Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Catching up: Alumni Reunion

I apologize for the blogging hiatus the last several weeks in Chile. We were all busy with finishing our projects. However, now that I’m home, I have a little time to wrap up some loose ends.

Alumni Party
One of the highlights during our last two weeks was the Alumni Party. Liz and Rachel’s primary project was to strengthen alumni connections and host a second annual alumni gathering in Puente Alto. The party was held on Thursday, July 3rd at 6 pm. Turnout was in the neighborhood of 50 people, which included micro entrepreneurs, interns, and AE staff. There was food, decorations, mingling, speakers, and a 20-minute video produced by Liz and Rachel.

The beginning of the party was plagued by technology difficulties. The 20-minute video was on Rachel’s Mac, but no one had the proper cords to connect her video to the projector. Puente Alto director, Daniel, didn’t want to show the video if it could only be displayed on the laptap. His concern showed AE’s emphasis on quality and high standards. Fortunately, with the help of Karna, they were able to burn the video to a DVD in time to show by the end of the reunion.

A provincial governor attended the reunion and was the keynote speaker. He talked about the importance of staying in contact with AE as an alumnus, since AE could still provide support and future micro entrepreneurs could benefit from insights of more experienced micro entrepreneurs.

At the end, the girls played their video. Liz and Rachel created the video by asking a few additional questions to the micro entrepreneurs that were interviewed for Elana and Karna’s project. In the video, micro entrepreneurs stated their name, business, and gave one consejo (advice) to current AE students. The micro entrepreneurs loved seeing themselves in the video, with some crying. The video will now serve as an additional motivational video for AE by showing incoming micro entrepreneurs the benefits of the program.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Streamlining the teaching process

I apologize for the blogging hiatus. We’ve been nearing the completion of our projects, with Rachel and Liz putting the finishing touches on the alumni party, Elana and Karna conducting more interviews than ever, and Jordan and I finalizing our instructors manual and PowerPoint presentations.

Stemming from an idea between Jordan and Joe, Jordan and I have started working on creating a brief, 2-hour workshop for volunteer instructors. Since many AE volunteers are professionals who don’t necessarily have teaching experience, we believe that creating a workshop would be a helpful way to increase the quality of AE’s courses. From first hand experience as a teaching assistant back in Public Policy 55 back at Duke, I can say that teaching a course is very challenging, if you haven't taught in a classroom setting before.

I’ve spent several days researching some basic teaching strategies, especially for adult learners. Unlike young students, adults take classes for different reasons. In the case of AE, adults take classes to improve their knowledge about running their own micro-enterprises. From our experience attending classes and talking to volunteers and AE staff, we feel like focusing on the connection between the instructor and students would help the micro-entrepreneurs pay better attention and further enjoy their classes. Engaging the micro-entrepreneurs, rather than lecturing to them can go a long way in helping the classes run smoothly and effectively. Helping bring consistency to the way that volunteers are briefly trained should improve the courses across the board.

Unfortunately, we only have two weeks left. In the time we have left, we hope to lay the groundwork for a trial program at Norponiente that future interns can expand, including informational videos with advice from former instructors.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mid-Project Update

It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the half point of our work with Acción Emprendedora. On Friday, we had a meeting with a few of the directors to present our work thus far and plans for the future. Here are some excerpts from our presentation and the one-page handouts that we prepared:

Elana and Karna’s field research project:
-Their project consists of interviewing micro-entrepreneurs and gathering qualitative and quantitative information about the successes and failures of the micro-enterprises. Karna is also working on developing a template for web profiles for ideal candidates.

-As of July 2nd, they had conducted 15 interviews and have many more scheduled. The interview questions focus on descriptions of the micro-entrepreneurs’ businesses, their monthly profits, revenues, number of workers, etc. They also ask questions about hypothetical services that AE could offer in the future. The interviews are filmed using flips cams, while the results are complied in an excel spreadsheet.

-Eventually, Elana and Karna plan to statistically analyze the data once they have a bigger sample size and report their findings to AE.

-The process isn’t always easy. Many times, they don’t have the correct contact info for the micro-entrepreneurs. Other times, micro-entrepreneurs don’t show for their interviews. To combat these problems, the group now phones the micro-entrepreneurs to remind them about their interviews, or they interview people already at the Puente Alto center.

Liz and Rachel’s alumni association project:
-Liz and Rachel are in charge on planning the 2nd annual alumni party, as well as improving current AE alumni relations. They hope to establish a collaborative sense of community, where alums can share ideas and mentor micro-entrepreneurs currently enrolled in AE courses.

-Working with Elana and Karna, they are creating a video to show at the banquet. This video highlights AE’s work and the advice of micro-entrepreneurs. They are also creating an alumni directory, which can aid projects like Elana and Karna’s in the future.

-In addition to contacting micro-entrepreneurs about the reunion and creating the video, Liz and Rachel are hoping to attract some sponsorship and speakers for the event.

-Like the other groups, they have faced difficulties, including editing videos and deciding what content to include in the videos.

Grant and Jordan’s educational consulting:
-The primary aim of Grant and Jordan’s project has been to create an instructor’s manual for the course on production, which includes lesson plans, examples, practice problems, and an accompanying PowerPoint.

-To begin, the two designed a questionnaire to send to former teachers of the production course. Additionally, they attended several classes to meet micro-entrepreneurs and study the style of teaching. Finally, they researched various aspects of production online to gain a better understanding of the material and how it can apply to micro-enterprises.

-Now, they have completed a preliminary, 35-page draft of the instructor’s manual in Spanish. Currently, they are working on the PowerPoint slides.

-Progress has moved along quicker than they anticipated. The former volunteers replied fully and prompted. Unfortunately, there have been problems with accessibility and compatibility. Some computers have trouble dealing with the sheer size of the document, as well as some of the graphics.

