Saturday, March 20, 2010
Back to the libros
Our student monitor, Natalia, reminisced about the culture shock and linguistic difficulties she'd survived during the six months she'd studied in Mexico earlier this year. Then she led us to an auditorium with the other 260 exchange students (66 percent of the foreign students in the university of 14,000 come from the U.S.) where we listened to important deans present speeches peppered with earthquake history and facts. Afterward we headed to the balcony, where we snacked on avocado and tomato sandwiches and jugos naturales (sugary juice) while watching Chilean folk dance performances accompanied by an impressive live band. The dancers changed costumes four times to perform dances from various regions of Chile, including a saucy number from Valparaiso.
During the next orientation session I got my results from the nerve-wracking Spanish exams and signed up for classes. In a chaotic room, a student representing each department sat at a table ready to answer our questions and enroll us in our courses. I sat down at every table (well except mathematics, engineering, science and business -- anything with earning potential) to interrogate the monitors about the most engaging and entertaining classes in their departments taught by professors with clear spoken Spanish and an empathy for foreign students. So, now I'm signed up for classes in five different departments. And I'm looking forward to all of them, although I have a month to drop and add classes to find my ideal combination.
1. Literature: Intro to the Latin American Detective Novel
2. Physical Education: Personal Health and Active Living
3. Art: Basic Concepts of Cinematic Language
4. Journalism: Multimedia Journalism or Graphic design (still deciding)
5. Architecture: American Workshop: Urban Spaces
6. Art: Paper Making Workshop
7. Art: Human Experience in the Ideas of 20th Century Art
This week, I started classes and realized that while two of them are a 10-minute walk to the historic Casa Central in gritty downtown, the other four are 20-40 minutes away by bus. Oh, how fondly I remember the days of biking to class in Charleston. Now I fear for my life squished on maniacal buses or walking the edges of the taped off sidewalks of post-earthquake Valpo.
Tuesday night I realized that I'd have to wake up at 6 a.m. to get to my journalism class on time. I walked the streets the next morning in the dark and avoided shifty figures as I waited nearly 30 minutes to catch a bus with standing room only to the Curauma campus nearly 40 minutes away. I arrived to the giant modern building at exactly 8:15 a.m. to find the classroom empty and locked. The professor showed up around 9 a.m. to hand us the syllabus and dismiss the class.
The next day I bussed to my art class only to discover after 30 minutes of frantically searching the streets and berating my ability to survive in a foreign country that the faculty had moved 20 minutes away to the Miraflores neighborhood due to earthquake damages. When I arrived an hour late I found out class had been canceled for a professors' meeting.
In the meantime I'm waiting. Waiting for classes to really start. Waiting for the university gym to open and the fitness classes to begin. Waiting to get the schedules for the language exchanges, volunteer projects, and photography workshop I signed up for during orientation. Waiting for Rotary to contact me so I can start attending meetings and giving presentations. And most impatiently, waiting for the water heater repairs in my apartment after two weeks of cold showers.
I used to say the only thing holding me back from joining the Peace Corps was the almost certain absence of hot showers. God is laughing at me.
(images courtesy of derechopucv.com and ceefilosofia.blogspot.com)