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Friends in the Mountains

Mountains have been my guardian throughout my study abroad experience. Chile, although a very thin and long country, is almost entirely lined with mountains, the Andes to be exact. Every morning that I wake up I am greeted by the sight of these big and beautiful mountains and they even served as my compass the first few weeks as a new Santiago resident. However, this past weekend was the first time in the many months that I have had to actually had the opportunity to venture in their direction.

Cajon de Maipo, located to the South East of the metropolitan area of Santiago, is an oasis among the congestion and pollution of the city. Featuring many rivers, streams, lakes and valleys this is the perfect weekend get-away for anyone spending longer than 3 months in Santiago. Every morning buses shuttle eager city-goers to this beautiful area for a day or weekend of relaxation and getting to know nature. This past weekend two friends from my program and I decided it was the perfect time to get away.

Our morning started off fairly early (6:00) to catch a bus. After a fairly confusing process for clueless gringos, we boarded our bus and finally got on the road to Cajon. The bus ride to Cajon wasn’t too long, however, we actually boarded the wrong bus and didn’t make it all the way to our cabin in Valdes. After a few failed hitchhike attempts and a couple of hours, another bus finally rolled by en route. We finally got on the right bus!

The excitement ended fairly soon, however, as we failed to get off at the wrong stop. After a thankfully easy fix and hiking a few hills with a suitcase we ACTUALLY made it!

Our Cajon Greeting!

We started our adventures with some lunch and a day hike to the glaciers nestled within the mountains. It was definitely odd to see ice and snow after the season recently changed to summer but that is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable! With every step the views seemed to get progressively more beautiful and the mountains progressively larger. It was a beautiful experience and crazy to think that I was finally walking up and around my city compass!

After a long day of nice, fresh air we called it a day, ate some dinner and played cards until the electricity in our cabin was shut off (a daily routine). The next morning was also an early start as we were planning on doing a little more hiking through the western part of Cajon! Cascada de las Animas was seemingly the happening place. There were people all over and make-shift picnics and “asados” (barbeques). It was great to see the city-goers like us taking it easy and enjoying the outdoors with family and friends.

To close our exciting adventures we all decided it was fitting to do some white water rafting! So that is exactly what we did as we found ourselves strapped into some wet suits and hopping into a raft. It is always great going anywhere as a group because Chileans seem to be infatuated with Americans. Although I think they got a little confused as they decided to make our raft’s chant “cheers”, which is definitely British. Anyway you spin it, however, Chileans always have a sense of humor and love interacting with English-speakers.

The rafting was incredible and the views were even more amazing alongside the river but it was sad to hear about a planned hydroelectric dam project that was recently approved for the area. This speaks to one of the most prevalent dilemmas for Chile, many natural resource mining industries and processing plants but not enough energy. After hearing this and thinking of the economic, political and social implications of the dam projects in Chile I knew the weekend was at its tail end. Sure enough, hours later I found myself on a bus sitting next to a sleeping friend asking myself how did this beautiful weekend end!

My Friend Sam and I (Kenny with the Photo)

First Excursion!

A while back we had our first educational excursion to the North of Chile. This excursion couldn’t have come at a better time for me because after around 2 and a half weeks in Santiago I was getting anxious to explore the rest of the country and escape the big city life.

The purpose of this trip was to give us a better and more hands-on understanding of the economics of Chile by examining the single most economic driver of the state, the copper industry.

My friend Sam and I at dinner

The trip began with a very early morning bus ride to the airport (4am) and then from there we took a flight to Antofogasta. With the rest of the day off, I seized the opportunity to catch up on some sleep and explore the beautiful coastline of the city (right on the Pacific). The next morning we had two classes with professors of a local university (who are also receiving an extended vacation due to the student strikes). The lectures were informative and well presented but with the material right outside of the classroom, I was anxious to get out and begin experiencing.

Following the class sessions and lunch we hoped in a bus to travel to Calama, which was described as a, “sh$t hole” by one of my friend’s travel book. However, when we arrived it proved to be a very exciting town. After touring the main square, my friends and I stumbled upon a concert venue selling cheap tickets to a concert that night of the Chilean band, Chico Trujillo. Following dinner, a couple of my group mates and I embarked on this very cultural concert adventure (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09dlYNt0nDw).

