Smiling: The Universal Language

Today our class continued our journey in Chile by volunteering at Hogar Padre Alfonso, an orphanage located in Viña del Mar. Hogar Padre Alfonso is a home to Chilean children between the ages of four and 12, with parents who cannot take care of them for various reasons. Children placed at the orphanage remain there until they can return to their families or until they are moved to a new home that is for older children.  Today, our class had the privilege of spending time with these wonderful children.

Even though the language barrier made verbal communication difficult, we had a great time playing with the children. After introducing ourselves and doing our best to talk with the kids in Spanish, we had fun playing games. A large group of young boys played soccer with the Drake students, while others hung around the playground. After we played outside, we used our time to help the children at the orphanage learn a few words in English. To do so, we sang the classic song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes,” played Twister, and taught them a ball game that introduced vocabulary.

Many people say that smiling is the universal language, and our time spent at the orphanage proves this to be true. When our words no longer served us, simply spending time with the children at the orphanage seemed to make all the difference. Our first encounters were difficult because the children were shy and so were we. However, after warming up to one another, it was easy to laugh and play together. Smiles were abundant today; the fun we had this morning will not be easily forgotten. It was difficult to leave as we said our goodbyes and gave hugs to the kids.

The reason the goodbye was so bittersweet is because of the time we spent together. Like we did with our service at the nursing home earlier in the week, all we did was share our time. Yes, we passed that time by playing games (Bingo with the elderly and Twister with the kids), but our service was our time. And, truthfully, sometimes giving people your time is the best gift that you can give. We didn’t need verbal communication with the elderly or with the children. All we needed was an open heart and a willingness to love the people around us.

The lesson we learned, to give others our time and our love, will stay with us forever. This type of service is needed all over the world. Globally, there are people that need a hand to hold or a person to kick a ball around with. Sometimes giving is that simple. We must remember the importance of taking care of all people in this world as we travel back to the United States. Regardless of a person’s age or where he or she comes from, we must give our time back to the members of our communities. Doing so, we will continue to be responsible global citizens.

As previously mentioned, it was difficult to say goodbye to the children at the orphanage. However, we were on a strict schedule to continue our tour of Chile. We spent the rest of the day exploring unique beaches and geography; we spent our free time soaking up some rays and enjoying the ocean breeze. Below is an example of what a typical beach looks like in Viña del Mar.


Brightly colored umbrellas scattered across the sand of the beaches. – Photo by Molly

As we walked by the beach, we also saw a number of canons. These canons point out to the waters from the Las Salinas Naval Base. The canons in the photograph below were large, but people walked up to touch the massive weapon and grab pictures.


Chilean canons. – Photo by Molly

We met fellow Bulldog, Emily, for dinner tonight. Emily is also currently studying in Chile with ISA. She is here for three weeks, and living with a host family in Viña del Mar. We had a fun time eating with her tonight and swapping stories about our adventures in Chile. Below is a photo we snapped before having dinner with Emily on our walk home from the beaches.


Clear water and clear skies on this beautiful Chilean night. – Photo by Molly

With views like this and time spent serving others, it will be hard to leave Chile in a few short days. Over the next two days, we will make the most of the time that we have left, while sharing our smiles with those around us.


When you step off a plane

As previously alluded to in an earlier blog post, each group on the Chile J-Term trip is tasked with creating a final project that summarizes the knowledge we have learned on this trip. Because the class is titled “Families, Lifestyles, and Annuity Tables” it is each group’s job to focus on one item and relate it back to these three items mentioned in the class title. For our project, we have chosen to focus on the equalities and inequalities that we observe in the social structure of Chile. There are many types of equalities and inequalities that exist throughout the world, so to narrow our topic we have chosen to mainly focus on gender, class, and LGBTQ+ equalities and inequalities. To study these areas in Chile, we have spent time taking careful notes in our meetings with a variety of businesses, exploring and observing the city of Santiago on our own time, and researching online for answers to additional questions we have.  In the short week that we’ve been studying this topic in Santiago, we have already made a number of noteworthy observations.