Overall, all three groups are progressing quite well in their respective projects. There is quite a bit of overlap between the projects. Elana, Karna, Liz, and Rachel work together in their interviews, even though they are searching for different data. Grant and Jordan collaborate with Elana and Karna to find useful case studies for the production course. The next four weeks will certainly continue to be exciting!

Tertulia #2: Guillermo Núñez y Soledad Bianchi - Torture

Sunday evening we had our second tertulia. The DukeEngage group met with painter Guillermo Nuñez and his wife, Soledad Bianchi, who is a writer. Nuñez was subjected to torture during the Pinochet military regime. While he wasn’t physically tortured, he was blindfolded 23 hours a day, forced to witness others’ torture, and subjected to psychological torture for several months. Eventually, he was exiled to France until the end of the Pinochet regime in 1989.

His art recreates the pain and suffering of torture. This is his manner of coping with Chile’s dark times. Because of the dark themes of his painting, including the distortion of bodies, blood, and violence his art isn’t widely purchased. Instead, his art acts as a reminder of the atrocities committed during Pinochet’s Chile and the costs of modernization. Additionally, Nuñez has painted and collected photographs that show the suffering encountered in the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. A controversial exhibit explicitly depicting the violence of the early Pinochet regime led to his imprisonment and exile.

Bianchi brought up an interesting theme regarding art and writing in Chile. Few Chileans actively collect or purchase art. Art museums here lack collections compared to those found in Buenos Aires or Europe. Writers struggle to make a living as only recently have writers signed contracts before publishing books to earn more money. For Nuñez, his personal paintings are not his livelihood, but a necessity. He works for the various museums and designing souvenirs for Pablo Neruda attractions and books.

Now, we have seen two sides to the Pinochet regime: Manuel Valdés’ pro-modernization vs. Nuñez’s torture that resulted from the economic progress. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Chile did make important progress during the military regime, but there were numerous humanitarian costs, including the murder, torture, and exile of tens of thousands of citizens.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Argentina's election

I'm going to link to another Duke student's blog for a post about the elections in Argentina. Chris has been in Argentina for several weeks this summer researching the elections.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weekend in Buenos Aires

The six of us headed to Buenos Aires for a long, holiday weekend. I was especially excited for the trip because I’ve wanted to visit Buenos Aires for a long time. More importantly, I thought visiting Buenos Aires would help serve as a comparison for Santiago. Even though I’ve been to Peru, I never left the Lima airport.

Buenos Aires is sometimes called the Paris of South America. After visiting, I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison – more on that in a separate post. This post will briefly chronicle our weekend.

We were delayed a bit leaving Santiago due to a mechanical problem. We landed in Buenos Aires in the afternoon and unsure how exactly to get to our hostel. The airport is about 40 km from the city center. We opted to take a van, which ended up being our own small bus. When we arrived at the hostel, we ended up with an incredible room on the roof overlooking the city.

Views from the hostel on Monday morning when it started to rain

That afternoon, we walked from the city center near el Congreso past the Pink House to Puerto Madero.
The "Pink" House

Puerto Madero is probably the nicest and most modern area of Buenos Aires. It’s also quite American, with a Hooters and a TGI Fridays.

Puerto Madero

We went to an Austrian (after Austrias, Spain) near our hostel for dinner. Afterward, we explored the nightlife of the city at a club in Palermo, the trendy district.

I spent most of Friday with my friend Rachel, who has spent the past semester studying in Buenos Aires. I was sick, so unfortunately, I had to spend a lot of the day inside cafes. I still managed to buy a leather jacket in Murillo. Leather is very inexpensive in Argentina. I also saw Rachel’s university. It was a huge building with probably 7 to 10 floors. It felt like a mini city with people selling food, books, art, and other goods inside. The walls were covered in political posters and event advertisements. I also learned first hand that Buenos Aires has indoor heating! I’m going to devote another post to the topic of heating and why Chile lacks it.

The rest of the group spent the day learning Tango in the colorful district of La Boca.

I slept for 12 hours Friday night, so I was feeling better on Saturday. I no longer had a fever and was ready to explore more of the city. I had to pick up my leather jacket, which needed to be lengthened. I met back up with the group in Recoleta. We spent the late afternoon exploring a crafts market. I purchased a Mate set (Argentine tea) and a neat flattened wine bottle to hang on the wall.

We all met up with my friend Rachel and her friend, Dillon. We set out for a Parilla (grill), but ended up at a different one than the one she had been to before. The meal, however, was excellent. For about 50 pesos per person, or $14, most of us had a steak dinner, with a delicious salad bar, and a glass of red wine. The steak prices in Argentina are incredible. Not only was the slab of meat nearly twice the size of what one would expect in the States, but it also only cost a quarter of the price.

There was a liquor ban beginning at midnight until 9 pm the following day in anticipation of the congressional elections on Sunday.

The congressional elections were held on Sunday. The streets were empty and many shops were closed. I heard that voting is compulsory, but I’ll need to check on that for the entry about the elections. The group met up with Karna’s friend, Chris, who is living and working in Buenos Aires for part of this summer. He showed us el Congreso, which is their capital building.

He then took us to the famous San Telmo market. The craft market stretches blocks along a street in the oldest district in the city. Antique and art shops line the street. We ate at a cheap Parilla for lunch, where I once again had steak. I needed to make up for the several meals of Italian food I had on Thursday and Friday.

Entrance to one side of the market

In the afternoon, we went back to Palermo and the Zoo. Instead of visiting the zoo, we took a horse drawn carriage around the parks in that area of the city. The open parks and small lakes surrounded by tall, elegant apartment buildings was my favorite part of the city.

