¡Hola desde Santiago de Chile!


Making a new friend.

Introduction to Chile and Some Chilean Slang

Winter has begun in the Southern Hemisphere and the Andes are white with snow. The Andes mountains, also known as the Cordillera, dominate the horizon to the east of the city and stretch the entire length of Chile – an impressive 4,270 kilometers – protecting and isolating Chile from outside influence for centuries. This geographic isolation allowed Chilean language and culture to evolve and gain a unique flavor. Here is some of the fun and distinctly Chilean vocabulary I’ve picked up over the last month:

¿Cachai? – “You get me?” or “Understand?” – This can follow just about any sentence. Probably the most Chilean of Chileanisms.

¡Bacán! – “Awesome!” “Fantastic!” – You can use this to refer to anything that is exceptionally cool or great.

La pega – “Job,” “Work” – Lots of this to be had at UNESCO Santiago!

Al tiro – “Immediately” or “Right now” – Most of my tasks at work need to be done al tiro.

Caleta – “A lot” (of anything) – For example, “Melquin eats a lot” would be “Melquin come caleta.” 😉

Guagua – “Baby” – Pronounced “wahwah.” It comes from Mapuche, one of the indigenous languages in Chile.

Carretear/Carrete – “To party” (vb.) / “party” (n.) – Chileans love to carretear or hacer el carrete.

Pechocho/a“Cute” – Try saying it. The word itself sounds cute!

Luca – 1000 pesos – If only everything cost one luca. My stipend would last forever.

Left: The view of the mountains from my first apartment.

Middle: A view of the city at night from the Teleréfico on Cerro San Cristobal.

Right: A gift of a dictionary of Chilean slang from my roommate Pilar.

Santiago and Its Residents

Santiago is a bustling, modern city with excellent public transportation and plenty to do and see. The attractive wrought iron bars that frame windows in older neighborhoods and ornate buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas are architectural reminders of Chile’s colonial past. In contrast, tall metal and glass buildings emerge from the cityscape in the neighborhoods of Providencia and Las Condes. Santiago’s residents tend to be well-dressed, focused on the tasks of the day, politically aware, and know how to polish off a bottle of red while holding intelligent, playful conversation. Most are eager to share the best of their country, giving advice on where to find excellent local foods, pisco (a popular local liquor), wine, hiking, stargazing, and more. That being said, Santiago and Chile as a whole are characterized by deep social and economic inequalities that are evident in stratified educational gaps among socioeconomic classes.


The Neptune Fountain at the foot of Cerro Santa Lucía in the city center.

Some History: The Military Junta under Pinochet (1973-1990)

As a foreigner, it is hard to believe that this same self-possessed, ambitious, and fiercely politically active country was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1973-1990 under General Augusto Pinochet. To gain a better understanding of Chilean history, Melquin (another GW Fellow here in Santiago) and I paid a visit to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights).

The museum uses video footage, radio recordings, photos, letters, newspapers, government documents, and personal belongings to tell the story of the military coup in 1973 that toppled a mature democracy founded in 1818 following Chilean independence from Spain. In the wee hours of September 11, 1973, General Pinochet executed a well-planned military takeover of the Chilean government, strategically taking control of radio and television stations and attacking La Moneda, the Chilean equivalent of the White House, with bombs and livefire. Salvador Allende, the current President, refused an offer to relinquish his office and go into voluntary exile. After enduring hours of bombardment inside La Moneda, he committed suicide.

A wide range of human rights violations followed as Pinochet’s men rounded up anyone viewed as a key political player in Allende’s government and had them systematically tortured and executed. Many of the early executions occurred in the city’s Estadio Nacional (National Stadium), which went on to serve as a prison camp for as many as 20,000 men and women. Human rights violations touched all corners of the nation throughout Pinochet’s dictatorship. There are countless stories of torture, executions, disappearances and I cannot not do them justice here. Let it suffice to say that they are many and they are harrowing.

