanish is “Pascua”, thus explaining the title of my post this week).  Everything (including the universities) was closed on Good Friday, so I enjoyed a low-key day with my host family. The rest of my weekend was fairly uneventful and mostly consisted of bopping around Viña and Valpo.

Many of the countries in Latin America retain strong Catholic influences left over from hundreds of years of Spanish dominance and indoctrination. Countries like Mexico and Brazil are still majority-Catholic, although their numbers have significantly decreased in the past thirty years. In contrast, there isn’t as much of a Catholic influence in Chile. In fact, about a third of Chile’s population doesn’t believe in any religion, or, at least, so I’ve been told. The upcoming generation of Chileans is especially irreligious, the generation Americans would call “Millennials”.

Despite the decreasing popularity of religion in Chile, Easter still retains its cultural importance, just as it does in the United States. However, one of the main differences is the elevated importance of Good Friday, instead of Easter Sunday itself. As I mentioned, everything is closed on Good Friday and families spend time together. However, Easter itself is pretty uneventful. On Easter, I received a little basket with a bunny and chocolate eggs inside but, besides that and the light lunch I ate with my family, we didn’t do much.

Something important to note is that my host family is not religious, so someone staying with a different family may easily have fostered a different experience. It just surprised me a little bit from an American perspective because Easter Sunday is such an event! At my house in the United States, even though my family is not religious, it’s a whole day event, from the big Easter breakfast and egg-hunting all the way to the excessive feast later in the night. Of course, I missed the whole Easter spectacle a little bit, but the Chilean Easter was no better or worse–just different. I still got some Easter chocolate, complete with the chocolate bunny, so that’s really all that matters at the end of the day anyway!


Makin’ My Way Down South

Makin’ My Way Down South

After a long week of being sick and using up various rolls of toilet paper, I’m finally starting to feel better. With the beginning of fall here (since the seasons are flipped in the Southern Hemisphere), everyone’s getting sick, including myself. By this point, the flu has made its way around to pretty much everyone in my program.

This weekend I went on a an obligatory trip through my study-abroad program, IFSA-Butler, in which we went to the south of Chile. It is in this region that the majority of the indigenous population lives, the Mapuche. Unlike many other indigenous groups in Latin America, the Mapuche weren’t completely wiped out by the Spanish. In fact, the Chilean state was more of a threat to the Mapuche way of life after a long period of semi-harmony under the Spanish crown. After an especially brutal period of repression under the military dictatorship of Pinochet, the Mapuche people are finally revitalizing their language and culture, raising the newest generation of proud Mapuche.

Slightly pessimistically, I had originally thought that this trip through my program would be a little rushed and trite, as pre-planned trips with a set itinerary often are. However, for this trip, that stereotype did not hold true. From spending the night next to the fire in a traditional ruca (the houses made of straw historically used by the Mapuche) to ziplining across rivers, I enjoyed every second of this trip.

The best part of southern Chile is, by far, the scenery. The south of Chile is incredibly beautiful and totally distinct from Valparaíso. It’s definitely more rural and, by extension, infinitely more peaceful than the bustle of Valpo. In many ways, the south of Chile actually reminds me of my hometown, York, PA, in that both are full of lots of greenery and covered in rolling hills. However, down in the southern Chile, there are a lot more mountains, which is definitely a plus for me as a self-proclaimed hiking fanatic.

I’m continuously amazed by how diverse Chile is as a country, both geographically and culturally. Of course, this makes sense when considering its almost comically elongated shape, but I never realized just how diverse it was until traveling around a little more. Where I was, in the south of Chile, there’s a lot more greenery and mountains and is a little less arid than some other parts of Chile. In contrast, in the north of Chile, it’s mostly desert–the Atacama desert, to be specific. Even between Santiago and Valparaíso, two cities that are both in central Chile (more or less), there are various differences. For example, Santiago is consistently warmer and sunnier than Valparaíso, which is a city that is chronically cloudy, even at the beach! There’s always a strong, chilly breeze in Valpo–the price one has to pay for living on the coast.

Overall, this trip to the south of Chile, to the Araucania, has left me incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given. Chile is such a beautiful country, and I’m reminded that there’s so much to see beyond my little bubble in Valpo.