For dinner, we wanted to try a restaurant that Chris had recommended. However, the restaurant was closed, so we went to a delicious restaurant next door. This time, I opted for sirloin and caramelized sweet potatoes.

We woke up at 8 to make the trek back to Santiago. Flying over the Andes is one of the most beautiful flights I’ve ever taken. I had a great view of Aconcagua, which is the tallest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres at nearly 23,000 feet.

The tallest peak is Aconcagua in both photos

In the coming days, I hope to post several entries on specific aspects of Buenos Aires, including the heating situation and the election results. If you have any other areas you’d like me to cover, let me know!

Monday, June 29, 2009

More to come!

Hi everyone, I just got back from a long weekend in Buenos Aires with the group. I need some rest since unfortunately I finally got sick, but I'll have several entries about Buenos Aires and Santiago up in the next few days.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Way of El Campo

I love the outdoors. There’s something peaceful about leaving behind civilization, technology, and mass transit. After spending two weeks timing the Transantiago subway, dodging dog poop, navigating traffic, and feeling isolated by buildings and houses lining street after street, I was ready for a weekend in the countryside. I even expected Marlen’s family’s farm to be much more rustic. When she said that the bathroom was outside, I was expecting an outhouse with questionable electricity. Instead, Los Robles struck a balance between wild tranquility and comfort.

I even felt more at ease in Talca. As much as I’ve enjoyed Santiago as a city, I’ve had difficulty characterizing it. I love the color of the houses and graffiti on various barrios. However, I’ve struggled to find a personifiable culture among the bricks, wood, and metal. In other words, what’s at the core of Chilean culture outside of the offering of a large city? Upon leaving the train station at Talca, I commented on how I liked the charm and authenticity of the smaller city. It felt different. It certainly wasn’t a city you’d find in the U.S., nor did its architecture feel like a historical European city. While there are thousands of cities like Talca all over the world and dozens in Chile, it still felt unique. The bus depot was full of tired looking people. Their faces showed the wear of a harder life. The wandering clown that entertained us briefly on our mini bus felt like an individual with a story to tell. I think it’s hard to see individuality in large, developed cities. Everyone always seems hurried. With nearly seven million people in Santiago, you aren’t likely to run into someone again.

Life in the campo can’t feel any more different than life in Santiago. Elana, thanks to an energetic horse, was able to talk to Raúl, the caballero for a while. She talked to him about life in the campo. Apparently, Raúl grew up in Los Robles and moved to Santiago. He moved back to el campo because he didn’t like life in Santiago. People stole. There was pollution. According to Raúl, none of these problems exist in el campo. People are friendly. If you need something, your neighbors are there to help you in el campo. Few people steal.

The views from el campo were incredible. We were fortunate that the skies were clear, especially on Sunday. We could see the snow-capped peaks of the pre-cordillera. The air was fresh and crisp. The scene was a far cry from Santiago. Horseback was a great way to see the landscape, although it was a bit stressful at times listening to Raúl’s rapid Spanish using words that I don’t even know in English. The experience reminded me a bit of my art history class in Spain. I struggled to understand the Spanish because I didn’t know the words in English. Additionally, I milked, well attempted to milk a cow for the first time. I was glad that I volunteered since the experience was not something that I would usually do, nor would I have the chance again for a long time.

As a group, we had a lot of good discussions. We all had a great chance to get to know Marlen better. She really has made our time in Chile great.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reforming education in Chile

On Friday, we went to lunch as a group with Marlen and Joe to meet with a guest speaker. The speaker is an English professor here in Santiago at the Universidad de Católica and also works as an education consultant for the government. The lunch was designed to give us a better understanding of the different types of school systems here in Chile.

Chile’s system is basically divided into public and private universities. However, the distinction between the two systems is complicated because some private universities, that are considered traditional universities, received some government subsidies. These include both U of Chile and U of Católica, the two most prestigious universities here. Even some public schools ask parents to voluntarily pay a little tuition. Furthermore, students in public schools tend to do worse on national testing compared to students that can afford to study at private universities. The system is full of inequality.

In impeccable British-English, Mauricio described the transformation of Chile’s education system, especially for public schools. He focused on the quality of the instructors, which has long been a problem here. Teachers, on the whole, used to be those students that failed in other specialties, rather than passionate and intelligent individuals. Salaries were quite low, in the neighborhood of $1000 USD per month without solid retirement pensions. Educators lacked the respect that teachers in Finland enjoy. Using Finland, which has one of the best public education systems in the world, Mauricio described the importance of changing the cultural of teaching. Teaching degrees in Chile were looked down upon rather than respected. This sentiment is supported by Acción Emprendedora’s model. Although AE considers itself an educational NGO, there are no teaching professionals in the organization. Instead, there are successful lawyers, engineers, and businessmen.

By increasing the cultural capital of teachers, as well as strengthening teachers’ degrees across both public and private universities, Mauricio hopes that Chile’s lacking educational system will improve. This process will not be easy. However, goals have been laid out in an ambitious plan for 2020. According to Mauricio, if the government implements many of these measures, which will be costly, Chile will have one of the best systems in the world in a decade.

Mauricio also talked about a project he was working on with the government as a consultant. There are many rural schools throughout Chile, especially in the south where there are hundreds of little islands near the coast and students have to take boats to and from school. Usually, there are few teachers. It’d be too difficult to train these teachers to teach English, especially because many of the teachers are between 45 and 60. As a result, the government is going to launch an ambitious plan to provide schools throughout the country with a cartoon video, like the Simpsons, that will help every student learn Basic English. According to Mauricio, Chile will be the only country in the world to introduce this virtual classroom technology. It’s quite an ambitious plan. With a huge price tag, I’m quite skeptical.
The final point that I’d like to address is the incentives that politicians have to reform public schools in Chile. Most Chilean politicians can afford to send their children to better private schools. They aren’t personally exposed to some of the dire problems of the current system. Additionally, education reform is a long-term process. There are few short-term benefits to expansive and expensive reforms. Since politicians seek reelection, they are unlikely to commit numerous resources to projects that won’t likely see progress for decades. Even with these barriers to reform in Chile, it seems that the importance of improving education is taking hold throughout Chile.