The band’s music is very unique  and entertaining, but the overall environment of the concert is what made it amazing. The “opening act” was a series of local Cueca dancers, the traditional dance of the country and region. Then during the concert (which was in what seemed like a high school gym) everyone was bouncing around and dancing like crazy!

At CODELCO trying to lift up some copper!

The next day we toured one of the CODELCO (publicly owned company) mines of the country, Radomiro Tomic. It was quite the sight with an ENORMOUS ditch and what appeared to be tonka trucks and ants walking around inside, extracting the copper and other minerals. We had the opportunity to eat in the cafeteria, talk to workers and have a chat with one of the managers of the business. It was amazing to see this topic turn into real-life within a matter of days!

We then rounded off our trip in San Pedro de Atacama, one of the hottest tourist points for the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. Between biking and sand boarding through the desert we got to have an exclusive tour of the local museum, speak with a local cultural leader and experience a local festival.

Overall, this experience was the right combination of fun and education. I learned a lot through hands-on learning and got to experience some of the many new things that Chile has to offer. It was such a contrast to Santiago; I only hope I will have the opportunity to explore more of this very diverse nation throughout the remainder of my experience!

The group!

True Transformation: Chile in Transition

Choosing Chile as a study abroad destination was truly a choice driven by my gut. I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country in Latin America, but not much after that. After taking numerous courses on Latin America and being generally interested by the region, I chose Chile, as it has always been a mysterious and intriguing focus of study.

The country known as the “miracle of Latin America” has seen its fair share of issues. Whether it be the threat of United States intervention (i.e. “invisible” blockades), the government-led coup by General Augusto Pinochet and the subsequent dictatorship for nearly 20 years, the current usage of the 1980 Pinochet-designed Constitution (albeit with some significant amendments and modifications) or the more profound lack of everything but economic development, Chile is a country in a very delicate balance (in particular politically and socially).

The most evident example of this would have to be the now 3-month long “paro” or stoppage of universities and some high schools in the state. The students have been waging this fight against the government for many of years (practically every year demonstrations take place). However, what makes this display of educational initiative by the students so unique is that it has not only been sustained over a significant period of time, but it has also ballooned into a much larger and fundamentally-focused country-wide movement, a movement that spans across all different age groups, economic standings and political beliefs. So what is actually going on? Do these students really have a good reason to be pushing around the government and literally stopping work at the capital city of Santiago for days at a time?

There is no simple answer. After having to talked to everyone from a Socialist professor to an appellate court judicial magistrate, the majority opinion seems to be “there has to be a change,” The tricky part is what that change should be.

The students are led by a university student named Camila Vallejo, only the second elected leader of the 105-year-old University of Chile’s student union (where I have my classes). This spirited communist party member with a silver nose ring has proved to be a fearless and effective leader of this burgeoning movement. It helps even more that only 26 percent of the population is supporting the right-leaning president Sebastian Pinera.

The issue plainly is that universities (especially public ones) are too expensive and the quality is too low. Vallejo and the students (along with a large segment of the population) is calling for better and more affordable education and an end to a two-tier system that creates a few wealthy, elite colleges amid many underfunded public ones. One of the largest issues is the issue of “lucro,” the concept that private investors and sources are funding an astounding majority of public schools and universities. So Chile’s government provides 18 percent of the money spent on education in the country compared to 36 percent in the U.S. This is difficult because the government and universities don’t really have ownership over most buildings and facilities and even have to pay yearly sums on privately-funded things on school property. Chile’s government also spent just 0.4 percent of its GDP on education, while student family contributions and bank loans made up another 1.8 percent, for a total of 2.2 percent of GDP. By comparison, the U.S. government spent 1 percent of U.S. GDP on education, leaving private sources to make up another 1.8 percent. Additionally, education in Chile also has relied more on private funding than in any other member country, according to a 2004 OECD study.

