Going to school in Chile is always a little bit crazy, but it’s especially unpredictable right now because of the Movimiento Estudiantil, or the Student Movement. A few years back, there were big protests all across Chile to get students free transportation via the system of busses (or micros); they were mildly successful, and now students can travel for $150,00 Chilean Pesos instead of $300,00 or $440,00 that everyone else pays.
These same students that protested for free transportation when they were in middle- and high-school are now in college, protesting something much bigger: tuition. The Movimiento Estudiantil has been protesting for over a year (don’t quote me on the time frame) for free college tuition. They seem to want this everywhere, not just in the public universities (in case you’ve forgotten, I’m attending a Catholic university here). The protests have been fairly mild this semester, with registered marches ever 2-4 weeks in Valparaiso, and they’ve only cancelled class for them twice I think. Last semester, it got so bad that protesters took over the university buildings (of my Catholic university) and stopped classes for several months. Most students didn’t finish the semester, while some classes met in secret in hotel rooms or the houses of their students/professors. There’s still graffiti inside a lot of the buildings of La Catolica leftover from when the protestors were camped out there.
This is a picture of the student marches in Valparaiso on April 25th; can you believe how many people there are?!
As a foreigner, I’m not allowed to participate in protests here of any kind, but I’m not sure I would side with the students on this one anyway. I understand that education can be expensive probably better than any of the Chilean students (what they pay for tuition here is probably similar to what in-state students pay at UK), and I know that student tuition is absolutely necessary in order to pay professors, maintain building upkeep (and that is even more important here, with earthquakes every week), and etc. On the other hand, the average income in Chile is so incredibly low compared to what Americans (including myself) are used to, that paying the equivalent of several thousand dollars tuition each year could leave a family struggling to put food on the table. I know this can be the case in the US as well, but I don’t think it’s nearly as common, and for someone like me,, it’s a really difficult concept to understand.
I think that money is a tough subject for anyone to breach, and although I don’t think it’s logical for the students here to ask for free college education, I do think the system needs to change for them. My host parents told me that a long time ago, the cost of tuition was adjusted based on each family’s annual income; students from richer families paid more, and poorer students paid less. This seemed similar to FAFSA and the system of loans, grants, and scholarships that we have in the US to me at first, but then they explained that it wasn’t a scholarship (because they gave those out separately) and it wasn’t a loan or a grant that had to be payed back. It was just an adjustable cost, and to me, considering what (little) I know about the Chilean household, that seems like a much more reasonable goal for the students of Chile.
The other reason I definitely won’t be participating in any student marches any time soon is, of course, the tear gas. The marches are legal, of course, but the students tend to get pretty rowdy (i.e. graffiti, public nudity, being rude to the carabineros or cops, etc.) and the police usually end up spraying everyone with giant hoses of water that has been laced with tear gas. Picture Lexington the night after UK won the national championships, and that’s Chile every time there’s a protest. Luckily, my facebook skills are such that I was able to find the facbeook page for the Movimiento Estudiantil and I always know in advance when and where to avoid. It’s actually a very interesting and exciting time to be a college student in Chile, and totally safe as long as you’re smart about it!
These are both pictures of some of the rioting at the student marches; if you’re interested in seeing more, definitely check out the facbook page!