The big news in Chile during our time there was the student strike. University students all over the country were speaking out -- protesting, marching, striking, rioting a bit -- against the idea that they should pay for higher education.
I went to school in the US, where you not only pay for university, you pay a LOT for university. People in more than one country have stared, struck dumb, when I tell them what I had to pay for my education. Chilean students have no desire to go in that direction, and rightly so. They believe you deserve to be educated no matter what your financial background, and they are doing what they can to make sure that happens.
In various cities, it wasn't unusual to see college campuses deserted, chairs and desks piled up against fences, roads into the university blocked, signs draped across doorways, graffiti painted on walls, and students organizing marches.
One of the biggest occurred in Santiago while we were in Valparaiso, and the students in Valpo staged one at the same time. We were just coming back into town when we noticed spectators lined up on an overpass and in the streets, watching riot-gear-clad cops spraying water at the protestors. As we walked down the street later that evening, our eyes and throats stung with the residue of tear gas -- which, upon asking, we learned had been used hours earlier. That stuff lingers. Even the next day, people were covering their noses and mouths as they walked down the street, and my eyes continued to burn.
I don't think I realized until halfway through my own college education that, unlike the US, not all countries require their students to pay such high prices to learn. And it makes sense. What better way to keep the rich rich and the poor poor than by making education available only to those with money? As some of the signs in Chile said, For equality in Chile, keep free education. Good luck, students.