Tertulia #1: Manuel Valdés – The Economy and Racism

Last Wednesday night, we had our first tertulia. A tertulia is where we meet with an important guest speaker to learn about different aspects of Chile’s history, culture, and politics. Valdés was an agricultural secretary under General Augusto Pinochet. His background involved law. His hour-long talk led us through a brief history of Chile’s economic growth and modernization dating back to the colonial years up through the 1973 coup. His ability to summarize events was quite impressive. Unfortunately, there were many important aspects that he left out, such as the individual costs and the human rights violations that occurred during Pinochet.

Nonetheless, Valdés laid out a clear pro-market message to Chile’s economic situation. The roots of Chile’s economic prosperity can be traced back to mining, such as salt mining and copper mining in the north. The demand for these resources has always provided Chile’s economy with a solid backbone. However, during the mid 20th century, inflation and land inequality became a growing problem. Chile tried to modernize using the import-substitution method. This method was ineffective, which has been shown throughout history. Opening up to trade provides countless advantages, although it can exacerbate inequalities and isolate people and companies that don’t have the skills to compete. Additionally, expropriating huge lands held by relative few people to thousands of people ended up destroying the productivity of the land. Food shortages became serious problems throughout Allende’s reign.

While Valdés’ simple market explanation seemed to make sense, he didn’t go into detail about the human rights violations that resulted from General Pinochet’s coup and reign. It’s unfortunate that Valdés left out an important part of Chile’s history. His perspective is just one of many that has its strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to Valdés, another guest was present, Miguel Rogers, a good friend of Antonio’s father. He also showed another side of Chile that we haven’t seen: racism. While talking during dinner, he made a very controversial statement about how “Chile was lucky that it didn’t have blacks.” Part of his statement could be explained by the fact that Chile avoided the consequences and dilemma of slavery that many other countries in the Americas experienced. However, his statement echoes a sentiment that I’ve come across here. Racism towards blacks is fairly prevalent in Chile. Part of this could stem from the lack of Africans throughout Chile’s history. Instead, Chile faced internal problems with its treatment of indigenous groups.

Yanina, my host mother, told me about that she received a call in May asking her to host another student that was having problems with her family. The other student was Jamaican. Yanina already committed to hosting me, but she offered to talk to the other host family since she’s a social worker. She found that the family was quite bigoted and unable to accept the differences of the Jamaican student. Basically, they treated the girl like an outsider, not part of the family. After telling me the story, Yanina made an important point. People may not realize they are racist until they have to actually deal with interacting with others of another race. The other host family didn’t realize hosting a Jamaican girl would be problematic, but the situation exposed their racism.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Busy times in Santiago

I apologize that I'm now behind. I've been very busy this week with work and guest speakers. We're heading to Marlen's farm this weekend, which is about four hours south of Santiago. It should be a neat experience after living in the city the past two weeks. We'll get to see a very different side of Chile: the rural side.

Also, Karna, a fellow DukeEngager is featured on the main DukeEngage site.

Check it out at: DukeEngage

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why I am Here

Yesterday was the most rewarding day of my service work thus far. The day began with a rocky start. I arrived to work right on time at 9 am. The door was still locked. I immediately noticed a phrase spray painted on the clean white wall next to the entrance. As I waited for the office to open, I watched strangers walk by and glance at the graffiti. I felt almost embarrassed as I stood outside. I still don’t know why I felt embarrassed, but that was how I felt.

When Ximena finally arrived, fashionably on time in Chile, at 9:25, she took one brief look at the graffiti and continued about her normal routine of unlocking the four locks that protect the center. I asked her what the words meant, since I had never heard most of them before. Apparently they don’t have much significance. They are simply names with “A la [C]alle” at the end.

The day was long. Jordan and I planned to stay for a class that didn’t begin until 6:30 pm and concluded around 9. I’m glad I finally attended a class.

During the day, most micro-entrepreneurs are working other jobs. We mainly interact with each other, the other Chilean interns that come several days a week, and the office directors during lunch. For the first week, it was difficult to see how our work could be useful.

At 6, the micro-entrepreneurs began to roll in. It was the first accounting course of program for these people. We met the volunteer teacher, Sergio, and took a seat at the small desks. The classroom was split fairly even between men and women, the old and the young. Most of the micro-entrepreneurs were energetic as they asked Sergio questions and clarifications. The Chilean Spanish was quite difficult to understand. The teacher and students interacted rapidly full of Chilean slang. This was quite a contrast to my class in the fall at a Madrid University. For the most part, I was able to keep up with the class without difficulties.

Halfway through, we took a 30 to 45 minute break (quite long!), where Jordan and I had the opportunity to interact with the micro-entrepreneurs for the first time. We talked to a nice older man, Fernando, for the whole time. In his spare time, he’s trying to start a business that makes alpaca sweaters, which, according to him are up to five times warmer than cotton sweaters. He told us about his sons and daughters, his expected grandchildren, and his niece in Chicago. He even asked me for my cell phone number because one of his sons loves speaking English and meeting foreigners. It was refreshing to see someone so excited to share his story with us gringos. The other micro-entrepreneurs chimed in about the usefulness of the courses and how diverse the businesses are. I was glad to see that my work this summer in improving the courses will help make a positive difference in these peoples lives and for many micro-entrepreneurs to come. These courses are practical. Even if the micro-entrepreneurs never really start their businesses, they learn skills that are useful in life, such as accounting, computation, and the production process. Ultimately, these micro-entrepreneurs are the reason why I am here, even if some days are long, cold, and solitary.

