Natalia Cornell-Roberts (Tasha)
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
This past summer I received a Travel Research Grant to study the student movement against educational inequality in Chile. I lived in Santiago for three weeks in July of 2013. While I was there, I interviewed 11 people, which included students, professors and movement leaders. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Andres Fielbum, the current leader of the FECH (Federation of students of the University of Chile), as well as many ex-leaders of various groups.
Chile is one of most economically advanced countries in Latin America, yet they still have an education system that is mainly privatized. As a result, the public schools have few resources and are considered (at the high school level) to be of lesser quality. If a student’s family was wealthy enough to send them to a private institution, they would be able to receive a good education. However, for many Chileans this was not possible. The result of this system is massive inequality of opportunity, as well as inequality of resources. I discovered that education there is also commoditized, in the sense that many elite and upper classes profit off of the system, whether the school is public or private. “Abajo de lucro,” or “down with profit” can be seen spray painted in numerous building around Santiago.
Through my interviews, I was about to gain a deeper understanding of the education, political and economic systems of Chile. Learning about the Chilean education system made me take a step back and reflect on our own education system here in the United States. It fascinated me how aware the Chilean students were of the complexities within their system. They were all aware of the inequality that the system is producing, and could all explain exactly how and why it was occurring. I discovered that Chile’s youth are very politically active, much more so than in the United States. Many of their protests over the past 3 years have reached over 200,000 students. Meanwhile, almost every university (both public and private), have their own separate student organization dedicated to the movement.
Aside from doing my research, I was able to explore Santiago (the capital), and even take a side trip to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, which are both coastal cities two hours West of Santiago. With the funding that I received, I was able to visit other cultural sites, such as the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and Pablo Neruda’s house. The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, created in dedication to the lives lost during the dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. It held memoirs, photos, videos and newspaper articles about the reign of Pinochet. Pablo Neruda, one of Chile’s most renouned poets, also played a role in Chile’s history as a poet and also politically. Both of these excursions enriched my understanding of the history and culture of Chile.
Without the support from the Feinstone grant, my travels would not have been possible. I am forever grateful for this opportunity that had such a profound impact on my life. After returning from this trip, I had a newfound inspiration to pursue a career in education or even public policy. I would like to thank CIIS and the Feinstone family for making this wonderful opportunity a reality.