This movement was originally brushed aside by the executive branch, then Pinera moved to make minor superficial concessions in hopes to diffuse the movement (which failed). Most recently, Pinera met with Vallejo and student leaders/professors in La Moneda with another meeting planned soon.  ”We do not want to improve the actual system; we want a profound change – to stop seeing education as a consumer good, to see education as a right where the state provides a guarantee,” Vallejo proclaimed.

Even within the cabinet the frustration and fear is becoming more obvious. There have even been death threats from high-up government officials to Vallejo. One of the apparent threats was made on Twitter by a high-ranking Culture Ministry official, Tatiana Acuna, who invoked the infamous phrase Gen. Augusto Pinochet used while toppling socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet was recorded telling his troops: “If you kill the bitch, you do away with the litter.” She was fired, but it is becoming obvious that this isn’t just a group of kids standing around being idealistic; this is a country demanding serious changes beginning with education.

There is a deep-rooted sense in this country and among its people that this is not going to end with a superficial change. This movement is boiling more and more everyday. At the University of Chile-Santiago, where I attend classes, there are continuously new billboards proclaiming a call for change and carnival-style demonstrations to draw attention to the cause.

The title of my study abroad program in SIT Chile: Political, Social & Economic Transformation. There is definitely a whole lot of the first two going on. A planned huge manifestation was recently canceled, a promising sign, but if Pinera is unable to sincerely reach out for compromise both in the short and long-term I am fearful of Chile’s miracle juice running out along with Pinera and the democratic institutions of Chile following behind. I am definitely excited to see what is going to happen and what this will mean for the larger-scope view of Chile’s history.

Chile: A Country in Motion

When one thinks of “Chile”, a wide array of things can come to mind. For starters, chili pepper, Red Hot Chili Peppers, earthquake, “that long country in South America” or maybe even  “successful democracy in Latin America”. Although none of these came to my mind during the process of selecting my study abroad destination for this fall, the wide array of responses (like those I mentioned) in some ways touch upon why I was so interested in coming here to Chile to study abroad.

Many don’t know much about Latin America in general outside of the basics, to be honest I could have been included in that group since last year. However, through semesters of studying the region and developing a keen interest, I began to develop a much greater understanding and appreciation of what the region is truly about and like most other topics, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Although it is touted as one of the more successful countries, there are numerous dark spots in the country’s history which have come to manifest themselves in the modern-day society.

The most controversial and pressing social/political/economic issue in the country today is the system of education. Public university students and many high schools have been on strike for close to 4 months in what they are deeming a fight for quality and free education.

The students have been waging this fight against the government for many of years (practically every year demonstrations take place). However, what makes this display of educational initiative by the students so unique is that it has not only sustained throughout a significant period of time, but it has also ballooned into a much larger and fundamentally-focused country-wide movement; a movement that spans across all different age groups, economic standings and political beliefs. So what is actually going on? Do these students really have a good reason to be pushing around the government and practically paralyzing the capital city of Santiago for days at a time?

The answer is that there is no simple answer. After having to talked to everyone from a Socialist professor to an Appellate court judicial magistrate, the majority opinion seems to be “there has to be a change”. The tricky part is what that change should be, and with both the right-center government and the social movement not giving an inch, it should make for an interesting semester for me here in Santiago. Luckily for me, this social and political  confusion feeds perfectly into my area of interests, and the title/ theme of my study abroad program, “Political, Economic and Social Transformation”.

Whether it is due to a delicate history with the United States, the government-led coup by General Augusto Pinochet and the  subsequent dictatorship for nearly 20 years, the current usage of the 1980 Pinochet-designed Constitution (albeit with some significant amendments and modifications) or the more profound lack of everything-but-economic development; Chile is a country in a very delicate balance (in particular politically and socially).

I am confident that with the passing of my time here in Chile I will continue to have life-changing experiences and be pushed to better understand the complicated politics, economy and the social aspects of Chilean society, but most all better understand myself and my relation to the topic through this exciting realization of Rollins’ motto of global citizenship. Until next time!

The Final Plunge

Group shot at Lighthouse for the Blind

This year at Rollins has provided me with a tremendous amount of opportunities and experiences for growth. I wish I could just write a paragraph to sum up all the things that I have learned and all of the things that I have experienced my second year at Rollins. Both unfortunately and fortunately, that is far from the realm of possibilities. However, of all my experiences this year the most impactful and prevalent has definitely been my involvement in the Immersion: Citizen’s Take Action Program.