Afterward: I came to work today to discover the graffiti somewhat painted over. You can still see it, but it doesn't immediately draw attention.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First impressions after a week

I’ve now been in Chile for just over a week. In just a short time, I’ve managed to make friends with Chilean university students, talk to a few micro-entrepreneurs, mingle with successful Duke Law graduates that reside in Santiago, and explore parts of Santiago and its different comunas.

It's clear that Santiago is neither European nor entirely South American. I feel like I'll have a better metric for comparison after visiting Buenos Aires, which is known as the Paris of South America. I can't pinpoint the mixture yet. Santiago is unlike any city I've visited.

Here are some brief observations:

The People:
I’ve found Chileans to be very friendly. Fortunately, our program set us up with intercambios (Chilean university students) during our second night in the city. Our intercambios have been incredibly warm and helpful getting to know us and showing us the city. When I was in Madrid for four months, nearly everyone in our program struggled to make Spanish friends. The situation was quite different, but many of the university students studying English really seem to like spending time with us practicing their English and sharing their culture while giving us a chance to learn and practice our Spanish.

Furthermore, the host families have been incredibly hospitable. It’s clear that the families are genuinely interested in learning about us and helping to show us Chilean culture and history. This is a stark contrast to my program in Spain, where many of the families or señoras had hosted students for years and seemed to care more about the income then helping to create a meaningful and educational experience. For instance, last night, Karna’s host family invited us over to watch a Chilean movie and enjoy delicious food. My host mother has told me to invite my friends over so that they can see a different lifestyle since I’m the only DukeEngage student living in a house instead of an apartment.

Chilean Slang:
Before coming to Chile, I was warned that Chilean Spanish is at times another language. At times, it’s slightly frustrating when I’m left completely behind in a conversation between Chileans as they drop letters and sounds from words and use modismos that I’ve never heard. Chilean Spanish is an adjustment after listening to Castellano in Spain for a semester. I’m learning the slang and pronunciation, but I’m hesitant to pick up too many words since no one will know what I’m saying back at school.

Poverty vs. Wealth:
The families that many of us live with are considered middle class to upper middle class. Most of the micro-entrepreneurs that we work with are in the second quintile above extreme poverty. These people, according to AE, have the ability to improve their livelihood through micro-entrepreneurship. As a result, the people in this quintile can hire people in the lowest quintile and help them progress. At the Duke alumni party, we met very affluent Chileans. It’s very costly to study in the U.S., so all of the Duke Law graduates were born into wealthy families. The house we visited was beautiful and decorated with numerous pieces of art. It felt like I was in a nice housing development in Scottsdale, Arizona instead of a suburb of Santiago. The wide spectrum in wealth is a reality here in Santiago, like it is in most countries. I think Chile has had a fairly strong middle class that was influential during the Allende and Pinochet years. However, here there seems to be a wide gap between the middle class and the wealthy that is a bit blurrier in the U.S.

The speed of life:
Life in Chile is way slower paced than in the U.S. The difference manifests itself at work, where some days can be slow and full of waiting. Additionally, my host mom was telling me about the lack of efficiency at one of the factories she works at. As a social worker, she tries to help people with their problems, which also include helping managers make their workers more efficient. She said that a majority of the workers required supervision to stay on task and it’s difficult to create gains in efficiency.

The 30-minute rule is another sign of the slower pace of life. In the U.S., most people try to get to meetings within five minutes of the decided time. It’s important to not arrive too early and waste time, while it’d be rude to arrive late. This leaves a small window. Here, however, the punctuality window is much larger.

For the most part, I enjoy the slower pace of life. It’s refreshing, especially after a semester at Duke, where I feel like I’m always running from place to place or trying to tick of boxes on a to-do list. Slowing down enables me to appreciate every minute, whether it’s stopping to watch people in a metro station or having time to wander around. The slower pace is mainly frustrating at work, where it’s more difficult to sit back and wait for things to come to me, rather than actively seeking them out.

The Cold:
Few apartments and houses in Santiago seem to have central heating. My office at work is FREEZING. We have one heater to share between several rooms. Our lunch break is glorious because we can step out into the relative warmth of the day. Some days, I sit in my office in four layers of clothing with a hat on. I think it’s worse than waiting in line for a basketball game, where I’m usually hibernating in a warm sleeping bag. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a sub-zero sleeping back to Chile.

I’m curious to know how much more energy is saved or used by using gas or electric heaters instead of central heating. To a certain extent, the system makes sense. For only a few months during the year, you throw several blankets on your bed and use portable heaters in rooms that you’re using. The system is certainly less wasteful than central heating in the states, where every room in a house is warmed even if it isn’t being used.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The vibrance of a Santiago barrio

Even a city block can have color amidst the smog and uniformity.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vamos, vamos chilenos! Esta noche tenemos que ganar!

"Let’s go, let’s go Chileans! Tonight we have to win!"

My first and potentially only fútbol experience in Chile was fascinating. Currently, teams around the world are competing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Last night, third-place Chile faced lowly Bolivia. Ultimately, Chile emerged victorious: 4-0. With the win, Chile sealed its trip to the World Cup.

