Hello from the Southern Hemisphere!
I’m in Valparaíso, Chile for a summer abroad program composed of an academic seminar and internship. Like other Hopkins Interactive students, I have struggled to articulate everything that I’ve experienced in the past two weeks in a couple of paragraphs. Since my arrival in mid-June, I’ve met some amazing people, ate delicious food, familiarized myself with the public transportation system, walked down cobblestone paths of historic districts, experienced a Chilean student protest, met elected officials, and so much more. I would be remiss not to mention the Weisman Internship Fund, an endowment for students in the International Studies program that played a huge role in my decision to go abroad.
After arriving in Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, I met six other students in the program from different universities across the United States. We then drove to the CIEE office in central Santiago for an orientation. Despite the cold weather, the city was bustling; the streets were full of cars, buses, vendors, stray dogs and people on their lunch break. Lunch in Chile is the biggest meal of the day, so I enjoyed a nice warm Chilean corn pie to stave off the cold. Unlike other students who will be staying Santiago, I’m living in Viña del Mar and interning in Valparaíso with another student, Rachel (Viña and Valpo are neighboring coastal cities). That night, we stayed at a hostel and left the next day.
At the end of an hour and a half drive, Rachel and I were greeted with kisses on the cheek and hugs from our host family. We got situated into our rooms and then attended another orientation (specifically for students in Valparaíso) in the local CIEE office. The rest of the day was spent exploring the city and taking pictures of its various street art.
Viña del Mar y Valparaíso
From the second we arrived at our host family’s house in Viña and attended the orientation in Valpo, I knew without a doubt that I’d be getting a more-than-sufficient workout every day. Getting around both cities requires walking up and down steep hills – the path to the house in Viña is also a winding, mile-long upward climb!
Viña del Mar and Valparaíso are two neighboring cities on the coast of Chile. In the summer months, Viña and Valpo are the top tourist destinations in the country. Viña del Mar is a modern, residential city with multiple shopping malls and various plazas and parks. The beach is a five-minute walk from the house, and the cobblestone road, La Avenida Peru, runs miles along the coast. The view of the Pacific Ocean is beautiful and on a clear day you can see Valpo from the beach. The boardwalk is full of people, vendors selling trinkets, and of course, dogs.
Valparaíso was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003 and for good reason. The city is absolutely breathtaking. There are various plazas around the city, each equipped with a fountain and benches strewn across the area. On any given day, you’ll find people reading the newspaper, children playing on the playground, teenagers with their skateboards, and street vendors with assorted goods spread out on their mats.
Valparaíso also has many restaurants, cafes, pubs, hostels, and artisan shops hidden among its many winding streets. To get to the higher neighborhoods in Valpo, you can either walk or take an ascensor to save time. While graffiti ordains storefronts and walls, murals and paintings by world-famous artists also highlight the cultural aspects of the city.
Rachel and I are Community Engagement Interns in the office of Concejal Daniel Morales (a concejal is an elected representative of the city). This internship has been an amazing learning experience and provides the perfect opportunity to integrate and apply everything that I’ve been learning in my international studies and sociology classes. Our primary responsibility as interns is to assist with the development of various projects that support Los Porteños (people living in the port cities) and to discuss policies and solutions with communities and interest groups. So far, we’ve written two policy briefs on the region using recently published material from the UNDP and INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas), attended weekly town hall meeting with the mayor and other concejals, researched the social issues within the city (development of the port, clean streets, projects concerning the city’s heritage, poverty, education, etc.), and developed a social media marketing strategy to allow for better communication between the concejal and his constituents. We also developed various interviews and surveys that we are planning to conduct starting next week. This upcoming interview is to determine how the lack of ascensores (elevator apparatuses unique to Valparaíso) affects the quality of life in certain neighborhoods. This past Sunday was also the primaries for the Chilean presidential election, so we crunched some numbers as well!
There are various modes of transportation available in Valpo and Viña. There is the metro – the subway – that Rachel and I take to commute between Viña and Valpo. The micro, the local bus, is also a popular (and cheaper) option that many people use. Colectivos, which are shared rides on a set route are also widely used. Because the academic seminar classes are held in Santaigo, Rachel and I commute by bus and metro from Valpo to Santiago every Tuesday and Thursday. After the class ends at 4:30pm, we hang out with the rest of the students and grab dinner while waiting for the peak metro time to pass (think bodies pressed so tightly together it’s near impossible to enter/exit the train – it’s quite the experience!).
In addition to exploring the alleyways of Valpo and wandering the streets and beaches of Viña, we’ve also gone to the Sand Dunes in ConCon, another city in the bay. Next week, the students in the program are going to visit San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world!
Nightlife in Chile is very much alive, and very different from that in America. For starters, the night starts around 12-1am and ends anywhere from 5-6am. The streets of Valpo are filled with people of all ages. People bring their drums to play on the streets, teenagers are free styling in the park, and corner restaurants are busy cooking empanadas and Chilean-style hot dogs with guacamole, ketchup, and mayonnaise. Rachel and I, along with two Chilean friends we made, went to El gato en la Venta (which roughly translates to The Cat in the Window), a place with live Chilean folk and Afro-latino music. When we first arrived, the place was nearly empty, but as the night wore on it started to get packed. Soon enough, tables were pushed aside and people started dancing to the music.
My first couple of weeks here have been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store. Until next time!