The Trinity Reporter Spring 2004
Trinity in Santiago
A personal experience with international human rights

by Mark Kindley '69
photographs by Nick Lacy


SANTIAGO, Chile: First the bus began filling up with people, then with noise. All along its route through downtown Santiago, the bus collected pieces of the life of the streets: vendors selling everything from wallets to ice pops, children begging for handouts, musicians playing for tips, shoppers, workers, businessmen, teenagers with punk hairdos and neon-colored outfits. All of them speaking a fast-paced Spanish dialect that overwhelms the best school-trained Spanish speakers with local slang delivered in rapid succession, all at once. The city bus in Santiago is Chile in microcosm and in motion. When the bus lurched forward, sunlight flickered through the windows, adding a strobe effect to the busy scene on board.

When it stopped, its doors flapped open, and the bus rocked from side to side with the turbulent flow of everyone getting off and on at the same moment. Outside was a blur of colors and buildings and unknown people and un-read street signs.

Nothing could have prepared Caeana Sanders ’04 for this onslaught of Chilean culture. A senior at Trinity with a double major in Spanish and psychology, Caeana had left for Trinity’s international studies program in Santiago in the 2003 fall semester not knowing exactly what to expect. More to the point, on this morning in the beginning of her term, she wasn’t entirely sure she was on the right bus from the home where she was living with a Chilean family to the University of Chile where she took her courses.

As she watched the action around her, Caeana sat upright in her seat, took a deep breath and, in her characteristic yeah-saying to adventure, summed up her experience of Trinity in Santiago this way: “Wow . . . this is great!”

Special moments
There are inevitably several moments when people travel, especially to another culture, when they realize they are totally alone. People who love to travel live for those moments because they provide profound insight into who the traveler is and also establish an understanding of humanity from which to reach out to others.

That essential knowledge is the bond that travelers share. You could feel it in the air when a group of Trinity seniors got together over dinner last February to talk about their personal experiences with the international studies program in Santiago. There was excitement in their voices, laughter, intensity, fond memories; there was also a palpable level of maturity and self-awareness that was expressed through the stories of their different experiences.

They had all been to the same places and shared many of the same experiences, but each one had returned with a special knowledge that was unique to her. They saw different things, met different people; they also saw the same things differently. They certainly saw their own country differently. Students in Santiago in the spring semester of 2003, for example, watched anti-American sentiment mount against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Students in the fall of 2003 were drawn into the emotional commemoration of Chile’s own “9/11,” the 30th anniversary of the bloody military coup by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Most importantly, they saw themselves differently; and they brought that knowledge back with them.

Human rights
While Caeana was experiencing her cultural eureka on a bus across town, sociology major Melissa Martinelli ’04, who had come to Santiago a couple of months early to work on her admittedly unproven Spanish skills, was arriving on campus for her class on International Human Rights Law at the University of Chile…presented, of course, entirely in Spanish.

Some study abroad programs have reputations as an opportunity to hang out with other American kids in some foreign land for four or five months. By contrast, Trinity’s Santiago Global Learning Site (GLS) has built its reputation on total immersion in the culture of Santiago and an academically rigorous course of study oriented around human rights. More than the study of man’s inhumanity to man, the human rights theme serves as a poignant context for the study of politics, economics, law, medicine, society, history, culture, technology, artistic expression, and communication. The program’s location in Santiago also lends a chilling authenticity to the subject matter.

The on-site director of Trinity/Santiago, Pedro Matta, knows only too well what happened to human rights in the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship. A law student in Santiago at the time, Matta was imprisoned at Villa Grimaldi where thousands of Chileans where herded together to be tortured and executed. He was among the lucky ones to survive and, after years living in exile in the United States, he returned to document the savagery he had witnessed, creating “sites of memory” at places like Villa Grimaldi that were associated with Chile’s epoch of brutality.

In the process of documenting the atrocities that occurred in the early years of the Pinochet dictatorship, Matta earned an international reputation as a champion for human rights. He also got to know everyone in Santiago who works for the cause of human rights in all its forms. Among his other duties, Matta matches Trinity students with host families and arranges for them to work as interns in a selection of non-governmental organizations.

