How to Survive an Exchange in Chile – Rebecca Batelaan

Rebecca Batelaan studied at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile for a Full Calendar Year in 2016.

When I decided to go to Chile, I only knew I wanted to go to a South American country to practice Spanish and learn about Latin American culture. Now, I know I’ve learnt much more than that, including independence while living far away from my family and acquiring new international friends and the desire to travel the world. To start, I’d like to give some advice about academic matters. The courses are structured quite similar to Australian ones – you have lectures and tutorials. Classes are generally (at least in Political Science) quite large (about 60 students). The teachers are very approachable for exchange students. A golden tip: when enrollment starts (which is done manually – you have to go to a certain office for each discipline/course you want to take and tell them you want to enrol), be there early, so you will be sure to get into the courses you want to take!

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Campus Casa Central, Santiago de Chile

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Campus Casa Central, Santiago de Chile

Accommodation is the hardest part to judge when you’re still in Australia. In Santiago, there are ‘safe’ and ‘less safe’ neighbourhoods that you should consider, as well as the distance to your university’s campus. I studied at Campus San Joaquín and lived in Providencia, which is one of the safest and most popular neighbourhoods to live in. Other great neighbourhoods are Nuñoa, Las Condes (very modern but very far from city centre), and Bellavista (hipster, but less ‘safe’). The UC has a few different campuses, so be sure to check out which one you will be having most classes at before booking accommodation. San Joaquín Campus is the biggest and has the most faculties. I live in a student residence with 30 other students – half of them are Chilean, and the other half exchange students. This is a perfect way to start your time abroad, as you have a ‘homey’ situation with a substitute ‘family’ – there’s always someone around that you can talk to/hang out with/travel with. I personally think that this was the best choice for me, as I could quickly and easily get to know people. Always check what kind of people live in the house you’re looking at. If there are lots of foreign people, you might end up speaking English all the time, which is definitely not what I was after. My house had a shared kitchen, which I used every day to cook. Good starting points to find a place to live are: Comparto Depto and Yapo. There is also a Facebook group which is very useful called Room Mate and Flat Finder Chile. The normal price range for a room would be between 150000-200000 CLP per month. Other options for accommodation include renting a room in a house or an apartment, home stay, or sharing an apartment with friends. The UC offers a list of university residences on their website, which is a good starting point (and where I found my accommodation).

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia

There are plenty of ways to eat cheap in Santiago. For example, the little street vendors in front of the university and on almost every street corner sell delicious, fresh food. Supermarkets are generally quite expensive, however you can buy cheap fruit and vegetables in the big central market, La Vega, or in smaller markets around the city. At the university, there are several cafeterias where you can also eat a full meal for a good price.

Public transport in Santiago is an adventure in itself. The metro lines are the fastest method of travelling around, although they are almost always crowded depending on the direction, time, and day. There are also a lot of buses that run regularly, however without a strict timetable. It is a good idea to find accommodation near a metro station, because this will be your main transport method in Santiago. If you’re brave enough to ride around Santiago on a bike (the drivers are not very bike-friendly), then it’s a cheap alternative for the metro/bus, which costs about $1.50 AUD per ride. You can find cheap bikes for sale on Yapo and Mercado Libre. If you stay longer than a semester, you are allowed to get a student card (tarjeta bip) for public transport, which is considerably cheaper (210 CLP = 40c AUD).




Santiago de Chile on a summer day

Santiago de Chile on a summer day

The people in Chile are all very friendly, so you won’t have any trouble making friends! You will have some difficulty when you first arrive as you try to understand their slang. It sounds like a new language at first, but once you get the hang of their funny words then it’s quite entertaining! Another good tip is to get involved with the international student organization, CAUC, at the UC, so that you can get to know Chileans and your fellow international students. They offer many fun events and trips, so it is definitely worth checking out! All in all, Chile is an amazing country and perfect for an international/intercultural exchange! Feel free to contact me through the Global Learning Office if you have any questions about life and university in Santiago, Chile!

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