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Students reflect on studies in Chile amid political upheaval, protests

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The fall-quarter cohort of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) in Santiago, Chile lived through widespread protests in the nation.

The protests erupted in the wake of an Oct. 6 increase of metro fares by 4%, which critics argued would hurt lower-income Chileans who rely on the metro system to get from Santiago’s outskirts to jobs in the city center. For protestors, the fare hike was a symbol of the extreme economic disparity between the rich and poor in Chile. 

Despite reversal of the fare hike on Oct. 20, protests have continued amid calls for improvements in areas such as pensions, education and health care. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency on Oct. 19 but has since lifted it.

The fall Santiago program lasted from late September to early December. During her time abroad, Regan Lavin ’21 noted schedule changes in the program due to the protests and violence, such as cancelled trips and outings, but said the protests never made her feel concerned for her safety.

“All of the protests are peaceful until the carabineros [Chilean police] get involved, and I really don’t want people getting the wrong idea about why there has been violence in the city. Most of the violence here has been police brutality,” Lavin said. “I only ever feel unsafe when I have to walk past the carabinero station or when a military tank is driving down the street because it’s really the government that is doing the harm.” 

“I’ve come into contact with lacrimógenos [tear gas] many a time now,” she added.

Protests were first carried out primarily by university-aged students and later by the greater population. Demonstrations took place in metro stations and started off nonviolent, but violent looting by small groups has followed. Since October, 27 people have died, and thousands have been injured.

Hiroto Saito ’21 said the protests didn’t affect his course load and that he continued attending his classes without issue.  

“We were allowed to stay home if we were concerned for our safety but classes resumed and practically all of us kept going to our classes,” he said. “I don’t think any of us had too much trouble getting to and from class, but we did have to take detours on our way home. Overall, I think the Stanford in Santiago staff handled things well despite the difficult situation.”

Zach Clayton ’21 agreed with feeling safe, but noted his concern for the protestors amid police violence.

“In my homestay, we happened to live near a subway station, and — for several days — each evening the peaceful protests continued, then the police vans would show up and fire tear gas cannons into the crowd,” Clayton said. “Protestors would come running past the gate outside our apartment complex, chased by armed cops in full riot gear.” 

Ivan Jaksic, director of the Stanford Santiago BOSP program, acknowledged the impact the protests have had on daily life in the city. 

“The disruption is significant because of the damage to the metro, which in normal times transport over two million people,” he said. “Now it is very hard to get from point A to point B, especially for people who live in the periphery.” 

Jaksic is of Chilean descent and has seen the protests first-hand. 

“People have been protesting for things that affect their daily lives, like the high costs of health and education,” he said. “Economic growth has come to a virtual halt, and the sense of lack of opportunities, especially for the young, is among the principal reasons for the protests. And so is the obvious inequality that exists in the country.”

Students participating in the fall-quarter BOSP Santiago program lived in the city for the quarter, traveling from their classes to their homestay housing. The group was put under special safety precautions, and the metro line was not necessary for the commute to school. 

“We do have the resources in place to support the students who need anything from us,” Jaksic said. “We are constantly in touch with the home campus to report on the changing situation, and to receive guidance and feedback.”

He also noted his admiration for the students, who he said took the situation and safety protocols in stride. 

“I think that in many ways this has been a unique learning opportunity, watching history unfold, as it were,” he added.

Despite the unrest seen in fall, the Santiago program looks to have a stable future. In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote that BOSP is not planning to suspend the program in the future. 

“Protecting our students is a priority and BOSP works diligently to mitigate risk and promote student safety,” Miranda wrote. “The main office of BOSP here at Stanford is in regular contact with staff at our overseas centers in order to stay abreast of specific local concerns and to discuss program-specific safety measures.”

Contact Lauryn Johnson at lauryn ‘at’ stanford.edu.