By Danny Pavitt; IPD Student and IDSP16 Fellow
Professor Jan Knippers Black mentioned many times that, in her opinion, the best way to learn is by full immersion. I thought I understood this concept before I left for Chile a little over two weeks ago, but back in the comforts of my Dallas hotel room (thanks, Storm Jonas), I admit that perhaps I didn’t fully comprehend “full immersion” in the same way I do now.
The truth is that I could have sat in my room, Google searched “Mapuche”, or “Judge Juan Guzmán”, or “Augusto Pinochet”, and learned a lot about each one. However, as is all-too-often the case in class, “learning” would occur but I would eventually lose sight of details that filled those facts with life.
In our two week tour of Chile that included the high-rise-filled city of Santiago from the peaks of Cerro San Cristóbal, the mountainous region of Temuco and the beautiful, bug-infested (inside joke. Not really infested) coast of Valparaiso, we talked to people that had been affected by the 17-year dictatorship in many different ways. We very quickly and often-abrasively learned that there are certain groups that continue to be affected by a government that still follows the rules of a constitution created by Pinochet, rife with over-privatization and complete lack of consideration for the rights of the “underprivileged” (in parenthesis because this is a word created by Western culture and isn’t applied in the same way by some communities we met).
There was an uncertainty I felt before leaving to Chile regarding what it was that we’d actually be doing down there, but it was enough for me to know that I’d be able to practice some Spanish and be a blank canvas, ready to be colorfully and impartially painted by knowledge of Chilean political history and the Mapuche indigenous people that fight the government for the rights to their native lands every day. What I got was much more, having the unique opportunity to listen to the stories of the people that had experienced beauty and conflict for many years.
We looked Juana Calfunao in the eyes and listened to the beautiful things she had to say about the importance of living in harmony with the earth and thanking it for everything we take from it, and were given a brief opportunity to feel, deep-down, what it was like for her each day on her land. We listened to José Montalva Feuerhake, the Governor of the region where many Mapuche communities live, who said things that we needed to hear because they represented the other side of a story we hadn’t heard much of yet, even though everything he said seemed a little evading and naively optimistic. And we heard the story of a warrior, Polo Lillo, who is from La Victoria, a community on the outskirts of Santiago that was established by a group of people that went against the dictatorship and whom continue to fight for democracy through equal dissemination of information (radio, television, workshops, etc).
Listening to these people gave me perspectives and energy to feel life as they live, changing my definition of “full immersion” forever. At the constant satisfaction of all 5 of my senses, I now understand these issues better than I ever could have from a screen in my room, with mountains of information still left to learn.
Processing and personal debriefs will continue through the rest of this semester, especially as I begin to develop a story to represent some part of my time in Chile. I appreciate the journey I went on personally and as a part of a sizable group.
Side note: San Diego -> Dallas: 3 hours. Dallas -> Santiago: 9.5 hours. Santiago -> Temuco (by bus): 10 hours. Temuco city center -> Small Mapuche community: 40 mins. Sitting on a wooden bench on a ranch listening to a Mapuche man talk about the disgraces of Donald Trump: humorously embarrassing. #miischile2016