UC students abroad notice the impact of recent unrest

UC Berkeley junior Bonnie Tung was forced to switch public universities during her study abroad program in Santiago, Chile, these past few months due to ongoing local protests for education reform.

This summer, the social and political predicaments in several foreign countries hosting thousands of UC students like Tung hit home with the occurrence of the London riots and the ongoing Chile protests initiated by local citizens calling for government reform.

“We were allowed to choose two of Chile’s oldest and best universities for the program … but because of the protest, most of the students had to transfer from La Chile to La Catolica (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile),” Tung said in an email. “But even then, a lot of us are taking classes in the humanities department — which is completely on strike. We would go to class, and there would be no class.”

Riots in neighborhoods throughout greater London abated on Aug. 12 after five days of civil disturbances including looting and vandalism, according to the UC Education Abroad Program website.

Across the ocean in Chile, hunger strikes and school takeovers — launched in June by approximately 100,000 students, teachers and education workers fighting against government spending cuts — have escalated in power this past week.

According to Andrea Delap, senior analyst at the UC Education Abroad Program, there are currently 500 students in Brighton and Cambridge who are all safe and accounted for and will be in place until the program ends on Aug. 27. Delap said that though there are no UC students in London presently, the fall London program that will begin Aug. 24 and other England programs with September deadlines will proceed as usual.

As for Chile, Delap said all 59 students studying there have also been accounted for, and students are encouraged to continue going to class. The UC will make a decision this week about the fate of the Chile study abroad program based on a report released by the local university.

“Our students (in London) were not affected — they were studying far away from riots and vandalism,” said Ines DeRomana, the security and health affairs director of the UC Education Abroad program. “With the Chile education strikes, we are right now assessing the students’ situation with our directors in Santiago.”

The UC Education Abroad Program’s first choice will be to preserve the fall 2011 programs in Chile, according to a statement. However, if classes cannot be offered to the same degree of quality and consistency as in the U.S., the UC will have no choice but to bring students back to California.

“The government of Chile is not giving in to public demands for educational reform, so demonstrations are growing in frequency and in scale, placing unprecedented pressures on universities,” the statement reads.

In addition to quality of education, safety and quality of life that students have experienced while studying abroad are other vital issues.

Students have been instructed not to get involved with demonstrations, but Tung said she and her fellow students are still affected by the consequences of these massive protests.

“Some of us live in downtown (Santiago) and have had to stay at friends’ places to avoid the tear gas in that area,” she said in the email. “It’s always the police with the tear gas/hoses — trying to use it to disperse the crowd. EAP warns us to stay away from downtown on days when we know there are strikes.”

While students in Chile are still dealing with the ongoing protests right outside their doors, Jonathan Simon, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, said that even though they are over, the U.S. can learn from the aftermath of the London protests.

“In both countries (England and America), we see governments on the defensive and unable to offer a coherent plan of relative prosperity present earlier in the decade — this lack of confidence could be a predisposing factor to protests,” Simon, who spent the past year on sabbatical in Edinburgh, said.