Five out of the six DukeEngagers purchased tickets on Monday to attend Wednesday night’s game (Karna's host family had a ticket for him, but he's been sick). Our tickets were 25,000 pesos, or about $45. They were the second cheapest seats. After some difficulties finding one another, we entered the packed stadium. Since cheaper tickets don’t have assigned seating and we were a bit late, we ended up sitting towards the front at one of the corners. We had a chain link fence in our view, but I liked being close and able to see physicality of the game. When I went to a game in Barcelona, I sat at the top of a stadium that held nearly 100,000 people! This time, it was like watching a different game. We were in front of the small, fenced Bolivian section. I’ve never seen so many riot police or carabineros throughout the stadium. Riot police, in full gear, protected the small section half full with Bolivia fans and the chain link fence had spikes to keep people from climbing over. There were easily hundreds of riot police throughout the stadium and the surround area in armored trucks. Soccer in Chile is national pride, which can turn violent or dangerous with all the passion involved. You could feel the energy of the fans decked in red and waving Chilean flags. Many Chileans around us yelled profanities at the Bolivians (who were too far away to hear) and flipped the bird. Whenever Chile scored, the stadium erupted. Literally. Several people throughout the stadium lit what looked like flares, lighting up the night.

After Chile won, as expected, many fans headed toward Plaza Italia to celebrate. I unfortunately avoided the celebration since I wanted to get some sleep. Furthermore, I heard that the celebrations usually become quite chaotic and dangerous. A few of my friends ended up going towards the end and found themselves irritated by the tear gas used to disperse the ruckus crown. On my walk home, I saw Chilenos hanging out of cars waving Chilean flags, chanting songs, and honking horns.

Today at work, another Chilean intern clearly identified the chief factor of fútbol: everyone is united through the game, no matter their social standing. Fútbol brings poor and affluent Chileans together to support their nation. National sport is probably the only cultural phenomenon that I can think of in all my travels that truly transcends social and economic status. Some people might argue that religion can act in this way, but I think religion becomes a part of the oppression in many countries. Hundreds of people surround the stadium selling Chilean flags, hats, face masks (thank you swine flu), jerseys, and scarves. Of course there are signs of differences during sporting events depending on where you are able to watch the game, whether it’s a bar or a warm box at el Estadio Nacional. In addition to uniting countries, sport also acts an arena for airing hostilities, prejudices, and rivalries between nations. Many of Chilean cheers and slurs were quite derogatory towards the Bolivians. I’m sure if I attended several more soccer matches, I’d pick up quite a few words to add to my vocabulario. Nonetheless, a well-fought match is healthier than armed conflict or outward animosity away from the confines of the soccer field.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Transantiago: Herding Cattle

Transantiago is a public transportation reform that first began to take form at the end of October in 2005. Before Transantiago, thousands of independent bus operators formed the transport system. This system was plagued by redundancy, vast differences in quality, pollution, and long travel times for many of the citizen’s poor.

The reform was carried out by replacing all the independent bus operators with fewer companies and a streamlined fare system that allows riders to transfer between buses and the subway with a contactless prepaid bip! card. However, streamlining routes and eliminating competition between independent operators on February 10, 2007, proved disasterous. Instead of improving the system, the reform reduced the number of buses in service and eliminated incentives for bus drivers. Ultimately, these problems caused enormous congestion problems and reduced the level of service. An investigative report by El Mercurio, a large Santiago newspaper, found that many of the routes were actually much slower than the previous routes. As a result of the terrible implementation, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval rating fell from 55% to 42.7% in a month.

This morning during my commute, I experienced another problem associated with Transantiago: the overcrowding of the metro system. Before Transantiago, the metro carried 1,300,000 commuters. Today, the system carriers closer to 2,200,000 passengers. This is equal to over six users per square meter! I had to wait for SEVEN trains! Since few people get off in the mornings at my metro stop, it’s extremely competitive to find room on the trains. With a backpack and being quite large compared to the average Chilean, squeezing in is even more difficult. To say the least, it was a frustrating experience. I had no problems the previous morning, when I arrived 20 minutes earlier. This morning, I was 25 minutes late. The subway system here is like herding cattle. There’s no need for a metaphor, because that’s how it is. Each station is full of constant streams of commuters. With so many people living in Santiago and with few owning cars, solving the public transportation dilemma is no easy task. However, it’s clear that the Transantiago reform is a long way from completion.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The next 8 weeks

Today, during our orientation, I found out my summer project. I, along with Jordan, will work at the Santiago Norponiente office on creating a course guide for a chapter of the Acción Emprendora program. Fortunately, the office is near my house, unlike Puente Alto, which is at least an hour away.

Jordan and I will begin our project by studying a chapter from the current student manual. After becoming “experts” about our chapter (most likely regarding production), we will learn the vocabulary for our chapter. Then, we will conduct interviews and research with former and current teachers and students of the course to find out how to best design the courses. We’ll also attend several classes to get a better idea of how the courses are generally run.

After conducting research and familiarizing ourselves with the AE model, we’ll compile our course manual. It’ll include PowerPoint presentations, practice problems, case studies, and a well-outlined guide that will help enable consistency throughout the AE centers and between course instructors.

In addition to designing the manual, all interns are aiming to raise awareness about AE in Chile, South America, and the U.S. We are especially looking for grants to help AE grow or form partnerships that could aid AE.

I’m excited and nervous for my project. I was originally looking at another project, but after learning more about this project, I think I’ll be a great fit. It will certainly be a challenge. The Norponiente office is nearly entirely Spanish speaking. I hope to build upon my skills and background as a Teaching Assistant in Public Policy. I am sure this will help my abilities when I return to Duke.

I have so many other subjects to talk about after just three days here, but they will have to wait. I’ve never lived in a city that is as large and chaotic as Santiago. My host family is extremely well educated and interesting. Already, we’ve discussed issues ranging from public versus private jails in Chile, to the recent divorce law (divorce became legal in Chile just three years ago), to the judicial system, to the levels of poverty in Chile.

