Indiana University Overseas Study

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Paro, Paro, Paro

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

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.

Strike Signs

Strike Signs

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?

Wide view of Valparaiso

View of the city

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Tips for a Successful Internship Experience Abroad

Lauren Greco

It is insane to think that I am almost done with my 8 weeks abroad. I have made so many great friends and connected with so many people at my internship and elsewhere, that it has come to the point where I am starting to feel like this is my actual, everyday life. I have learned so much over the past few weeks, especially concerning how to adapt to a different culture and way of life.  I thought that for this post, I would provide you with a handy list of things to keep in mind if you decide to participate in a study abroad internship, or really any study abroad program!

  • Be knowledgeable about the industry you’re working in, and specifically the industry in the country you’re working in. As a Marketing and Economic Consulting major, I was really nervous about working at a bank, as finance is not something that I particularly enjoy or understand. I kept thinking to myself, if I didn’t understand finance in the US then how would I understand it in another country? Luckily, I am working in the Communications department, which is not heavily focused on the technical financial services sector. I have been given the opportunity to do the work that I enjoy in an industry I thought I had no place in.
  • Along with understanding the industry, it is important to understand the economy of the country you are working in. Ireland suffered from the global economic crisis in 2008 just like many other countries around the world, but it has taken them a long time to rebuild themselves. Because Ireland is such a small country, they are still, to this day, struggling financially. Additionally, the banks are not looked upon favorably, as many say the banks are what caused the crisis in the first place. Because of that, it has been very interesting to work in a bank and understand public sentiment towards the whole financial sector.
  • One last thing that you should have some knowledge on – be informed of any general or big news stories that have emerged in your host country.  Irish people are very well-informed and have even told me about American news stories.  Especially in a work environment, people chat about what’s going on around the city and country before diving into work for the day, so you don’t want to appear apathetic towards what is going on in your host country.  Just a week ago, for example, you could not go anywhere and NOT hear about Garth Brooks and how he canceled all of his upcoming concerts in Dublin.  Apparently the Irish are huge fans of Garth Brooks (who knew?!) and it was quite controversial that he canceled his concerts.  While this might be a ridiculous topic of conversation, people at work would have looked at me like I was the ridiculous one if I was not following the Garth Brooks saga.  Long story short, being well-informed will allow you to make a good impression and also have substantial conversations with your coworkers.
  • If you don’t understand what someone is saying, politely ask them to repeat themselves. Ireland is similar to the US in that everyone speaks English. However, I never thought I would be in a situation when I literally could not understand a single word someone said, and they were supposedly speaking the same language as me. No one will take offense to you asking for them to repeat themselves, so don’t worry about it!
  • Get to know your coworkers. I have already met a really nice girl who is an intern at Bank of Ireland and she is from Ireland. She has basically designated herself to be our ultimate tour guide and has given us great tips on what to do in Dublin that isn’t super “tourist-y”. Additionally, I have also received great tips about things to do and places to see to enrich my experience from some of my other colleagues. They’re excited to talk about their country and where you should go, and it’s a great way to get a conversation going and establish a connection!
  • Don’t let yourself get into a standard routine. Working 9-5 and then just going straight home can be boring. Remind yourself every so often that you are in another country and you should live your experience to the fullest. Go out after work! Take the long way home! Grab a coffee from the cute local coffee shop down the street! Believe me, after working for 9 hours I am so tempted to lay in bed and watch Netflix with a jar of Nutella and a spoon to keep me company. But I’ve gone out and explored Dublin after work a few times and run into some really interesting areas and places to go. Netflix and Nutella can wait until you’re in Bloomington and wishing you were back in [insert country you studied abroad in here].

These are just some of the random tips and tidbits I have gathered over the course of the last few weeks, and I’m not even finished with my program yet! I know everything is coming to a close soon, however, so I plan on doing as much as I can in the little time that I have left. Studying abroad, and especially interning abroad, is all about immersing yourself in the culture of the country you are residing in, and I hope that I have done that to the fullest extent thus far.

View all posts by Lauren

New Kid on the Block

Lauren Greco

The night before a big event almost guarantees 8 hours of dealing with your heart about to pound out of your chest, stomach in knots, and mind running wildly. Whether it be the night before the first day of school for us nerds out there, the night before a big game for an athlete, or even the night before going on a vacation, most people can recall the feeling that you get while lying in your bed with your mind racing a thousand miles a minute, anticipating something in the near future. This is the exact state of mind that I was in just one week ago, the night before the first day of my international internship experience.

