As international students in the IFSA-Butler program, the 16 of us are allowed to take classes in both la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso and la Universidad Técnica Federico de Santa Maria. We tend to think of la Católica as the foremost school, as its home to the IFSA offices where our international classes are, and not all students attend la Santa Maria. Here are some descriptions of the universities themselves and my experiences in them.
La Católica de Valparaíso is a private, Catholic university founded in Valparaiso 1928. It has sister universities in Concepción and Santiago. Unlike our Susquehanna bubble, that is so common of private colleges in the United States, la Católica has buildings spread all across Valparaiso, where different carreras (majors) have their own classes. The system of carreras is different as well. While we’re so accustomed to a rather high level of inter-major interaction (as students are required to take classes outside their major) Chilean students find it very odd that we international kids jump around from building to building, taking history, science, and physical education classes. This is because once their carrera is chosen, switching is both difficult and uncommon. Choosing a carrera is the direct result of a high-stakes test called la prueba de selección universitaria (PSU) taken after you graduate high school. Your score out of 800 determines which schools you can go to and what you can study there. The hardest carreras (medicine, sciences) usually ask for a score of 750 or above. The result of this is groups of students in the same carrera, that stay very close together, sharing almost every class every year during their time at university.
We take 15-16 credits worth of classes, divided between international, IFSA classes, and classes with Chileans. These IFSA classes are small, no more than 8 students each, as only our group is allowed to take them. La Católica has more than 800 international students, all given very specific and quality experiences through their international department. One of our IFSA classes is advanced Spanish, which is the only one that is technically required. IFSA offers several classes, such as, “Sociopolitical History of Chile” and “Chilean Society and Community Action” both of which I am enrolled in. Every discussion in class, between students and professors, is in Spanish.
La Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria is another private, prestigious university hosting about 18000 students. It was created in 1926 at the request and extraordinary wealth of a Chilean Federico Santa Maria. As a technical university, it focuses very heavily on, “engineering, science, and technology”. Unlike PUCV, the students stay on one of the three campuses for all of their classes. The main campus in Valparaiso is best described as a fortress overlooking the sea.
I’m (re)taking organic chemistry here in the Santa Maria, and there’s very much a sentiment of higher education. That is to say, Santa Maria is one of (if not the) best university in the country, and the students, professors, and general appearance of wealth all show that. The place is beautiful, the people are friendly, and I really enjoy my class there. I’ve spoken with several Chileans about problems American students face in our frustrating educational system, and they seem to share them. University is still extraordinarily expensive, students are put under too much pressure, and class diversity is very low. The creator’s thinking for his university was to offer a rigorous, useful education to every kind of Chilean family, to make Valparaiso a center of scientific and technological advancement, but money always talks, and the past 20 years have seen much larger economic barriers to entry all across the educational system here. And as for making a better Chile, the American-funded coup d’état in 1973 put quite the damper on that as well (which we’ll talk plenty about later).
I’ve got my first big test this week at USM, let’s hope it goes well.