I, and most gringos (foreigners), are on our fourth week of classes. Ask my Chilean friends how many weeks of classes they’ve had so far, and they’ll let you know they’re starting a week from now—five weeks after we’ve started. Why you may ask? Thanks for asking; it leads me right to my thesis.
Chileans strike, strike, strike due to poor conditions many of them are forced to work under. Just in the four weeks I’ve been here, there have been three.
Paro Uno (Strike One)
Although it’s first semester for us Northern Hemisphere kids, it’s second semester for the Chileans right now because June-August is their winter. (Aka 50 degrees most days—beach weather for those of us who live in the Midwest.) So first semester, January-June, there was a paro at the University. This paro lasted 57 days until July 27th, the beginning of second semester, everyone decided they wanted to come back to school.
Okay. Okay. It’s not that easy. They didn’t paro because they just didn’t want to go to school. Some say the paro was because university is too expensive and others say the teachers weren’t making enough money and others say it’s because the teachers aren’t good enough to teach. It really just depends on who you ask. When I asked my host mom, she said it was because the professors aren’t qualified. When I asked friends attending La Catolica (short name for the university), some said the teachers initiated the strike while one said it was because school is too expensive. According to the very reliable resources of Wikipedia and frustrated Chileans who don’t love Argentinians, many universities in Latin America—especially in Argentina—have options to attend public universities where tuition is free.
So if I had to choose a reason why I thought La Catolica and other universities go on strike, I would assume it is because of the cost to attend school. Although it’s a fraction of what we have to pay in the US, it’s a lot compared to what local workers are paid.
Paro Dos (Strike Two)
Workers’ wages here are shockingly low. Not only does that affect families whose children are going to school, but it affects businesses’ hours of operation. That’s right folks. We’re headed into paro dos.
As international students, we need to have Chilean Identifications for reasons I’m still confused about. I figured I wouldn’t question it though because who wouldn’t want a foreign identification? I’m very excited. (I think it has to do something with reentering the country for those who were curious.)
Anyways, the office where we have to get these IDs is obviously government-run, and from what I’ve gathered in class and at the dinner table, government workers are not paid very well. Minimum wage here is 225,000 Chilean Pesos which roughly translates to 320 US Dollars a month. People working on minimum wage, which is a large percentage of the population (especially immigrants), are making $320 a month. Translating that to trying to send kids to college makes strikes at places like the ID office completely understandable. Even if these folks aren’t on minimum wage, I can imagine they still aren’t making enough to support a family.
Because of all of this, the ID office was on strike for a week. This strike was more enjoyable to watch though because there was a human blockade outside of the office for the first day with workers holding signs and chanting songs I couldn’t understand.
To the gringos, it isn’t that expensive here to get an empanada or a bus ticket, but if you’re making a fourth of what US minimum wage workers make, it could seem that everything is incredibly expensive.
Paro Tres (Strike Three)
Here we are at our third strike in four weeks; the only mode of transportation decided to go on strike.
A day without transportation. All micros (buses) went on strike for the same reasons as the ID office. “Well, Marie, just take the metro!” Great idea, reader! However, the metro has recently been demolished due to the semi-hurricane we had last weekend.
The Chilean laid-back mentality was, “Just don’t go to classes tomorrow. It’s not worth it.” Whereas many of us gringos are having panic attacks in our bedrooms the night before trying to figure out how to get to school four and a half miles away.
Options were plentiful—use one of the hundreds of stray dogs as a horse or by swim our way to the other side of the port.
Spoiler alert: I decided to walk. After nine miles and three hours worth of walking along the beach in “winter” (63 degrees that day) to get to class and back, I arrived home, crashed on my bed, and fell asleep without a second thought.
These paros are exceptionally frustrating, but if there weren’t any strikes, would I really be studying in Chile? Regardless of how many paros try to interfere with our studying abroad, how could anyone ever possibly be angry at a city when it looks like this?