In a very unusual move, Pinochet permitted a national referendum in 1988 on whether he should be permitted to remain in power and lost (shocker). A presidential election was held the following year. As you climb to the second floor of the Museo de la Memoria, you are greeted by footage of Chileans in 1989 hearing the news that Pinochet has lost the election and that Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin is to become the next President. The joy is palpable. Footage of Aylwin’s inauguration, held in the Estadio Nacional, is filled with cheers from an ebullient crowd who fill the stadium to see their country embrace the return of democratic rule and reclaim the place that long-symbolized brutality and opression.


A wall of photos of individuals who were executed or disappeared under Pinochet’s regime.

The Office

The Santiago office is located in a historic home that was given by the state to UNESCO for its use in 1948. UNESCO does not pay rent, but it does pay for the building’s upkeep, which is costly. A small army of people care for the building and the grounds, which includes guards, drivers, cleaners, and grounds maintenance workers, who are all very kind and polite. I share my current space with five co-workers, who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, inviting me to meals, workout classes, coffee, and even a haircut. I thought my view of the Washington Monument in DC was as good as as an office view could get – I was wrong. Three sets of tall glass French doors open up from our room onto a tiled verandah that looks out into a lovely walled garden. Several times a day, small flocks of green parakeets alight on the palms outside and much squawking ensues – I think it annoys my co-workers, but I love it!


The view from my desk.

Tasks and Projects Thus Far

Within the UNESCO Santiago office, I work in the Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE), which is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the quality of education in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), as denoted by its name. Every member of the team is busy generating reports, traveling abroad to provide technical training and support to individual countries, and disseminating the Lab’s findings. This is a particularly busy time as the team prepare to launch the Fourth Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (ERCE), which will measure both cognitive and non-cognitive skills among students in the LAC region.

My workflow is fairly fast, often with deadlines of “this afternoon” or “tomorrow.” Daily tasks include compiling briefs on various topics, creating presentations for conferences, and translating documents. Last minute-requests have included composing a chapter on higher education for a working document on lifelong learning, writing a portion of a speech that the Director gave at a local university, and translating 46-slide PowerPoint presentations complete with graphs and statistics drawn from UNESCO’s vast data bank for a conference in São Paulo. It can be stressful, but my supervisor makes up for it by bringing me bars of chocolate from various countries. My greatest struggle so far is that I really miss working directly with students, but I knew that that would probably be the case going into the experience, so it did not come as a surprise so much as a confirmation that I thrive on face-to-face interaction.

One of my larger projects is to help plan and execute a side event on Indigenous Knowledge in Latin America that will take place alongside a larger meeting of Ministers of Education from the LAC region in late July in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It will last 1.5 days and bring together national consultants on intercultural education and representatives from various Ministries of Education in the LAC region to formulate best practices and lines of action for incorporating indigenous knowledge into formal education, which will be used as a foundation for future conversations, conferences, and policy initiatives in the region. This is a salient issue in many countries in the LAC region, especially those with a higher percentage of indigenous peoples (e.g. México, Guatemala, Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile), who have suffered a long history of systematic repression and discrimination. I am tentatively planning to attend the event in Cochabamba to see how international policy is influenced by UNESCO’s work and to do some solo travel afterwards.

Another interesting event that both Melquin and I had the chance to attend was a Mapuche celebration of the winter solstice, We Tripantu, which is viewed as the renewing of the natural cycle and the start of a new year. The Mapuche are one of Chile’s indigenous peoples, half of whom reside in the south and the other half in Santiago. Students from schools in Santiago with intercultural programs gathered together to celebrate the solstice with traditional Mapuche rites, music, food, and games. It was fantastic! The Minister of Education was also in attendance and shared some words on behalf of the MOE, reinforcing the importance of intercultural education in Chile.


Left: Materials used in the Mapuche rite to celebrate the renewal of the natural cycle.