Imagine you are a freshman in high school again—not that anyone really wants to go back to that time in their life—but think back for a few seconds and remember how you felt walking into your high school for the first time. Sure, you might have known a few peers, or maybe you knew a lot of your classmates, but it was still unchartered territory for most. Walking into a corporate office alongside important looking people in business suits, I felt like I was 14 again standing outside the main doors to my high school. Sure, I might have looked the part, dressed in a black suit and wearing high heels, but I sure didn’t feel like I belonged. Not to mention, for anyone that has seen The Devil Wears Prada, I was convinced that while I sat in a boardroom waiting for my manager, I would be met with Meryl Streep’s character from the movie. I panicked, thinking that I would be ordered to fetch 13 specifically-ordered Starbucks drinks and pick up dry cleaning.

This was all obviously a bit ridiculous of me, and the second I met my manager any of my worries were diminished. We chatted over a cup of coffee and got to know a little bit about each other. My first day ended up being a great success, and I even got to start working on research for an annual company report. Aside from the actual work, being that this is an internship in another country, there are definitely some cultural differences that I have had to get used to. For example, while a corporate hierarchy exists, it is pretty laid back and relaxed. Immediately, I was told to call everyone by their first names and interrupt anyone at any time if I had any questions. This completely aligns with the general disposition of Irish people. They are very welcoming, kindhearted, and simply nice people. I can fully say that now, having completed a full week of my internship, I am excited to see where the next 6 weeks take me.  For anyone that may be thinking of studying abroad and doing an internship abroad, while I did deal with a slight learning curve, I am sure that by the end of my time in Dublin I will take with me more than just work experience.

View all posts by Lauren

The Definition of Happiness

Kayne Mettert

As I rode through the countryside of Italy on a charter bus towards Napoli, my excitement was hardly containable. A group of American students and I were headed to a wine tasting in a Cantina at the base of Mount Vesuvius, one of the most famous active volcanoes in the world, before continuing to Sorrento and the spectacular Amalfi coast.  When we finally arrived, the atmosphere of the winery was indescribable.  We were literally in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  The area was quiet and the air was still.  The food was organic and made rich in nutrients by the volcanic sediments from the eruption of Vesuvius.  In awe of the beauty of this place, our tour guide further explained some folklore concerning this particular region.  Apparently the story goes that when Lucifer was cast from heaven, he was able to tear a small piece of paradise down with him which became Napoli.  There is certainly no arguing that Napoli is a small paradise.


Vesuvius from winery

As I sat down for our meal and wine tasting, I remember thinking how at peace I was.  I was in a calmer state of mind than I had been in quite a long time.  I found myself envying the Italians and the family who owned this small winery.  How much I would love to leave the traffic, busyness, commercialism, and pollution of America behind to live like these people.  Living among nature, in a small town with an amazing landscape, with your own small business in the heart of paradise.  My anxiety and daily stressors would dissolve, ceasing to be important.  At first I was convinced that this was the life I pined for.  Eventually though, I decided that the grass may not be greener on the other side.  Having talked to many young Italians during my stay here, most of them resent Italy’s job market.  They say it’s suffocating with no opportunity for growth since the older generation inhabits a significant percentage of the workforce.  The young men and women have increasingly few options for work during this time of economic hardship.  I suddenly imagined myself growing up in the family business, resenting my obligation to my parents and yearning for the opportunity to do what I wanted with my life.

Place with Vesuvius

Plate with Vesuvius

As we continued to the Amalfi coast, I continued to contemplate the differing qualities of life and what defines happiness.  Winding through the cliffs of the mountains towards the village of Positano on the Amalfi coast, buildings and coast lines were beginning to come into view.  When we finally arrived, we were guided through the narrow streets filled with touristy shops towards the beach.  Again, I thought about the kids growing up in this small town that would be forced to choose between the tourism markets and leaving their home to find better work.  From a tourist’s point of view, this place was heaven.  I sat on the beach without a care in the world as I enjoyed the ocean breeze and the perfect weather as soft electric guitar was being played somewhere in the distance.  It baffled me that Italians with such easy access to natural perfection could want to leave their country but at the same time, I understood.  As much as I yearned for the freedom from stress and pollution, they yearned for the freedom to be in control of their professional life.

winding roads in cliffs

Winding roads through the cliffs.

coast from ferry

The coast from the ferry.

Later we took a ferry ride around the coastline which was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  There were mountains that seem to stretch miles into the sky and elaborate homes on the cliffs by the sea.  I tried to soak up as much as I could because I never wanted to leave, and I promised myself that I would someday return.  I let the experience wash over me like a wave on the beach, trying not to worry about the fact that it was all going to end.  I focused on all the opportunities that I take for granted where I come from, like being able to pursue the career I am interested in with freedom of choice, and even being able to use my resources to study abroad and open up my perspective of the world.  Not everyone is as lucky as I have been, and as I rode the bus back to Rome, my thoughts went to the young Italians who would love to be in my shoes.  It was truly a humbling experience that has made me even more thankful of where I am in life.  I just hope that Italy is able to further recover from its economic crisis and afford young people some of the same opportunities that I have.  I am optimistic.


View all posts by Kayne


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