EXPERIENCE REPORT. Before the Exchange

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1 EXPERIENCE REPORT Study Program: Liberal Arts and Sciences Exchange semester: Fall Academic Year: Host University: Universidad Catolica Country: Chile Before the Exchange The Semester at the UC in Santiago de Chile starts in August one month earlier than in the Netherlands and because I wanted to travel a couple of weeks before the Semester commences, I didn t have much time to organize and plan my exchange. On the other hand there wasn t much to plan anyways. Of course, flights should be booked in time and it may be useful to read through some literature about your country of destination. However, much more planning isn t necessary unless you want to apply for a student visa. I, like many other exchange students in Santiago, didn t do so: as an EU citizen, you can get a tourist visa ( tarjeta de turismo ) directly at the airport in Santiago, which allows you to stay in the country for 90 days. When the tourist visa expires, you simply leave the country for a weekend trip to, for example, Mendoza right across the border and get a new tourist visa when you enter Chile again. Of course, a proper student visa has some advantages over the tarjeta de turismo (for example, you cannot open a bank account without a real visa), but the tourist visa offers a viable alternative for those who don t have the time to apply for the student visa. The first days in Santiago I arrived in Santiago about a week before the official start of the Semester, which gave me the time to arrange my accommodation and get familiar with the city. I booked a bed in a hostel for the first days until I found a permanent place to stay, and started with the search immediately. There are a couple of Santiago, photographed from Cerro Santa Lucía

2 websites designed to help you find shared flats; the most helpful one for me, however, was the Facebook site Flat Finder Chile. After only three days I had found my place. It was located in the center of Santiago, close to the metro station Bellas Artes, an area which is considered one of the safest and most beautiful ones in Santiago. I would share the flat with two Chileans, both students a few years older than me, to whom I connected immediately. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found that place. I heart from other exchange students who spent much more time looking for a flat, and usually end up in apartments which they share exclusively with other exchange students and for which they pay by far too much, as landlords typically abuse the helplessness of foreigners. I was a little surprised that there was no orientation week at the UC. There is only an introduction day, during which exchange students receive necessary information about the University. I highly advise to try and make connections with the other students on this day: I stayed friends with the people I met that day until the end of the semester. During the following two weeks, the first ones of the semester, exchange students were allowed to visit whichever classes they wanted to in order to decide which ones they would ultimately like to take. I recommend, however, to decide on that rather sooner than later, because you might miss important information if you miss the first classes; furthermore, there are limits on some courses, so if you apply too late for a course which is popular you might not get in anymore. After the second week, you should have enrolled yourself into the courses you want to attend. Santiago de Chile Panorama of Santiago Santiago is, in many aspects, different from other South American capitals/big cities. It has advantages and disadvantages, and you should consider both if you re unsure where in South America to do your exchange. The advantages of Santiago over many other cities I have gotten to know in South America are that it is safer, cleaner and better organized. The metro is fast, cheap and reliable, it is easy to get from A to B as Santiago is pretty centralized, and even if you walk, you can feel safe most of the time as long as you don t get too far away from the center. There is little violent crime in Santiago at least none that I have heard of but be aware of pickpockets and fraudsters. If you

