The southern hemisphere education system is opposite to that of the UK – the academic year starts in March and ends in December. So now I am coming to the end of my time at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (UC) and finally feel ready to give some feedback on my semester of studying in Santiago.
For anyone who isn’t aware of the current education issues in Chile, I’ll give a little background information: the difference in quality of education between private and public universities and school is huge, and higher education is very expensive at private universities, so much so that many families face crippling debts for decades after their children have finished studying. So in 2011 the students, led by a very attractive geography student Camila Vallejo, decided to stage a series of protests to show their discontent with the current system. These demonstrations are still going on today and there are a lot of strikes at public institutes. This means that a lot of students have to attend class during their holidays to make up for all the time lost. For this reason I feel very lucky to have been able to study at the UC which is not only private but considered to be the best university in Chile, and is never affected by the strikes.
Being at that type of institution does show in the amount of work required to pass the modules; the professors spread the work load over the entire semester so there is always some test to be revising for or some piece of work to be handed in!
One piece of advice I would give to anyone who is planning to study abroad, is to think about your modules before you leave. I was in the position that I had to study Mathematics and luckily there were enough spaces in all the classes I wanted to take. But unfortunately for many exchange students that wasn’t the case because the Chilean pupils had chosen their courses months before, so a lot of my friends had to fight for a space on the courses they wanted to take.
Also, be prepared for class participation! At Southampton I was used to lectures with 200 people where you wouldn’t have to contribute unless you wanted to. Here, my classes ranged from 8 to 16 students – it was like being back at school again! Although initially being very nervous about being singled out and looking silly in front of the rest of the students, I soon realised that I should take advantage of being in such an intimate environment to help improve my confidence in talking in front of people in Spanish. I would never even have dreamt that I would be capable of giving a 10 minute presentation on Statistical Regression Analysis in Spanish to my peers and professor at the beginning of the semester, but it’s amazing what you can do when you have to!