Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back to school, back to school...

Classes started this past week and I thought I would write this blog about some of the basic differences I have noticed about the school I am attending and others I have been to in the past. Before I get into that, let me lay out my plans for the semester and that should lead into the particulars of what I have seen.

I spent a lot of time before I left trying to ensure that the classes I took and the time that I spent here would be worthwhile in terms of what I need to graduate with my Bachelor's degree (ideally this semester). With that in mind I had a number of literature and linguistics courses pre-approved by my university, NIU. Of those courses, even after a couple months of planning, meeting with advisors, signing forms, requesting course syllabus, and all sorts of other minutia, only a few turned out to be viable due to scheduled times and availability here in Lima. I scrapped the courses that didn't work and I ended up with a schedule that should give me what I need to finsh up. That schedule consists of:

1) General Linguistics- a course focusing on the theoretical fundamentals of hispanic linguistics.

2) 19th Century Peruvian Literature- designed to introduce students to the canonical authors and works of post colonial Peru

3) Contemporary Peruvian Narratives- focusing on contemporary peruvian authors who are significant in latin american and world literature

4) Quechua 1- an introduction to the grammar and culture of one of the major indigenous languages of Peru, Quechua.

5) Deportes- Varones (Sports for Gentlemen)- this is a class that offers an overview of various sports for, you guessed it, just dudes.

Most people who have poured over the course offerings at a major university in the US will pick out some of the differences between the schools just based on my brief description. Some outstanding examples are:

1) Peruvian literature classes- as far as most US universities are concerned, canonical authors from shortly after the colonial period in latin america are very, very few and far between, much less an entire course that emphasizes the importance of those specifically from Peru, which should make this an interesting and challenging course for me. Imagine that you know nothing about some of the most important authors in United States from any given time period, let alone the history and social context that surrounds them and you are expected to read Moby Dick and then discuss it with 20 of your peers in a language that is not your first language. But I digress, I think it is gonna be a great learning experience.

2) Indigenous language classes? What are those? I'm really looking forward to this class. Aside from being an interesting subject for me personally it represents a whole social movement in latin america to revive languages and aspects of culture related to indigenous people, and that idea is a controversial one here for a lot of reasons that do not merit discussion here.

3) Sports for Gentlemen? Despite all the social progress it seems that it is somehow still neccesary to separate a lot of things here into boys and girls. I don't want to speculate on what that means, but it strikes me as a little bit comical.

All in all I think the classes look great and should be a really big opportunity to learn in a context that I haven't really seen before. Outside of class represents a whole different set of interesting new things and, mostly for the benefit of you guys who are kind enough to read my rambling blog, I will try to use some photos to explain a few of the differences in the campus here.

This first picture does not quite illustrate this point as clearly as it would if you stood in front of it on the street, but what I meant to show was that this campus is essentially a city within a city. If you were to turn in the opposite direction, away from the school gate, you would see tens of buses, taxis, street vendors with blankets covered with pirated dvd's and handmade jewelry, food carts selling juice, cheeseburgers, etc. If you looked directly down the wall to the left of the photograph you would see that the 12 foot tall brick wall that is the division between the school and the street extends for a number of city blocks. It is striking to someone who comes from a big open campus, that is designed like most US universities to be an almost indistinguishable part of a city that hosts the campus, that this school is intended to be its own fortress. To that end, it comes complete with its own 24 hour security staff with designated, gated entrances for cars, students, visitors and maintanence personell. When I first got here, it made me think of several conversations I had about the changes that were bound to happen after the shooting at NIU. It seemed then that it was an impossible idea that a college campus should be a castle that keeps people out as much as it keeps people in. Clearly, that is exactly the notion that, out of neccesity, some colleges have employed to do what they think is appropriate to keep people safe, and just maybe, project a desired image. Despite all that, to me, it more closely resembles the entrance to a local juvenile detention facility than it does a prestigous, private university, but that's just me.

This picture will resemble something that looks more familiar to those who have ever strolled around the campus of a private university, but it comes as a total oddity here in Lima, as do the green trees that you see in the background. That is to say that Lima is essentially a city built in a desert and everything that is green requires water constantly. Never have I been anywhere where the maintenance of the landscaping is so meticulous. The attention to detail and the green surroundings are even stranger if you can picture that this lawn sits about 30 yards inside of that main gate and that outside of that gate is all the chaos of a sizeable neighborhood of a city of almost 10 million people.
More of the same in this picture. There are little ponds and gardens all over the campus. It does not resemble any of the plants that you would find growing naturally in this part of the world, but I think that may be the desired effect.

This picture from google earth struck me as a pretty simple way of relating the sheer size of the campus and how much it is like its own little city. Everything in between the two large streets that extend from the top to the bottom of the picture is University property, and it is all totally closed off from the rest of the city.

