Sometimes, a change of location can be exactly what you need to keep positive energy flowing. I’ve been very fortunate so far in my abroad experience in that being transplanted into this new world has only prompted me to be more grounded and clear-minded, rather than discombobulated and overwhelmed, as this transition can very easily be. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the literal and figurative distance that this semester is affording me. A previous Colby-funded travel experience, my JanPlan in Salamanca, prepared me very well as I exerted all of my “Can I actually speak Spanish? Will I even be able to communicate?? What if I don’t talk to anyone the whole time???” anxieties there. I’ve been able to concentrate on connecting with my host family, my classmates, Valparaíso, and the culture here.
To contrast the drab surroundings of not only central Maine, but most US cities that I have visited/lived in, Valparaíso has seemingly very few walls untouched by some stunning mural or radical political graffiti. There is a current of resistance here that I have read about for my classes, but it’s much more powerful to witness this resistance plastered on every surface of the city. It’s visible, potent; it gives me life. It seems there is a much greater degree of freedom for artistic and political expression in this vein, though I know that part of the motivation for all this graffiti is an intense disillusionment with the established political structure. This disaffection certainly exists in the US, but I have not seen it redirected in such a manner on such a large scale. It’s a great way for groups without the privilege of representation in the political system to be heard and seen in everyday life. Graffiti becomes the megaphone for radical feminism, anti-corruption, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, etc. Below I have attached one such message, accompanied on its right by a poster memorializing victims to feminicide, a grave problem around the world that is fueled here by a machista culture. However, with the proliferation of messages like those pictured below and powerful student and social movements only growing in strength, people are fighting this institutionalized and normalized violence everyday here. We miss this sustained energy in the US.
“Down with the Hetero-Patriarchy”
Another fundamental aspect of life I appreciate off rip here is the fluidity of time and schedule. Life, especially college life, in the US is very structured into set daily/weekly schedules that center productivity above all else. Time is more relaxed here, and so am I as a result. Class allegedly starts at 9 a.m. during the week, but if you arrive on time or a few minutes early you might be there before all the professors. Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon is traditionally dedicated to a large meal with extended family and friends that lasts up to 6 or 7 hours, with new food being continuously offered to you the entire time. To me, this displays the high cultural value of family and its centrality to life here, a departure from the individuality that defines more and more society in the US. People tend to live with or very close to their parents until they are at least 30 and it is not uncommon to have parents, grandparents, children, and cousins all together in the same house or building.
I’ve only scratched the surface here and I’m eager to explore more of the city and delve deeper into the society and culture.