When we stepped off the plane in Chile, our class of ten students and two faculty members attended an informational session to introduce us to the Chilean culture. Hosted by our trip advisers from ISA, Roxana and Tamara, we learned a number of things about the way gender is viewed in Chile. Our class was warned that Chile is a country with a culture that is historically male-dominated. We were told that work and family roles fit into the traditional viewpoint that once dominated our world (and still sometimes does) – the man works, while the woman takes care of the family. From this traditional view of the home, Chile developed a number of normal qualities to look for in men and women. Specifically, women are expected to be ladylike, conservative in the way they dress, and should not have the opportunity to have abortions when they become pregnant. Meanwhile, men should be breadwinners and should be berated if they make less money than a woman in their household.

These types of inequalities in gender have shaped the direction of Chile, but we have noticed a shift away from the traditional gender norms while we have been here. Our group has observed a number of women in business and advertising jobs during our visits at Channel 13, Principal Financial Group, and Extend. While we noted a large number of women working outside of the household, we cannot truly tell if the career opportunities are equal at this point. For example, Chile has a female president, but only eight of twenty-three ministry positions are held by women, and even smaller representations are found in the government’s undersecretaries and regional authorities. Furthermore, we have observed an equal number of male and female students at the Universidad de los Andes, but we cannot conclude that both genders are studying for comparable careers. While we cannot definitively come to any conclusions about the career opportunities for men and women, it seems as if what we have observed can be marked as progress towards gender equality in the workforce.

The biggest gap in equality that we have noticed is derived from income, separating high and low class citizens. Almost each business we have visited has provided our group with a brief history of Chile’s economic development. From these lectures, we have learned that huge economic inequalities have existed in Chile since the beginning of the country’s history. Historically, citizens were separated into two major groups of people: peasants that worked the land, and owners who benefitted from all of the profits those workers provided. Today, five families still own the majority of wealth and power in Chile.  Two power players always attributed with high economic power are the Luksic and Larrain families. While these notorious families enjoy incredible economic opportunities, the rest of the country still fights to make and maintain a living. For example, Santiago’s financial district cannot entirely represent the entire country’s economic success. Traveling just past the bustling streets of the city’s core, a visitor will find neighborhoods that are home to many Chilean’s struggling to get by each day. Living in houses made of tin roofs, next to schools that need structural attention and parks that need grass, these Chilean citizens do not experience a thriving economic position. We observed subsidized housing and jerry-rigged streetlamps – the people in these communities cannot wait the long periods of time for the government to provide them with basic infrastructure. This does not mark the end of signs we have seen in the fight for economic equality.

Citizens living in Santiago are frequently protesting the wages they earn for a variety of jobs. On one of the first days we spent touring the city, we had to cancel our time at the art museum; it was closed because its employees were on strike to demand higher wages. A second example was when Roxana and Tamara explained to us that universities have been shut down due to protests. When classes are canceled for long periods of time, students and faculty cannot continue education and must suspend all working. Instead of being released at the normal time in January for summer break, students finish their academic year late in March and must immediately start the next year of school. Finally, we have personally viewed protesters walking through the streets of Chile demanding more money for the work they do. Protesters parade in matching colors, chanting a consistent message and using drums to get the attention of Santiago.


“DIBAM (Direccion de Bibliotecas, Achivos, y Museos)  on strike” – Photo by Claire

To supplement what we have observed and already learned, we visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. This museum is dedicated to providing information and insight to the human rights violations committed in Chile under the military dictatorship beginning in 1973. Prior to 1973, Chile was controlled by socialist president Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973 Augusto Pinochet used the support he had with the Chilean military to throw a coup on La Moneda (the President’s Palace). Bombing the palace, the Chilean military forced Allende out of his presidency and Pinochet immediately took place as the leader of a military dictatorship in Chile that lasted until 1990. While an exact number of the people that suffered human rights violations in Chile during Pinochet’s rule has not been obtained, the museum estimates that 4,000 people died over the 17 year period.