Recently, we had our final end-of-the year celebration and I was able to reconnect with participants from my first trip, the Emerging Leadership Institute, my Alternative Spring Break and my most recent trip to Tampa with my fraternity and Jerrid Kalakay from the Office of Student Involvement & Leadership (OSIL). This last trip was something very special because it represented the first student organization-led and -designed immersion experience and also served as a bridge between the two most defining aspects of my second year.

On this trip, we structured the experience around the social issue of children with disabilities. In order to gain guidance into this unique community, we partnered with the Lighthouse for the Blind and Quantum Leap Farm. Through our experience with The Lighthouse we were able to serve as mentors to visually impaired children, help to further their new book cooperative, experience first-hand the struggles of this community and learn of all the great things being done by the organization to help bridge the gap between the visually impaired community and mainstream society. At Quantum Leap Farm, we performed more hands-on labor for the organization (a glaring need considering their very small amount of employees) which consisted of taxing lawn work and stable cleaning.

All in all, the weekend was a great success from both my Immersion Student Coordinator perspective and my perspective from being a member in the fraternity. The program benefited a great deal from the inclusion of a student organization, a key emphasis and goal for the upcoming years, and also our group was able to live to the fullest our values of honor, valor and leadership all while having a great and fun time.

Throughout many of my R-Journals, I have written about my experiences, whether directly or indirectly, with the Immersion Program. It is sometimes annoying for me to have so much to talk about with regards to this topic, but it is very great to see that I have developed such a strong passion for the work and model of the program. I feel that in the United States and throughout the world there are great benefits to be had from these types of experiences, both on an individual and societal level. It is one thing to volunteer and talk about your experiences to your friends but it is a completely different thing to be able to say that you immersed yourself in a social issue with friends and emerged as a changed and motivated individual. This is what the Immersion program has provided for me and my fraternity, X Club.

It is my greatest hope and aspiration that I will be better able to connect with this passion down the line in my future, in particular  in my experiences abroad this summer and fall (presenting research in China about female entrepreneurship and studying abroad in Chile). The Immersion program and the skills and opportunities that it has provided for me will forever define an aspect of who I am. I highly encourage anyone who is either planning to attend Rollins or another institution to explore these types of experiences or create your own. I am confident that they will  provide for you the same impact that they have provided me through my time here at Rollins.

Immersion Commercial

The Hunger Banquet

There are many social issues that merit discussion and recognition. Throughout my time at Rollins, I have had the pleasure of being exposed to some of the most pressing concerns facing our Orlando community, and the state/nation as a whole. The most prominent of these concerns is that of hunger and homelessness. There are many things that underlie these two terms and through avenues such as the Hunger Banquet every Spring, members of the Rollins community are given the opportunity to learn, hands-on, the ins and outs of this issue. This year my friend Zach Baldwin and I had the pleasure of MC’ing this event!

Bienvenido a Miami: A Different Kind of Spring Break

It is not very often that college students are willing to deprive themselves of a Spring Break of complete relaxation and laziness. However, as students choose to take charge of this week off every spring, and make a conscious choice to do something against the norm, they often find themselves with a new purpose and passion.

This is the concept behind Alternative Spring Breaks. These week-long service trips take place at over 300 institutions across the U.S. and have a wide reach across the nation and globe. Here at Rollins, our Immersion program, Citizens Take Action, looks to deliver holistic experiences that revolve around a key socioeconomic issue, and work toward understanding through a combination of strong education and direct service.

I am currently one of the student coordinators for this program, and have been planning one of the two alternative spring break trips since November. My trip lasted from Saturday through the following Friday and centered around the issue of immigration. In order to obtain a comprehensive view of this very complex and controversial topic, I decided to place this trip in the Miami area, due to its rich culture and the prevalence of immigrants in the area.

Throughout this week-long experience, a group of 11 students,  two faculty members and myself worked primarily with the Farmworkers Association of Florida, The Art Studio in Little Haiti and Immigration Court of Miami.