The post office and the mayor's house surrounding the Plaza de Armas en the center of Santiago:

La Moneda is the presidential palace that was bombarded with former Chilean President Salvador Allende inside:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Long Trek to Santiago

That was a long trip. I woke up 4:15 on Friday and headed to the airport. I managed to score a last minute upgrade to New York, which helped reduce the pain of that 5-hour flight. In New York, I met up with Liz and Elana. We were lucky that our eleven our flight to Chile was nearly empty. Everyone had at least one to three seats to himself. I’ve never had a long flight that was so empty! I watched The Watchmen, which concluded when we were over Cuba. It was neat to look down and see the lights throughout Cuba, hoping some day I’ll be able to visit. I managed to sleep for probably five decent hours before breakfast. LAN Airlines is great. They have new cabins and the most comfortable seats out of any airline I’ve flown. They also have a great inflight entertainment system that eases the tedium of a long flight.

I was disappointed that the flight into Santiago was still dark. I could barely make out the silhouette of the Andes. I could also notice the smog in the air because it was clear out, yet the safety beacons on the wing reflected off a layer of pollution.

When we arrived at the Santiago Airport, we had to pay a $131 reciprocity fee. Since the U.S. charges other countries’ citizens several hundred dollars to enter, other countries now apply a similar charge to Americans. Elana and Liz tried to pay in cash, but the man would not accept the bills. They had to be absolutely perfect. Eventually, everyone paid with a credit card. After we picked up our bags, the girls immediately got taken advantage of. Airport staff offered to push the carts they had their bags on. We literally went 15 feet, and they wanted a tip. If I had realized that they weren’t waiting for us, I would’ve known what was going on. I really hate when people take advantage of you at an airport. First impressions are so important and negative impressions lead to mistrust.

Marlen and Antonio greeted us in a mixture of Spanish and English. My exhausted brain struggled. The ride to the hotel was short. The air felt cold and crisp, like camping. At our hotel, ChilHotel, I took a three-hour nap and struggled to find the energy to manage a shower. I finally felt clean, rested, and ready to explore Santiago this afternoon!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The night before departure

My alarm is set for 4:15 am, Friday morning, June 5th. My two suitcases are packed and my backpack is only missing my lunch and my laptop. I'm set to fly Delta from Portland to New York Kennedy, where I'll have a 5.5 hour layover before catching my nearly 11 hour flight on LAN Airlines. In total, I'll cover 7,551 miles. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like my upgrade will clear to JFK (I'm a DL frequent flyer thanks to all my trips between Duke and Portland and other travels).

I'm anxious, nervous, and excited. I hope I haven't forgotten anything, but Santiago should have anything I need. I know the nervous and anxiety will dissipate once I get checked in. I love flying and trips; it's just a tad stressful leading up to the trip. I'm still not sure what exactly I'll be doing for the next two months, nor how I'll be able to comprehend the Chilean Spanish. I hear it's like another language. I feel similar to how I did before I left for Spain, although I feel a bit more prepared. I remember getting to my gate in Amsterdam and hearing all the Spanish around me after a year of taking Arabic instead. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, yet I managed just fine during my four months in Spain.

This experience will prove to be a greater challenge. I hope to better integrate into Chilean life by making Chilean friends and actually speaking Spanish. My service will be purposeful. As I said in my application, this experience really will be the capstone to my Spanish through the past nine years and my coursework at Duke.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Brief Introduction to Chile

The Republic of Chile, as it is formally known, is home to nearly seventeen million residents. Nearly seven million people live in the greater Santiago metropolitan area. Santiago is also the capital of Chile, although Valparaíso, located fifty miles away on the coast houses the national congress. Chile is somewhat unique in it’s geography. Its coastline stretches over 2,880 miles, but Chile is only 265 miles at its widest point. Because of the sheer length of the country, Chile’s geography, climate, and natural resources vary. The Atacama Desert in the north is one of the driest places on the planet. It is also where the newest James Bond film Quantum of Solace was filmed. In the south, numerous glaciers create a stunning landscape.

History and Politics:
Migrating Native Americans settled in Chile at least 10,000 years ago. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadores conquered Chile in search of silver and gold. Ultimately, agriculture became an important stable of Spanish Chile. Chile finally declared independence in September of 1810, but a decade long struggle with Spain and various political parties ensued.

After the Chilean Civil War in 1891, Chile established a parliamentary style democracy. The 20th century saw the rise and fall of many politicians and general political instability. The rise of Marxism after the Russian Revolution and the threat of Communism after World War II led to a continuous effort by the United States and CIA operatives to undermine communism and socialism. In 1970, Salvador Allende, head of Chile’s Socialist Party, Unidad Popular (Popular Unity), was elected President of Chile. He aimed to advance workers’ interest and pursued agricultural reform to help Chile’s lower class. Richard Nixon’s administration organized secret operations to destabilize Allende’s government. A military coup by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende on September 11, 1973. Allende reportedly committed suicide.

General Pinochet’s regime was marked by numerous human rights violations, especially in the years immediately following the coup. Thousands of Chileans “disappeared” during General Pinochet’s reign as he moved Chile toward a free market economy and controlled inflation, which previously was as high as 300% per year. Finally, in 1990, General Pinochet replaced by Patricio Aylwin after Pinochet was denied another term in a 1988 plebiscite. Nonetheless, General Pinochet remained “Senator for Life.” During the 1990s and even until now, Chile dealt with reconciling the human rights violations committed by General Pinochet and his regime with moving forward.
Michelle Bachelet is currently President of Chile. This center-left politician became the first female to lead Chile when she was elected in 2006.