This wall contains a list of a rights that all humans deserve around the world. – Photo by Tommy

Citizens of Chile were subject to a number of human rights violations. Chilean citizens caught trying to flee the country or protect their families were detained by the dictatorship and tortured. Some of the torture methods included beating, using electric shock, and killing citizens. During Pinochet’s rule, Chilean citizens lived in fear of death, and were forced to compromise their way of life to protect their lives. The government led by Pinochet censored all media publications, distributed propaganda, and burned the books and art of anything that could defy the regime. Even more, students at universities were restricted from studying subjects like political science, law, social sciences, and art. Due to these historic events, Chile’s government and culture were shaped forever.


Our blog team stands in front of a museum exhibit featuring art by young people (ages 18 to 25). Each piece depicts human rights violations committed from 1973 to 1990. – Photo by UG

Specifically, a majority of Chilean citizens do not trust their government. As we have witnessed a number of times, Chileans are still skeptical of rampant corruption in the country. Just last year, Michelle Bachelet was involved in a political scandal with her son. As we learned at Extend, even though Bachelet had been voted into office, capturing 62 percent of voters, her approval ratings dropped somewhere between 20 and 30 percent in the aftermath of the scandal. The PR consultants at Extend explained to us that today very few people trust Bachelet because of the way she incorrectly handled the scandal and withheld information from the people of Chile.

While this part of Chilean culture is difficult to discuss, the country flourishes in many ways. Chile is a vibrant city full of thriving businesses and continues to develop for its future. This part of a country’s culture is extremely difficult to observe right when you step off a plane, but is incredibly important to understand when one seeks to truly know an area’s way of life.

Foreign Relations

As countries across the world come together to collaborate, an emphasis on foreign relations has become increasingly important for a majority of global countries. Yesterday, our class learned how international relations can produce economic benefits for businesses during our trip to Principal Financial Group. Today, we continued to learn about the ways in which international relations can positively guide foreign policy and education.

We started our day with a trip to the United States Embassy to learn about the way in which the United States interacts and aids Chile on a daily basis. Our class was greeted by a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who previously worked at a number of embassy locations, like Washington D.C., Dominican Republic, and South Africa. The FSO presented our class with a lecture on the general purpose of the U.S. Embassy in Chile.

The U.S. Embassy is divided into five main parts: political, public diplomacy, management, economic, consular. Each of these U.S. Embassy sectors works in Chile to promote the American and Chilean interests together. The most widely known use of the U.S. Embassy is the consular, because it is the most accessible for American citizens for visa and passport services. The management portion of the U.S. Embassy monitors items like budgets, hiring, and firing. The other three parts of the U.S. Embassy work together to keep the United States updated about current events happening in Chile, and work to further the political and economic interests of the United States and Chile.

Many things have been done in the past and present at the U.S. Embassy in Chile to further democracy, trade agreements, and security. For example, in a past initiative to increase GDP growth in sectors other than natural resources, the U.S. Embassy has brought possibilities for change to the table in Chile. Specifically, the U.S. Embassy has discussed with Chile the advantages of creating and supporting American corporations currently located in Chile. By supporting these businesses that have strong establishments in the United States, the U.S. Embassy can suggest to Chile ways in which they can grow GDP in other facets. Currently, the biggest focus of the U.S. Embassy is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the U.S. Embassy does not have any true negotiating power, it is the U.S. Embassy’s job to promote foreign relationships and initiatives that will benefit the United States and Chile.

Our class continued our learning about foreign relations at a local Chilean university. We spent lunch on a summery patio at the Universidad de los Andes (UANDES) stuffing ourselves with sopaipillas, empanadas, and mote con huesillo, a Chilean dessert containing peach nectar, the dried remains of the fruit, and corn. But the most culturally enriching part of the afternoon, by far, was interacting with the international students at the university.


Professor Garza speaks with UANDES students during our visit over lunch.

