I spend a lot of time at my school, so I figured it be helpful to give a little background on what my days look like there.
To start off my school here is very different than Mount Mansfield, my school in Vermont. I go to a public school here called Instituto Tecnico Profesional Maritimo Valparaiso (Instituto Maritimo or IMV for short). My school in Vermont is also a public school, but with less than 800 students total, and most classes with less than 20 students.
The first apparent difference-- here is we all wear uniforms. In addition to this there is a strict dress-code that is enforced. Apart from the dress, sweater, blazer and other parts of the uniform we are required to wear lab coats during the day. A majority of the professors (all of mine except one) and staff also wear lab coats. The consequence for not wearing it is a "notacion negativo". You can also get a negative notation if you are wearing a sweatshirt or any clothes not "officially" part of the uniform. All girls also have to wear their hair back during all classes and can not wear make up. There is also a 'one piercing per ear' rule, and all other piercings are not allowed. In addition to this all of the guys have to have their hair cut short and "orderly" and nail polish is forbidden.
This "negative notation" is when a professor goes to your page in the class book and writes a comment about what rule you broke. This book is where they take attendance and have all of our grades. Each curso has a list in alphabetical order of the students, and each student has their number, (I'm 30). For example if you come into class late, the teacher asks you for your "number" and they write down that you were late. There exists also the opposite, "positive notations" where the professor leaves a note about something bueno you did.
Another thing I was struck by here was the openness with grades. What I mean by this is, our grades are read aloud in front of the whole class. Everyone knows how everyone else did on the test, who sacó un rojo (who failed) and who got the highest score. Sometimes they read the grades in order of worst to best, and sometimes they just read the list of who didn't pass. I haven't been uncomfortable with this (as my grades are actually the highest in my class), but I was expecting this to have negative results, turning into a competition, or making people feel bad about themselves, but I was really wrong. When we take a test here people move on pretty quickly and don't dwell on how they did or what grade they got, they're not too interested in what other people got and as long as they pass, everything is all good. This was a very cool change coming from a school with classmates who stressed out excessively over their grades and constantly focused on everything they did wrong.
The grades themselves here are on a scale of 1-7, 7 being the highest and equivalent to a 100. Everyone also has a "promedio" here, which is like a GPA, the average from all of your classes.
Another thing that legitimately shocked me was when our profe jefe made people "write lines". The second week of school there was a group in my class who didn't bring in materials for a project and they had to write "I should be responsible and bring in my materials" 100 times. Another time someone was on their phone in class and instead of taking away their phone, the teacher made them copy "I should not use my phone in class" 200 times. This has happened a few other times and it feels very old fashioned and doesn't seem like a productive punishment.
De vez en cuando (once in a while) we have "formacion" that serves a few purposes. Formation is when we all line up outside on the patio where we have recreo (I'll explain this later) by curso. Girls in one line, boys in another, shortest in the front.
Sometimes it's simply to check if everyone is following dress code and to write down names of those who are not. Other times it's for announcements. This is taken very seriously and our profe jefe's come up and down the line making sure everyone is silent and presentable.
Recreo means break, and that's exactly what it is. We go outside and have a little "recess". Normally my friends and I just hang out and talk during these breaks outside in the sun, but there are a lot of things you can do. A lot of people go to the library to do homework or finish projects, some go to the casino (cafeteria) to eat, some try to stay in the classrooms until the inspector shoos them out, but most hang out on the patio. The patio is a little paved basketball court outside and during recreos it fills with people playing tennis soccer, ping pong, jump roping and of course soccer.
Thanks to suggestions by students we now also have music playing over the speakers at all recreos (mostly reggaeton por supuesto!!). On a few occasions we have also had dance battles and rap battles, spontaneously started and then a crowd gathers just like in the movies.
Students also take advantage of our recreo time to sell different foods. It's not uncommon to see students selling, chocolates, candies, waffles, cupcakes, lollipops and really any type of sweet. This was a little strange at first, but it gives a lot of context to why everyone is always asking "tienes cien??".
We had one week that was "semana de convivencia" (coexistence week) which the entire week I thought was "semana de competencia" (competition week). This reminded me a lot of what my school does in VT, for a spirit week/winter carnival activity. As I've mentioned before each grade is split into 8 "cursos" (A-H) and during this week the cursos were paired with their same letter from the other grade (segundo D and primero D made up one team). Each of these teams competed all week against each other during recreos. Ranging from a dodgeball type game, to soccer tennis, to making poetry (with the theme of coexistence), to having the cleanest classroom, to decorating the patio in someway, to flash challenges, each team was awarded points.