3 have to take a cab, for example, negotiate the price with the driver before you enter the cab. One of the greatest downsides of living in Santiago, as compared to other cities, is the prices. I was surprised to find that the prices for certain things, notably groceries and accommodation, are comparable to those in Tilburg. You can find an accommodation for between Chilean Pesos (approximately Euro), depending on comfort and location. Food in the supermarket is expensive, too, but street food and open markets offer an alternative for those who want to pay less. Furthermore, I found that in my own, subjective experience Santiago did not transmit the South American vibes, as someone coming from the West may imagine them. This is, firstly, because Santiago is a very modern city, and secondly, because Chileans are rather reserved as compared to, for example, Argentinians or Colombians. This does not mean that they are unfriendly, but you surely need to invest some time and effort if you want to be a Chilean s friend. Apart from that, Santiago has a lot to offer culturally. There are plenty of museums, galleries, restaurants, bars and clubs as well as green spaces and parks. Because Santiago is located nearby the Andes, it only takes about two hours by bus to the mountains where you can find great hiking and rock climbing spots. The Universidad Catolica The UC is considered one of the best Universities in South America. It consists of four campuses, one in the center and three a little further outside, yet easy to reach by metro. The course offer is vast and offers classes in virtually all fields of studies. A few are held in English, but the great majority is taught in Spanish, which is why proficient Spanish skills are necessary to follow the lectures. The difficulty and study load of those courses depends greatly on who teaches and which field the course falls in. I found the courses I took to be easier than what I am used to in the Netherlands, partly also because I had the feeling that professors don t expect as much from their students. However, if On Campus Oriente

4 Spanish isn t your mother tongue, note that the language barrier will increase the level of difficulty. The way in which knowledge is examined also depends on the course. Most courses include a mid-term and an end-term exam, which may be oral or written, and some professors give additional assignments throughout the semester. The grade may also be partly made up of class participation and attendance. Even though you are required to read in preparation for most classes it wasn t necessary for me to buy any books. Even though I cannot promise that it works the same way for all classes, but in my case, the professors simply distributed articles and chapters via Webcurso (the Chilean version of Blackboard). For additional readings, you can find virtually every existing book in one of the libraries of the UC. Note that the UC is a very conservative and religious university. There are crucifixes in all classrooms, and don t be surprised to see open messes on campus. I found that, even though many of the professors were highly educated and renowned, the teaching stile was often scholastic and little room was left for discussion. The study spaces at the UC were, in comparison to those in Tilburg, poor. I ve been told that most students study at home. There are tables and chairs in the libraries, but only very few, old computers. It is therefore advisable to bring an own computer if you don t have an appropriate study space at home. Also, printing turned out to impose mayor obstacles: there are printing rooms, but it takes a lot of time and patience to print. Plus, you have to bring your own paper, which I found a little odd. The UC is generally technologically by far less wellequipped than Tilburg University, which however shouldn t come as a surprise, as Chile is not a first-world country. You are generally required to plan your courses, accommodation and extracurricular activities yourself. The International Office can help you with questions and problems, and the GAUC (an international student association) organizes excursions and trips, but for everything else you ll have to take the initiative yourself. Getting Around in South America Travelling in South America takes both time and money. Some places can be reached by bus, such as Valparaiso, which is only two hours away from Santiago, but usually you ll have to take a plane, even if your destination lies within Chile. Because there are no cheap airlines such as Easyjet or Ryanair, and because distances in South America are much greater than in Europe, travelling abroad will necessarily be costly. However, you may save money if you travel to a country where living costs are low (which is the case with most countries to the north of Chile). If you have more time and less resources, you may travel Waiting to get picked up at the feet of the Andes, just about two hours from Santiago

5 al dedo, that is, hitchhiking; it is fairly safe and easy to catch rides in Chile or Argentina. Some highlights within Chile are Valparaiso, San Pedro de Atacama and the national park Torres del Paine. The student association GAUC organizes trips to these destinations, however, if you want to go independently, make sure you organize flights and campsites/hostels in time: those destinations are very popular and will be booked out fast, especially during the peak season (December/January/February). To conclude Santiago is a big city that has a lot to offer. It is comparably clean and safe, and the Universidad Catolica is considered to be one of the best universities in South America. However, Santiago (and Chile generally) is expensive: expect prices to be similar to those in Tilburg. Especially if you want to travel other parts of South America, make sure to plan your budget appropriately. I would recommend anyone who wants to go for a safer option, but still go to South America, to do their exchange in Santiago. It is not only less dangerous than other places, but you ll also be able to find American/European products in Supermarkets or shops. However, if you want to go for the real culture shock, you might want to think about other places. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me via Facebook or mail.

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