Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for March 15, 2012

Batman, Son of God

Buenos noches, it’s Matt here.

Well it’s been quite the week in Santiago. My courses started on Monday, so it’s nice to finally be getting into something resembling a schedule. This semester I’ll be taking three courses and unfortunately, my nightmare became reality as my first class started on Monday morning when, due to being in the minority (i.e. I’m the only native English speaker in my class(es)), the lecture was given in Spanish. Sigh, it’s not really what I signed up for, but nothing worth doing is ever easy is it? Truth be told, I may actually have a distinct advantage since all the papers and presentations that we need to write/give are required to be in English. I’m also trying to look at the Spanish lectures as a positive in the sense that each 1h20m lecture provides a very immersive listening experience, so hopefully that will help my Spanish skills come along a little more quickly.

After emerging wide-eyed (and shaking a little…) from that first class, I had to go sign my ‘beca’ (scholarship) at the university’s headquarters, ‘Casa Central’, in the central area of the city. Late last week we’d been to the massive, castle-like building to find the office where I needed to enroll, so I thought I was in decent shape. For the beca, I simply needed to go to the fourth floor, sign the papers and I’d be on my way! Easy-peasy…or not. I entered the building, walked over the polished, marble-tiled floors and under the massive stone archways to ascend the white marble staircase that dominated my view. As soon as I attained the second level, the stairs ran out, giving way to another wide corridor adorned with very Pope-y looking statues every 5 metres or so. Glancing out over a railing that overlooked one of the many courtyards in the building I noticed that there was a problem. There are only two stories.

Rather than randomly searching the building, getting lost and probably ending up somewhere that I shouldn’t have been, I decided to backtrack and go down to the information desk where Nichol and I were helped by a wonderful Chilena (from her kindness and caring air, she must be a mother…and a really good one at that!) to see if I could get some help. I found the office, and just like that, there she was, smiling and waving me over for her to help me! I swear I saw a halo flash over her head at times. She thought that I was there to enroll, but eventually I was able to explain that I needed to find the fourth floor to sign my beca. So off we went, passing through the labyrinth of hallways in search of the fourth floor which even she wasn’t sure the location of! Regardless, we eventually made it, and after asking at three different offices for where to go we eventually arrived at a tiny desk at the very end of a long, narrow hallway where I quickly jotted my signature down where told to. Phew. At least that was done. When we got back downstairs, my caretaker looking sympathetically at me and just kept repeating ‘tranquilo, tranquilo’; I must have looked pretty frazzled. I definitely felt it.

On Tuesday I had to go back to Casa Central, but this time it was to enroll. In this case at least I knew where to go, and it started off well enough before deteriorating into a frustrating experience of getting into all sorts of lines. The overall process only involves 3 ‘pasos’, or steps. Step 1 was to sign an agreement, typical code-of conduct sorts of stuff, basically signing my soul to the Pope. The guy helping me directed me to a cashier line to pay a registration fee, which was easily paid with my credit card, before I signed the papers, was given a new set of papers and sent off to Step 2. Step 2 involved checking that all my contact information was correct, but it turned out that another fee had to be paid for my student card. So off I went back to the cashier to pay it.

Up until this point, all the lines had been small enough to not warrant mentioning, but as time went on, they became longer and longer. This visit to the cashier took about 10 minutes before getting to the front, where I was told pointedly that it’s cash or cheque only.

‘No visa?’ I asked.


I’m not really sure what changed in 15 minutes, but she explained that there was a cash machine around the corner, so off I went to go try my Canadian bank card for the first time. Here I found another line, but at least my bank card worked with only a small fee. Back to the cashier I went, where the line had at least doubled. At least 20 minutes later I’d finally gotten back to the front, paid the fee and made my way back to Step 2 where, you guessed it, a line had magically appeared where there was no line before. Sigh, another half hour or so before getting to the table, correcting my information and heading off to step 3. At least that was easy as it only involved getting my picture taken for my UC ID card. How/when I get the card is still unknown, but at this point I was exhausted and still had to get back to campus to attend class.

Since then, I’ve just been attending my classes and have been introduced to many of the astronomers that I will be working and collaborating with over the next several years. To this point, I can still say that I have not met an unfriendly astronomer (some are a little odd, but aren’t we all?). Every person in the department, as well as those from other universities all seem like great people and it’s pretty cool to be part of such an international atmosphere. As my courses and various projects progress, I’ll be sure to update my Astronomy Debris section with anything note-worthy that I’m working on, so stay tuned if you are interested! For now, enjoy this picture of ‘Bat-Cristo’, which greets everyone as they come to campus. Is it Christ, or is it Batman? You be the judge.


Bat-Cristo. First he catches the criminals, then he anoints them.