The flash challenges were my favorite and these were when a teacher would say something like "The first group to bring me the principal's signature wins 200 points".
Other tasks included:
- being the first to find a bug
- putting on as many lab-coats as possible
- bringing back the most hair ties in one minute (also the most keys)
- singing the school's anthem
- who could find the most student teachers
- answering trivia about the school/teachers/school rules
I'm taking eleven classes here and our schedule is pretty much the same as my school in VT. We start at 8:00 and finish at 3:15, (except for Wednesdays when we end at 1, and some Tuesdays when we end at 5). We go through material a lot slower here, because for example I only have biology, physics, chemistry, and environmental science each once a week, where as in the US I would only be taking one of those asignaturas, but with classes every other day.
Classes are just like normal classes, except we start every class standing to greet our teacher and we can't sit until they tell us to sit down.
One thing that strikes me as odd is teachers dictate here. They don't hand out worksheets with questions on them, instead they say the questions or information and we have to write it down. This is a really good way to practice my spelling and accuracy with what they say. I had a physics test the other day that was completely listening to what the teacher said and writing down problems and descriptions.
Related to that I have a few teachers here who use little microphones while they're teaching. It's a big classroom and there are a lot of us noisy students, so for some of them this is the easiest way to be heard.
Sports My school has a long list of "talleres" including some really cool things: Harp, Violin, Kayak, Scuba diving, soccer, basketball, theater, chorus, "hip-hop", band, orchestra. Each of these meet once a week, so if you really wanted to you could do a few at the same time.
My school is pretty special in the sense that it's a professional (also called technical) school. Primero and Segundo medios (freshman and sophomores) are in one building taking normal classes and tercero and cuarto medio (juniors and seniors) are in a separate building with a pretty cool schedule. They have normal classes two days a week and the other three they are out either in businesses or out in the field actually learning first hand how things work.
There are five "career options", Gastronomia (Gastronomy), Operaciones Portuatias (Port related careers), mechanica automotriz (Mechanics), quimica laboratorio (Chemistry), and elaboracion industrial de alimentos (learning about food and what goes into it).
I think this is pretty interesting and sounds like a cool way to spend your junior and senior year, but it puts pressure on the students to chose what they want to do at a really young age. On the first day of school I was the only one who didn't know what I want to do after school, or what I want to be, and I'm a year older than all of my classmates.
The last thing I want to talk about is the stigma about public schools here. Even before I got here, I heard a lot about how "bad" public schools in Chile are, and how it would be better to go to a private school. When I got here someone warned me that my classmates would have knives and there would be drugs everywhere and multiple people told me time and time again that I should "be careful" in school and around my classmates. When ever I told someone that I was going to a public school they immediately assumed that there would not be good education there and that all of the students would be stupid. Coincidentally every single person who told me a story about a public school, or warned me that it might be not a good scene, went to a private school.
I would just like to make it clear to all of those people that I have had zero problems in my school and I absolutely love Maritimo and could not be happier here. There is definitely a large range of students who go to IMV, as far as social and financial situations, but I feel that this experience has been so much more real, with real students who represent more of the population in Valparaiso than a tiny private school with just people who have money.
That said, IMV is very good for a municipal school, and there are many people who want to got here for the career options it has. I was talking to one of my friend's friend (who goes to a private school) and she told me that she wanted to go to IMV and it's the best technical school in the area.
On a related note while walking around with one of my exchange student friends (in our school uniforms) a lady approached us on the street to ask if we were from Chile. We then had a little discussion about how no we actually are going to high schools here, and we're staying for five months. She made a comment about how I was going to Maritimo, something along the lines of "wow you're really getting the real deal, normally when exchange students come they stay in the sections with $$, but good for you, you're getting the real deal".
That conversation made me feel really proud, because I am the first long term exchange student to go to Maritimo and as she pointed out, I was "getting the real deal", the real Valpo.
School has been a big part of my life here, it's where I met most of my friends and I've learned a lot here (not actual school stuff, more general stuff). I never really dreaded going to school in the US, but it's really a refreshing feeling waking up in the morning excited to go to school. I don't feel stressed if I don't understand a homework, or don't finish a project in time.
It's a little weird to think that my friends back home are taking their final exams right now, and have taken the SAT, ACT and have been visiting colleges while I'm here trying not to think about any of that.
Below are a few links if you find yourself inclined to see a little more Maritimio