Students hard at work in Homestead

The Farmworkers Association chapter in Homestead is one of the anchors of the state’s organization, and provides both advocacy and support to the largely ignored and repressed farmworker community in Florida. Through this partnership, we learned of the unique issues facing this surprisingly large population in the state, and were able to directly participate in nursery work, pesticide training, tutoring of the children of farmworkers and community gatherings.

Following two days focusing on the rural aspect of the immigration issue we shifted our focus to the more urban side within the city of Miami. In particular, we worked in the Little Haiti community which is an enclave for recent and historical Haitian immigrants, and one of the most impoverished areas of the city. Within this community we worked in great depth with the Art Studio of Miami, which is an organization that uses the arts to empower youth in the most impoverished area of the Little Haitian community to excel in all academic disciplines and foster their creativity.

Just a little free time

To bring the trip full circle, we ended our week by partnering with the Immigration Court of Miami. During this powerful experience we were exposed to the unique judicial system provided for immigrants in the U.S. We shadowed a variety of cases, ranging from asylum trials to standard status hearings. Working closely with very supportive legal clerks, the group was able to reflect and absorb all the information presented to us throughout the day, and we walked away with a greater appreciation and wholesome understanding of the immigration issue.

Becoming a part of the Immersion program has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me during my time at Rollins. Through my involvement I have been able to develop a great deal of practical skills, but more importantly, I have been able to transform both myself and others by participating in these experiences. There continues to be a stigma that “real” Spring Breaks are meant to be spent at crazy beach parties or lounging around watching reruns. However, once a person takes the leap of faith and participates in these immersion experiences, they oftentimes emerge as a more re-invigorated and knowledgeable individual with a greater sense of both themselves and their relation to their community.

Group Shot

A Cultural Delight

Cultural awareness and diversity are two critical areas of understanding for everyone in both college and the nation. The United States is clearly a melting pot of different cultures from around the globe, and Orlando is one of the most culturally rich cities within that melting pot.

For me, I constantly find myself experiencing firsthand the cultural diversity all around me. Whether it be driving through a Puerto Rican neighborhood or Little Saigon, I am constantly reminded of the diverse nature of this beautiful city of Orlando.

Just this past week, I experienced a cultural community that I seldom notice in Orlando, the Indian community. I have been gradually developing a foundational knowledge for Indian culture because one of my closest friend’s family comes from an Indian background. Sadly though, I had never before had the opportunity to attend an Indian culture event.

Dance Fusion Team in Action!

Luckily for me, there is an annual Indian-style dance competition for college dance teams throughout the U.S. right here in Orlando. The event is called “Dance Fusion” and it is where groups dance to the beats of new and modern music with traditional South Asian rhythms.

This year, 10 teams competed from colleges all across the United States. Each group provided a unique “fusion,” and all performed at a very competitive level. Some groups were more cultural, whereas others followed a more modern routine. Overall, however, not one team failed to impress. Although the dancing was amazing, what I found to be most impressive was the large attendance of the Central Florida Indian community at the event.

Cultural shops and stands were scattered all throughout the Orlando Convention Center lobby. I made sure to take advantage of this by grabbing some delicious Samosas (a traditional South Asian pastry) and browsing through the expansive display of Bollywood DVD’s.

Dance Fusion!

Not only did I leave the event wanting to break out into spontaneous dance, but I also felt like further exploring the Indian culture in general, and also within Central Florida. I am constantly exposed to the great cultural events occurring everyday in Orlando, and with each new experience I find myself attending more and more. I can’t get enough of the diversity that Orlando provides, and surely hope to always be surrounded with a comparable presence of rich cultures.

Dance Fusion 2011 Trailer

‘Going Greek’…Redefined

One of the most misunderstood and infamous organizations on college campuses across the United States are fraternities. It is very hard to avoid being fooled by the various cultural taboos and images that go along with the word. Cue the quotes from Animal House, Old School and other such cult movies of the past few decades that provide a very unique perspective. However, the truth of the matter is that fraternities (and sororities) provide great foundations for young men (and women) to grow and create close bonds and friendships.