We spoke to two students in particular who were incredibly friendly – perhaps more personable immediately than students you’d come across in the states. They let us in on some native knowledge about Santiago, Valparaiso, and Viña Del Mar. We talked about everything from break dancing to skiing, and arranged to have the locals show us around the city later on in our trip.

Collaborating with international students is the most rewarding (and fun and exciting) part of studying abroad. Interacting with people from around the world broadens your view of the world. You can read a million books, but it is difficult to say you’re culturally intelligent without making friends abroad. At UANDES, the international program has thrived in the last few years. The international offices have expanded and remodeled, and it’s an incredibly attractive place for a students like ourselves to spend a semester.


A patio at UANDES where students and faculty can interact during the day.

Studying abroad in Chile is easier than one might think. UANDES has a partnership with Drake University and many other schools that eases the transition for abroad students. It also doesn’t hurt that tuition at most private schools in Chile are similarly priced or cheaper than public universities. The employees at UANDES are eager to invite students from Drake University and are more than willing to adjust studies and research to fit the strengths and interests of the individual visiting Chile.After meeting with the study abroad office and Chilean students, we had time for a tour of the campus.


This Louvre-look-alike building is currently under construction at UANDES.

This campus is gorgeous! Stunning buildings, lovely people, and wide-open green space filled with beautiful trees covered the campus. Since the university was founded less than thirty years ago, many of the buildings are modern and the campus has a very open feel. Also, there is construction happening across campus to perfect the campus aesthetic. Our tour guide mentioned that they own a lot of land and are able to expand their campus to even larger distances. After seeing this campus, I definitely understand how they are the 3rd best university in Chile.


Every day, students at UANDES enjoy the view of the mountains from their campus.

After spending time at the U.S. Embassy and UANDES, we can clearly see the importance of investing time in foreign relations. While we only have eight days left in Chile, we may all hope to come back one day in the future.

We Have Arrived.

After chatting with fellow passengers and falling in and out of sleep, we have arrived in Santiago! Even though our class knew that we were leaving Des Moines for much better weather, we were each pleasantly surprised to feel the sun as we stepped outside of the airport. Walking into a Chilean summer is one of the greatest welcomes you can hope for (especially when you know there is snow on the ground back home). However, the best welcome to Chile came from our two tour guides with International Studies Abroad (ISA).

There are many notable differences between Chile and the United States. Santiago is filled not only with sounds of a typical city (like car horns), but is abundant with conversations in Spanish. Making our way through the city with a limited knowledge of the language may become a challenge. Therefore, it will be incredibly helpful to have two native Chileans help our group become more comfortable speaking Spanish.

Another sound not commonly heard in the streets of Des Moines is live music. After a long day of travel and settling into the city, the entire class retreated to their respective hotel rooms to sleep for the night. We were welcomed to the distant sounds of a mariachi band, and were able to get a view from our balcony attached to our room. The mariachi music was full of life, strong trumpet undertones that are true to the unique Chilean culture. Below is a picture we snagged that includes the view from our hotel.


But the mariachi band isn’t the only distinctive thing we saw today. Wrapping the city of Santiago is a giant range of mountains. The Andes Mountains are the longest continental mountain range in the world, and Santiago sits at the heart of this range. Flying into Santiago, we were able to capture a picture from a bird’s eye view.


But even when you are standing in the city itself, you can see the peaks in the distance, as shown in the picture below.


In addition to geographical differences from Des Moines, Chile is home to a different type of branding and marketing. As in the United States, advertisements for a number of products follow you with each step. The advertisement pictured below is for Palmers, a brand that sells underwear for men and women. Palmers is an international underwear brand that, as evidenced by the billboard, has an established and growing market in Chile. This advertisement depicts a beautiful man and woman in a scene similar to high-end fashion advertisements we may see in Des Moines. However, the brand is unique to Chile and not something we find every day in America.12494346_10207311983512182_1830517541_o.jpg

Chile is a unique country with a number of identifying characteristics. As we fall asleep to the sounds of mariachi, nestled in the heart of the Andes, it is clear that we are not in Des Moines any more.