Yet another journey commences

Today, or tomorrow, let’s say tomorrow, marks the start of yet another epoca of the SIT program– the ISP.  ISP stands for independent study project. In addition to studying independently, I’m pretty much about to do everything else independently too.  I’m in the midst of trying to figure out where I’ll live.  Half of the people on my program stayed in Buenos Aires, three are going south, one to Valparaiso, which leaves three of us in Santiago spread around the city doing our own thing.  I theoretically have a school to do my research in, an advisor, and recommended books, but I hear about all that tomorrow.  So right now I have no idea what’s going on other than that by less than a month from now I should have a project done.  It’s a bit scary to say the least.


I’m going to research how the dictatorship here affected Chilean national identity, and how that plays itself out in the education system, and theoretically I’m supposedly doing this by means of a video.  I’m pretty stoked for the topic, but a bit overwhelmed about how to go about it as all I have now is Isabela Allende’s My Invented Country in spanish, and some theories.  I guess part of step one is get a video camera?


In case you’re interested though, I’ll present my theory going into it, which is based on months of living here plus two weeks of viewing Santiago from afar in Buenos Aires.  Before I say it though, I have to qualify this by saying that I dont’ claim to be any kind of expert. Everything I see is totally skewed by my own biases, and I’m not Chilean.  If you are, and you think I’m wrong, please don’t be insulted.  Just tell me.

Basically I see two parallel patterns, one with students and one with the country as a whole.  Kids here who don’t have lots of money have very little hope of going to college, and the reality is that they won’t get a much better job having graduated high school than having dropped out after two years.  Everyone around them is telling them that they have very little chance of success.  So, they lose hope, they get disallusioned and stop. They need money so they stop.  Even if they finish high school, the odds that their public schools have adequately prepared them for the PSU (think SAT but in Chile) are slim to none.  So then they have a national test system also tell them they’re inadequate.  They get jobs that don’t pay well, the same thing happens to their kids, the cycle continues. 


The exception I saw to this was the school I observed in, the Instituto Nacional.  Basically it’s the best magnet school in the country and it’s all boys (they have a girls one that’s equivalently good too).  Everyone knows it and everyone knows that these boys are smart and they go to college.  Ask any teacher there and they say the boys are the best there are.  Their matriculation rate is like 85% while most public schools send close to no one.  It has exactly the same resource allocation as any other public school, but those boys get told all day long that they’re the best, and they succeed.  The Instituto has produced something like 16 presidents.


On a national level Chile seems to have a self-image problem too, especially in Santiago.  Chileans will tell you that Argentina is better, that the US is better.  My Chilean friend at the university where I study said his professor paints an idealized perfect picture of US university students when his classmates miss an assignment or a class.  Chileans don’t seem to have a very positive self image of their country (except for maybe that the south is beautiful).  Now think about the image you as an American have of Chile.  It probably doesn’t exist.  You probably just haven’t ever learned about it or thought much about it before.  In contrast, Argentinians have great things to say about Argentina, and so does the NY Times travel section.  


The differences between Chile and Argentina are so vast that you basically can’t compare them.  The contexts before their dictatorships, the lengths of the dictatorships, the responses to the dictatorships, and the recovery processes, were all completely different.  I’m not setting out to compare them.  But being in Argentina for two weeks and seeing the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and all of the other human rights movements that have blossomed as a reponse to their dictatorship, seeing posters that say “nunca mas” (never again), did allow me to look at Chile from a different perspective.  I started to think about the direction Chile has gone since its dictatorship, and how much you can still see the remnants of it 18 years later, even in the government. 


I think I’ve really been curious about Chilean identity ever since I started trying to figure out what Chilean culture was and struggling with that question.  I’m pretty excited to have an excuse to sit people down in front of a camera and interview them about their thoughts on the topic.  However, the task of figuring out how to ask the question is quite daunting.  If you have any advice, please by all means share it with me.


One Comment Add yours

  1. tomás.. says:

    well…I’m chilean, and thinl your analysis is pretty correct in some ways, but you have some wrong statements there too…

    About the chilean educational system, it’s true taht not a lot of the poorer people make it to the University, but it has to do with more of a parental and ancestral problems, more than with a budget thing, or goverment thing…. I think taht americans or people from europe tends to have a very romantical view about poverty…a view that includes complots, tyranism, lack of oportunities…injustice…and another pila of hippie stuff..but in my opinion, the opinion of a guy who is in touch with poverty, is that many of their problems have to do with that factors, but the major part of them have to do with their cronic lazyness and lack of moral, and strenght…many theorys have been said about this statement…that it’s a problem of the religion (catholic)…that is a part of a historical way of life, even about the race….i don’t know what’s the reason but i can assure you that the real problem with the poor social movility here in chile for the lower class, is their own lack of overcoming spirit…it’s my sad opinion living in this country for 25 years…they have the chances…but it’s too hard or uncomfortable to take them.

    About the lack of chilean identity or pride and the comparisson with the argentines national pride…i guess i don’t mind that much about argentina..because i found them big time liars and publicists fo the air they breed…i go to Baires in the past summer…and i have to admirt taht i admire their touristic spirit..and their capacity of making international heroes of their fellow people….¿Who cares about Evita?–¿Why the tourist have to go to their tomb?…¿Why the “barrio la boca” is a tourist spot?…and lots of cuestions run through my mind about their incredible capacity to sell a common thing as a tourist attraction…In chile you have a character a lot more interesting, ALLENDE…and no one go to the cemetary to see his tomb….( that is a problem i want to solve..and earn money…the almost knowledge or interest of seeing things taht are truly meaningful here in chile)….In conclusion…i like argentines..they played football really well….have good music, and have good comedy shows…but in the living factor…or behind that pompous me they are less “natural” or truthful tahn chileans…they are a big tale basically…a tale taht is transmited generation to generation endlessly…but that’s why we love argentines right?

    I prefer the chilean greyness..but it’s my humble opinion…(you’re right that a lot of chileans simply loooooooove argentines and aregtnina)

    and about the coup…we live now in a “protected democracy”…with the hope that the protection ends slowly until we reach a true democracy..but with no hurry…slow in the road…gradula changes is my motto……i’m very moderate as you can see..but don’t misundestand me….i love freedom and everything…but it will take a couple of generations maybe to culturize the people…and not fall in populism….

    PS: Argentines and the mothers of plaza de me …is no big deal…and don’t represent nothing too special for me….Chile made a very more brave transicion to democracy..trying to reconciliate teh factions of the cuntry…the first democratic presindet says “justice…in teh possible measure”..and we have to play very easy to consolidate our democracy..speceally with pinochet in the army several years in democracy…..

    So, to me, mother of MAy is the classic behaviour of the argentine people…they just think about themselves, not in the national prosperity…is a very lef wing country…so if you rise the prices of something..there you have an inmediate strike….they just think taht the goverments have to suply them with everything…maybe their happy…but they don’t have an stoical spirit…and that, my fiend, chilean people have it..

    If you’re from the US, and you love your country with all you’re sthrenght..then you need to reconsiderate some of the virtues that you find in argentiune…i really mean it.



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