Here at Rollins, I have found this to be an absolute truth.There are four fraternities currently on campus. All of them have their own qualities that distinguish them from the others, and ultimately, all provide a unique and eventful Rollins journey.

The Logo of X Club

This past week was Formal Recruitment Week. Formal Recruitment is an annual event that occurs in the spring (we have deferred recruitment here at Rollins) in which unaffiliated young men on campus have the opportunity to visit the various fraternities and decide whether or not they wish to join the Fraternity & Sorority Life (FSL) family.

I am a member of the local fraternity,  X Club, the oldest fraternity here on campus (1929). I joined last Spring so I’d yet to have the opportunity to be on the “other side” during formal recruitment. It was a great experience for me because I had the chance to meet and socialize with a bunch of people that are new to our campus community.  The free food and cool events don’t hurt either.

There are four official nights during recruitment. The first night is when all the potential new members are divided into groups and in 20-minute intervals, spend time at each individual house. As the nights move on, the structure begins to fade and everyone gets to decide where they wish to return each respective night.

My fraternity put on a ‘Game Night’ the second night where we filled our house with fun games such as table tennis, air hockey and pool. On the third night we had a  ‘Casino Night’ where we had hand-rolled cigars and various Vegas-style games.

On our fourth and final night, we went Indoor Skydiving at iFLY Orlando. All these events were meant to provide fun and engaging opportunities for the young men going through Recruitment to get to know the members of the fraternity. And imagine, this  was just a sample of the many events that occurred throughout the week!

The guys at Bid Day!

I definitely had my doubts with regards to joining a fraternity. However, I am extremely grateful that I took the initiative to try something new and participate in Formal Recruitment. As the semesters have passed, I have learned to love being part of a Greek organization more and more. I am slowly adapting to being an actual member of a fraternity, but it only adds more excitement when you get to ‘Bid Day’ and you get to meet your new brothers.

The Springing Up of Remembrance and Relaxation

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This quote, by Martin Luther King Jr., is a perfect encapsulation of his spirit and intelligence. This spirit and intelligence is remembered the third Monday of January every year. Although many students just see this as a day to have off of school, there is so much more to be remembered about this day.

Promotion for the Week of Remembrance

Martin Luther King Jr. served as an inspiration for millions around the world and gave face to the long-awaited movement of civil rights in the United States and beyond. Every year, I have done my best to celebrate his legacy, but often struggle with a lack of support and events around me. At Rollins, this is far from the case. The Office of Community Engagement and the Office of Multicultural Affairs have teamed up this year to provide an entire week of remembering this wonderful man’s life and legacy.

The events provided were diverse, and stood true to the ideas of service, leadership and citizenship. The most exhilarating event by far was the performance by the world’s first professional company dedicated to stepping, “Step Afrika!.” Their wonderfully entertaining percussive dance and sparks of comedy captivated the capacity-filled Alfond Sports Center and left everyone laughing and moving to the beat.

One of the Rescued Tigers at the Facility!

This long weekend, I also had the opportunity to attend the facilities of the Central Florida Animal Reserve. At this facility in Cocoa, FL there are over 50 animals held in protective care. The majority of these animals are large cats (i.e. tigers, lions and panthers). It was an eye-opening experience to learn how these magnificent animals have found themselves at the facility because of either abandonment or illegal trading. One doesn’t think of the issue of animal abuse and exploitation often, especially that of large cats here in the United States. But it was also relieving to see the great work being done by a dedicated team of volunteers to ensure the safety and happiness of these beautiful and intelligent animals. (www.cflar.org/index.htm)

This great week provided for me a much needed opportunity to step back and take a deep breath. As I am only a week into the final semester of the academic year, I have a swarm of conflicting and compounding emotions. I am both excited for the new opportunities I have, but also nervous of how my time here at Rollins is  flying by.

I really enjoy my classes this semester, but know that I am going to have to work really hard to achieve the results I desire. However, with this week’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., I have quickly reminded myself that there is much more to worry about, in particular, what I am going to miss here. Rollins has always provided great opportunity for me and my peers and it is relieving to know that my biggest concern is that I can’t take advantage of them all.