If you’ve followed this blog much at all you’ve noticed that most of the pictures, until this week at any rate, are of desert and mountains. As I wrote yesterday, however, the vast majority of my time has been spent in Santiago. Similarly, you might think from the blog that most of my time has been spent with a telescope out in the boonies. The fact is, the vast majority of my time has been spent either with, thinking about or preparing for the students on the program. They are, after all, the point of the entire program. I haven’t discussed them much for obvious reasons. There are privacy and ethical issues – they didn’t ask to be discussed in public. Also, a lot of people work with students and, in many ways, my work here has been indistinguishable from the work I, and many of you, do with students on a typical American campus.
Of course, in other ways, it has been very distinguishable. I socialized much more with these students than any other group save my other study abroad group in 2014. That experience was much of the reason I signed on again.
This was a great group to work and travel with. People like to stereotype (I’m doing it there, for instance) and the only way to break through those stereotypes is to engage with the individuals you’re generalizing about. I’ve written before about the human tendency to seek homogeneity and age is a huge factor. People don’t immediately like folks from groups of significantly different age. Today the pejorative is “snowflake” but the comforts of our age were not designed by today’s college students; they were designed by folks my age or older.
Breaking bread has been a recognized as important for millennia and it is no different today. When I spend 4 hours a week with students it’s easy to dismiss their worries as immaturity or, worse, weakness. And, to be sure, that exists. But it has always existed. I had immature friends when I was 20. I was, at times, immature when I was 20. I made the worst decision of my life when I was 21, for example. I’m hardly in a position to criticize their character and I doubt you are, either. When I sit for a meal with students I see that their hopes and dreams, worries and fears, are my hopes and dreams, worries and fears, just expressed differently due to the inevitable cultural gap created by the age difference. That difference is enough that translation takes a little time. Conversation on deep, meaningful topics with someone less than half your age is at least as difficult as ordering pizza in your second language. If you don’t slow down and listen carefully you’ll think they’re ignorant and they’ll think you stupid.
Anyway, as I say, the group was great. Given the arrangements of the program, each student had an experience fairly different than one another. In London, everyone lived together and the experiences were far less varied. Here, they met for class and then scattered, occasionally recombining at a club late at night or the gym early in the morning. Listening to them, I had the fascinating advantage of getting a peek at many different Santiagos.
So, thanks to the students of this program and congratulations on the successful completion of one more semester. Good luck as you make your way.