  Melissa Martinelli '04 and Caeana Sanders '04, Trinity roommates who studied abroad in Chile.

The color of dreams
As many of the internships in Santiago make intensely clear, the study of human rights isn’t just about the past. Melissa’s internship dramatizes the point. During her semester in Santiago, she worked with an organization called Raices that provides shelter and counseling for children who were the victims of exploitation in the sex trade that is rampant in, but certainly not unique to Chile. It was Melissa’s assignment to come up with some recreational activity for a group of about 15 children, ranging in age from seven to 17, that would give them something to look forward to each week.

These were children who were in many ways beyond healing. Sadly, Melissa realized most of them seemed also beyond dreaming. If there were any activity she wanted to encourage for these children, it was their inalienable right to dream about a better life for themselves than the one they had known on the streets of Santiago. With their dreams in mind, Melissa arranged to have them paint a huge mural on an outside wall of the Raices center which she entitled “Painting Our Dreams On The Road To Success.” The backdrop of the mural was the Santiago landscape with a road leading to a place Melissa labeled “success.” All along the route, silhouettes were drawn of each child, and in the outline of their own bodies, each child then painted the images of his or her own dreams. It took awhile for some of the children to understand the point of this exercise in dreaming; but they each mastered it in their own ways and poured their enthusiasm into the project.

“The whole point of this was for them to talk to each other and have a good time and not necessarily to paint a beautiful mural,” Melissa says, “but we really did. It came out awesome.”

Local phenomenon
Melissa and Caeana left some other images behind in Santiago. Melissa is blond and Caeana is black and when the two Trinity students walked down the street together, they became something of a local phenomenon. Often they were asked to pose for pictures. For one of their final school projects, however, they turned the attention back on the people of Santiago in the filming of a fashion video that captured the notably 1980s style favored by the young people of Santiago. Talking Chileans into letting themselves be filmed for their video also dramatized a new level of confidence for them both. They may not have looked Chilean, but they certainly sounded Chilean. Melissa was no longer concerned about her proficiency in Spanish. Clearly, they were no longer strangers here.

Did their experiences in Santiago change them in other ways? Melissa, who has always wanted to be a teacher, says she has been somewhat surprised to find herself considering law school to pursue her expanding interest in human rights. Caeana’s commitment to community involvement—she is a volunteer in the Adolescent Mentor Program (AMP) at the Boys and Girls Club, participates in the Little Sisters with Books through the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and serves as social chair of IMANI, Trinity’s black student union—has now expanded to include a community as big as the world.

Would they go back? “Yes. I am walking propaganda for the program,” says Caeana without hesitation. Melissa searches her memories for an answer. “In a heartbeat,” she says. “I’d go back in a heartbeat.”

More about Trinity’s Santiago Global Learning Site
The Curriculum Committee of Trinity College approved the Santiago Global Learning Site (GLS) in 2001, and the first students headed for Santiago in the spring of 2002. Since then, 13 Trinity students—all of them women—have studied in Santiago for a semester.

The program with its emphasis on human rights and its total immersion in the local culture—from living with Chilean families to enrolling in approved courses at the University of Chile and internships with non-governmental organizations—has made Trinity Santiago a model for international studies.

The dean of international studies at Trinity is Nancy Birch Wagner, and the director is Richard Mitten. The faculty sponsors for Trinity/Santiago are: Dario Euraque (History and International Studies), Gustavo Remedi (Modern Languages), Janet Bauer (Women, Gender, and Sexuality), and Michael Niemann (International Studies). As a dramatic example of the global make-up of the program, Euraque, who is a citizen of Honduras, likes to point out that only one of the faculty sponsors—Janet Bauer—is a citizen of the United States.

Next year, the program will be expanded from its focus on human rights to include thematic tracks in ethnicity, gender, arts and culture, and government and politics.

For more information on Trinity’s Santiago Global Learning Site, please visit

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