This is the coliseo deportivo that you see as the blue building on the top of the picture above. Some of the sports that play a prominent role here are surprising. There is of course, designated programming for soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis and some other surprising sports, but there are also, rugby teams, a huge chess arena (yes, thats right!), 40 competition level ping-pong tables, a martial arts studio, 15 handball courts, and a number of other amenities that football loving american sports fans might be puzzled by. Also, I have to admit that I expected the facilities here to be somewhat less well equipped than those on NIU's campus, but I would say that, if anything, most of the equipment and facilities here are probably more modern than most universities I visited. could be one of the perks of private funding...who knows?

This picture is the social sciences building. I don't really have any opinions to draw on this, it is just a nice picture.

Once again, these deer are everywhere. It is really strange. I guess if you wall off your university you can keep basically whatever you want inside. I saw a girl try to feed an apple to one of these deer the other day and it tried to run away from her, but she sort of jumped in front of it as she tried to get away herself. She fell down, the deer ran like mad. It gets pretty wild. Do not feed the deer!

There are loads of other things that they have done differently here that you would never see on a campus in the US. One example is the books that are used for classes. At NIU I average a cost of $400/ semester on my books and i could not understand when they reccomended a cost of $150 for all my books when I filled out the initial application. I now understand how they accomplish this. Inside of every building is a small room run by a private copy company where they run off thousands of pages of books every day. The professor drops off the lesson materials, the students pay a couple dollars, and everyone gets away cheap. I am not sure which copyright laws are potentially being violated by this, but it loos like my books for this semester will total about $75. Weird. There are other similar things, banks, restaurants and phone booths from private companies here that seem a little out of place at a private catholic university.

Well, I have to be on my way, but I will be back with more in the next couple of days. I would be happy to hear some ideas about what to write about. I had a list going, but I would be open for suggestions. Thanks for reading.



  1. your campus looks very nice! Those deer are everywhere. I want to hear about how your classes are conducted. what are the norms associated with school? is attendance required? how about grades? How many hours do you have class a week? tell me more! Part II please!

    love chrissy

  2. very cool. I want to hear more about your classes and your instructors....what do you see different between your instructors here and in Peru?

    good job with your you, your mommy

  3. I'm interested in hearing about the indigenous people debate within Peru. It must tie into the post-colonial thing somehow. Sounds a bit like the segregation debate here in the 60's and beyond--but there may be differences. Tell me more.


  4. I will probably do something about the issues of recism/ classism that result from all the colonial stuff later. My Quechua class is from an anthropological perspective, so it will talk about all of that and I will be able to learn more about it. One of the things that I found surprising and is seemingly unique about the indigenous situation in Lima in particular is that there are so many subtle shades of racism. A person who appears just slightly lighter in skin tone is automatically assumed to be of a higher economic status. For instance, there are signs on the doors of some of the more expensive bars here saying that racism and discrimination are not tolerated according to certain legal ordinances- this is because, from what I have been told, that a few years ago it was common for people who appeared to be from a more indigenous background to be refused entry to bars here, because it was generally accepted that none of them made enough money to have any to spend in the bars on drinks and food. So, I think the racism here is much more layered and subtle than the black/ white issues of the late 50's and 60's. I don't think I have anything close to a full understanding of it yet, but it is interesting that something that goes unnoticed in parts of the US (for instance, we dont differentiate between someone of spanish/ indian descent versus someone of spanish descent) is the basis for a very profound racism here.


  5. Superbenjamín, you're seeing things that I saw in Buenos Aires while I was there. Same happened with a small copy room, and my university was an old paper factory (you only could tell by a sign at the door that it was a university, and it was one of the most elitist).

    Last century / contemporary, yes, and Latin American in general. But 19th century and Peruvian authors sounds like and adventure. For me, by far, the one that sounds more "oh, yeah" is Deportes - Varones. That would make me a man, will make you a soldier of fortune.

    Little by little, bring people to your stories. Get closer and throw away your latex gloves.

  6. I wish that class were that manly. Today we did pushups. I managed 38 in a minute, pretty pitiful really.

    I will eventually work in a few more people and hopefully some stories about things, places, etc. En cuanto a lo de quitar los guantes, me parece que mi audiencia es
    un poco conservadora, asi que, cuando lleguemos
    a un tema mas arriesgado supongo que lo escribire en espanol. No se puede ir por alli ofendiendo a las abuelas del mundo, aunque eventualmente ellas tambien tendran que enfrentarse con las realidades feas aqui fuera...

  7. Pero, cuidado, las abuelas son listas y utilizarán algún servicio de traducción instantánea y entonces descubrirán todo el pastel. De todas formas, me refería exactamente a la presencia de humanos y sus historias. Recuerdo lo de la tarta, lo del chaval que se avergonzó por lo de la ola y la foto de los yanquis haciendo el turista. Incluso esto del ciervo y la tía con la manzana es memorable. Más de eso, más de eso.

    Just eager to hear how you manage with people!