Daniel Justo Ramos and Oscar Chavarría have too many things in common, two young Spaniards arriving to Universidad Santo Tomás (UST) through the Programa Experiencia Internacional (PEI) (International Experience Program). Both of them live in small towns in Galicia, study at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, last semester they were at the UST Santiago and this semester they arrived at UST Viña del Mar Social Work Studies School to study some subjects. Non of them liked the life at the capital and, on contraire, they say to be happy in Valparaiso, where they participate on a social project together with neighbors from the Cerro Cordillera. And lastly: they both have to go back to Spain in August, although they’ve already decided to come back to Latin-America in some point of their lives.
Daniel, Education student, and Oscar, Social Education student, have declared to be satisfied with their stay in Chile: “we knew it was going to be a great year, but it overcame all our expectations”, they say. “Last year we were in Santiago, also on Social Works Studies, and on the way the opportunity to come to Viña came up. We are from small cities, we are not used to the hustle of Santiago, it’s too big and we wanted to get to know other realities also”, they say about the change of city.
– Why did you decide to study a year in Chile?
Daniel: I don’t have a specific concept, I always had the urge to come to Latin-America and Chile seemed a good country. We had studied something about the educational system in here and I was interested in getting to know it by first hand to understand and to see if we can implement it with the system in Spain.
Oscar: I had a great desire to come to Latin-America, but not on holidays, I wanted to live here for a while. Due to my career, social education comes from social movements and, on that sense, Latin-America is an example of movement to get something. On the geographical aspect, Chile has everything: mountains, desert, sea and that was very interesting.
– You say you didn’t like to live in Santiago
Oscar: It’s not that I don’t like it, on a cultural level Santiago is the bomb! Everyday there are lectures, theater, music and I like that. But the city outgrew me, felt like it excluded me, riding one hour on the subway because everything is far away, I didn’t like that. I like to say Hi to the neighbors, open the door and chat, that it’s difficult in Santiago.
Daniel: The impersonality, the so accelerated rhythm, there was no personal treat as in Valparaíso where you can run into a neighbor and say Hi. In Santiago the subway it’s full of people, but you felt alone anyways, that thing overwhelm me from Santiago. Here in Valparaíso I feel things work different, I feel more comfortable with the rhythm here.
Oscar: You can feel that in every sense, also in University. In here there is less people, then you meet not only your classmates, but also people from other studies.
Daniel: The relationship with teachers is also different, you feel in a confident environment and you can talk with them about things you find difficult, you can ask for advice for any other thing. For example, last week a teacher gave us information for a project we are working on in Cerro Cordillera.
– How is life in the cities you live in Spain?
Daniel: It’s still like this, I come from a very small town that’s why I’m thankful to come to Valparaíso that has a great potential. In here anything you propose yourself you can make it. We are working with the neighborhood council from Cerro Cordillera and it’s impressive the support they give you, the strength they give you. It’s one of the greatest moment in my personal growth.
Oscar: I don’t know if what we are doing here can be done in Santiago. In Valparaíso everything goes smooth.
– On the academic plan, how things are going?
Daniel: Closeness turns learning into another level, more significant. If you have doubts or comments, you make them and always get a positive response.
Oscar: There are other examples. There in Santiago you get out of class and, as everyone lives far way, there is no time to share. Here everyone lives relatively close, so there is time to share outside University and, that way, you create and ambiance in the classroom, on which we include each other, you belong to the group.
– You said you wanted to know the Latin-American Social movements.
Oscar: We arrived when everything was happening. I knew a little bit about the history of Chile, the politics line it follows, but to live the social movements it’s something that marks you and lives you thinking.
Daniel: In here it’s well internalized that a social fight must have a goal. In here many things are been achieved through demonstrations, non-violent, but changing things from everyday life. In Spain we tend to conformity, in here a fight start and goes with everything.
– Oscar, you had a severe accident here in Valparaíso.
Oscar: I was close to two weeks here in Valparaíso, walking home and a car with no brakes came and hit me. I was at hospital like five days and resting at home other 15 days, in total 20 days doing nothing. I thought about going back to Spain, but also I was thinking about recovering to squeeze everything from my time left here. Dani’s support was very important, he even cooked for me when I couldn’t get up.
– Do you miss your family too much?
Daniel: Yes, that happens. I talk with my parents and they understand that I’m happy here, but always with that missing feeling. I miss them a lot too, but we don’t need to be close to love each other, we know we are good, even though we are on each side of the world. It’s hard for them, but they understand.
Oscar: No one can say that they don’t miss loved ones, but it’s important to think on the happiness of the other person. They understand it’s a process in my life, that I’m learning and I’m happy here, I think they appreciate that.
– Then, would you say that the expectation of this travel are fulfilled?
Daniel: Beyond. I imagined it was going to be a good year, but it becoming even better, too much. It is curious for me going through the streets feeling that this is my life and suddenly a flash comes and I remember I’m an exchange students and this life has a due date.
Oscar: It’s has been very good to live two realities: Santiago and Valparaiso. I like that.
– Would you like to come back?
Daniel: Yes, for sure! I don’t know about coming back to Valparaíso, but to Latin-America I’ll be back for sure.
Oscar: I want to come back, I need to go to Spain a finish university, submit my thesis. But the idea is to come back, Valparaíso attracts me, there are plenty of projects I want to follow.
– You were saying you are working with neighbors.
Daniel: It’s local community development work with the neighbors. One of the projects it’s the improvement of public spaces that are abandoned, like rubbish dumps, we are reconceptualizing the value this public spaces have for the neighbors. There’s also a re-education social work as well, we have a community orchard that we created as a gathering space for the neighbors.
Oscar: When we arrived, a group interested on this kind of work had been created. There are students, arquitects, social workers, everyone willing to contribute. Most part of the work is at Cerro Cordillera, there we are trying re-education projects, reconceptualizing and giving a new sense to abandoned spaces, those rubbish dumps. We want to change the hill, but not turning it into Cerro Alegre, we are not looking for gentrification, we want the neighbors to stay here, not the hill to become pretty, someone comes and buys everything and the neighbors end up leaving. We want to strength local links, so everything it’s theirs and they take care of it. The orchard is with the neighbors and for the neighbors.
Daniel: We are all volunteers; we want to leave something for the community. We don’t want to impose on the neighbors, we want to give them the tools for them to empower. The idea is to work from, for and by the neighbors.