Right: A representative of the Mapuche community welcomes everyone to the ceremony, surrounded by children wearing traditional Mapuche headbands. The Chilean Minster of Education Gerardo Varela can be seen on the right with the Burberry scarf.

Student Protests Against Sexism in Higher Education

Since arriving in Santiago one month ago, student protests against sexism in higher education have shut down Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC). The protests began at Universidad Austral in the south but rippled up the country to the capital, which has since seen student takeovers of university buildings, sit-ins, marches, and blockages of access routes into campus, effectively shutting down classes for the semester.

The feminist-led movement is in protest of a pervasive sexist culture in Chilean universities manifested in derogatory comments from professors directed at female students, unequal treatment of women in the sciences, and a lack punitive measures for sexual abuse, violence, and harassment on college campuses. A group of ~120 female students at PUC signed and published a letter containing examples of sexist remarks made by professor. Here are several translations:

[brace yourself]

“Miss, what are you doing with that cleavage, did you come to take an exam or to be milked?”

“You have to demand more from ugly women because the beautiful ones, despite being dumb, will still find a husband, but no one can stand an ugly and stupid woman.”

“Miss, do me a favor…and go to the mall.”

“When a man sees a woman and feels like raping her, it is nothing more than a disorder of his natural inclinations.”

Abhorrent stuff. Fortunately, female Chilean students and many of their allies among academic departments are fighting to hold faculty and universities accountable. Something striking is that the response here in Chile from those in power has been lukewarm at best. The Chilean Minister of Education Gerardo Varela has been sharply criticized for minimizing the importance of the movement by referring to the sexist behavior of professors as “pequeñas humillaciones,” or “small humiliations.” Such a response is disappointing to say the least. It made me less excited about having seen him speak at the We Tripantu event earlier in the week.

This will be an issue that I will be following over the coming months.


Left: “Caution! Machismo kills!”

Right: “NO is NO.”

Life Beyond the Office

As someone who spends a lot of their free time dancing, I am happy to have found an active salsa/bachata scene here in Santiago and am excited to keep exploring it and meeting local dancers. This past Saturday, I participated in workshops at the Santiago Bachata Fest, which were fantastic! Check out this video of the first bachata workshop‘s instuctors doing a demonstration.

I moved into my current apartment two weeks ago and hope to stay here for the remainder of my time in Santiago. It does not have central heat, like the large majority of homes in Chile, so it is quite chilly most of the time – down comforters and thick socks are vital! My new apartment-mate Pilar possesses an infectious energy and is my chief instructor in Chilean slang. She works at La Tienda Nacional, a store that specializes in all things Chilean – music, books, art, and even live music events held in its intimate, welcoming space.

Melquin, another Fellow here at the Santiago office, and I have found plenty of time to explore. Some highlights include:

  • Visiting two of Nobel-prize winning poet Pablo Neruda’s homes (La Chascona and La Sebastiana)
  • Accidentally attending a very specific play about Chilean politics called Ramón Farias: Cesante
  • Hiking up Cerro San Cristobal and then riding down in style on the Teleréfico (a suspended cable car system)
  • Visiting the Museum of Visual Arts and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
  • Exploring Parque Quinta Normal, a popular park for families to spend their weekends picnicking
  • Enjoying live music and performances in Plaza de Armas
  • Spending the weekend admiring street art in the beachside towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
  • Attending dance workshops at the 2018 Santiago Bachata Fest this past weekend

To Wrap Up

If you made it this far, te doy un aplauso muy fuerte.

TL;DR version: La pega at UNESCO is going well and Chile is bacán! ¿Cachai?

Top Left: The bar in the dining room of Neruda’s home La Chascona

Top Right: Street art in Valparaíso.

Bottom Left: More street art in Valpo. There was a lot of it!

Bottom Middle: Enjoying the sun in Viña del Mar.

Bottom Right: Pelicans and seagulls at the seaside.

3 thoughts on “¡Hola desde Santiago de Chile!

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