Copper is one of Chile’s most important exports. In fact, Chile is responsible for over one third of the world's copper production The GDP per capita taking into account purchasing power parity is $14,510. The U.S. is Chile’s most important trading partner. A free trade agreement between the two countries came into effect in 2004. As a result of conservative government spending and prudent saving practices, Chile has weathered the current global economic crisis fairly well. Chile has the most successful economy of any Latin American country.

A recent Wall Street Journal article outlines Chile’s success: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124337806443856111.html

Even with Chile’s economic success, especially compared to other Latin American countries, poverty and inequality continue to be a problem. According to Government polls, poverty levels fell from 46% in 1987 to 14% in 2006. However, critics argue that poverty rates are much higher, possibly as high as 29% when using more developed yardsticks.

Spanish is the official language of Chile, although Chilean Spanish is quite different than that of neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Nearly 95% of the population is white when mestizos with predominantly white (castizos) ancestry are included). The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group at over 4% of the population. In a 2002 census, 70 percent of the population identified as Roman Catholic and 15% as evangelical.

Chile’s most popular sport is fútbol (soccer), while rodeo is the country’s national sport. Basketball has also grown in popularity.

Famous People:
Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, is Chile’s most famous poet.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pre-Departure Preparations

Group Dinners:
Leading up to our departure to Chile, our group has spent numerous days preparing. As a group, we met once together and a second time with participants from last year’s program. Our first group meeting midway through the semester was the first time that many of us had ever met. We bonded over delicious empanadas and Chilean postre (dessert) while looking at slides of stunning Chilean landscapes and dynamics neighborhoods throughout Santiago.

We also met at the end of the semester with last year’s group. This brainstorming dinner was helpful in many regards. How cold does it actually get? Were you able to understand Chilean Spanish? What’s the office environment like at the Acción Emprendedora sites? Where are good places to visit on weekends? Which projects should we think about for our contribution to AE? What advice do you have for making progress in such a short period of time? Last year’s group answered many of our questions, assuaged our concerns, and sparked even more excitement. The dinner helped me focus on what types of projects I was interested in and how viable they may be. I began to think more about the work aspect of my summer. I’ve interned before at several financial firms, but my work at these firms was different than what I will face this summer. The stakes are higher this summer because my work helps individuals, not just a large company. If I want to make a sustainable impact, I must hit the ground running. I also must be prepared for roadblocks and the realities of time and financial constraints. Ambition is great, but it must be paired with reality.

DukeEngage Academy:
The three day long DukeEngage Academy provided the capstone to our preparation. Throughout the Academy, we attended numerous workshops that ranged from interacting with our community partner (AE) to the ethics of service. All six of us agreed that the most valuable preparation from the Academy was spending time as a group and getting to know each other better. We even had a group skype call to the intern coordinators at AE, including Joe, a Duke student who has spent the year abroad in Chile interning for AE.

Antonio assigned us quite a bit of reading to learn more about Chilean history, politics, and culture. We read “Death and The Maiden,” which is a thrilling short play that looks at addressing the atrocities committed during General’s Augusto Pinochet’s reign. Many countries throughout the world have had to cope with “reconciliation” processes following the rule of an oppressive regime. How do you prosecute those who committed crimes, yet move forward? Other pre-trip readings included chapters from Chile The Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism by Brian Loveman, as well as chapters from How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle by John Brennan and Alvaro Taboada, which aims to teach Chilean modismos or slang.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


¡Hola Todos!

Thank you for taking time to check out my DukeEngage Chile blog. My name is Grant. I’m a rising senior at Duke University, double majoring in Public Policy and Spanish, with a minor in Economics. I was born and raised in beautiful Portland, Oregon. I spent the fall semester of 2008 living with a host family and studying in Madrid, Spain through the Duke in Madrid program. After traveling to 21 countries on five continents and living with three host families in Spain and Costa Rica, I want a summer experience that will challenge my Spanish skills, my ability to perform service work to help others using a combination of my academic knowledge with my personal experiences, and to fully integrate into a foreign country.

For two months, I, along with five other Duke students and Antonio, our trip leader and senior program coordinator for the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, will participate in the DukeEngage Chile summer program. DukeEngage’s mission is clearly and concisely articulate in its motto: “Challenge yourself. Change your world.” Started in 2007 thanks to a generous donation by Bill and Melinda Gates, DukeEngage enables both individual and group service projects throughout the United States and the World.

DukeEngage Chile is in its second year. The six of us will live with host families in three comunas in Santiago: Santiago Centro, Providencía, and Ñuñoa. For me, this will mark my fourth experience living with a Spanish-speaking host family. Nonetheless, every experience is certainly unique and challenging.

We will work as interns for the non-profit, Acción Emprendedora, which translated means “enterprising” or “entrepreneurial action.” AE, founded in 2003, is dedicated to the development of the small businesses sector in areas of high social impact through a process of training, technical assistance, and support in the obtainment of financing. Ultimately, AE seeks to help individuals overcome poverty through entrepreneurship. As interns, we will work on various projects to assist AE in its mission. While we are still unsure which projects we will undertake, possible projects include organizing the annual alumni celebration, researching the effectiveness of AE classes by gathering data from micro-enterprises, or developing a database of practice problems or scenarios for the classes. Last year, Engage interns worked on a project to develop a new curriculum and support for female entrepreneurs.

In addition to working with AE, we will participate in tertulias or tutorials with accomplished and famous Chilean artists, writers, and politicians. We will also be matched up with Chilean college students to learn more about life in Santiago. Finally, we will have time on weekends for excursions around Chile, Argentina, and potentially Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

As the blogging correspondent for DukeEngage Chile, I hope to share a blend of informative knowledge about Chilean culture, history, and politics, Acción Emprendedora, and alleviating poverty, as well as my colleagues and my personal experiences from our service.

¡Hasta luego!