Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Rector Sánchez visits Afghan families in their first Spanish classes at UC

This Friday, one of the various instances of welcome was held for the group of 18 Afghan citizens, including seven children, who arrived in Chile a little over a month ago and are receiving an intensive language course at the UC Faculty of Letters. The Faculty of Social and Pastoral Sciences are also coordinating activities and support networks to facilitate their integration into the country.

“¡Qué-ca-lor!”, Says Alireza Barez (25) when greeting, in very well articulated Spanish. There aren’t many words he knows yet — it’s his third class — but added to the English and the enthusiasm they are more than enough to communicate the difference in climate between the San Joaquin Campus and mountainous, temperate Kabul in late October. “I would like to continue my career here in Santiago, and have a more peaceful life than the one we had there,” he says. Ali is a photographer and audiovisual producer and together with his wife, the visual artist Masouma Mouhammadi (25) are part of the five Afghan families – 18 people, including seven children – who arrived in Santiago five weeks ago and are receiving support from UC from various units through the Intercultural Program .

“I would like to continue my career here in Santiago, and have a more peaceful life than we had there” – Alireza Barez, Afghan citizen who participates in Spanish classes at UC

One of these units is the UC Spanish Program, of the Faculty of Letters. The rector Ignacio Sánchez made a visit this Friday to share with them and welcome them. “I want to receive you with joy, emotion and gratitude, because you have arrived in our country and have trusted that we can contribute to you. The UC has set itself on the same path to give the best of itself and welcome them ”, he points out in the auditorium of the Faculty of History, Geography and Political Science. Everyone is very attentive to his words and the translation. All but one: Osmán (2), who sang lying face down, at the top of his lungs, throughout the match. “I am a pediatrician, therefore, I am very happy that this child plays and sings,” says Sánchez with a smile, and then invites the rest of the attending children to introduce themselves: Ushra (3), Setaish ( 7), Asinat (8), Tamkin (11), Mahs (12) and Sobhán (13).

“Perhaps, in 6, 10 or 15 years, these children will be our students and in 20 or 30, they will have leadership in our country. We are here talking about the future. In this sense, they are at the heart of the Intercultural Program that Professor Roberto González and his team are developing: a program that seeks to recognize migrant people and our native peoples, ”adds the rector.

“I want to receive you with joy, emotion and gratitude, because you have arrived in our country and have trusted that we can contribute to you” – Ignacio Sánchez, rector

After this welcome, the families – divided into groups of youth, adults and adults with children – will attend their third Spanish class. “As the Faculty of Letters, we welcome them with all their history, their personal, work, university and emotional trajectories. We also welcome them with their hopes and wishes,” adds Dean Patricio Lizama.

“We welcome them with all their history, their personal, work, university and emotional trajectories. We also welcome them with their hopes and desires” – Patricio Lizama, Dean of the Faculty of Letters

Breaking the idiomatic ice
“How do you begin to teach Spanish speaking a language as different as Dari? Ideally, there is a student who knows a vehicular language, such as English (so that he can also help the rest of the group), but if not, anyway, there are many images, gestures, expressiveness, drawings, acting, mimics … There are many initial resources, ”says the director of the UC Spanish Program, Gloria Toledo, the first program of its kind in Chile, dedicated 30 years ago to teaching Spanish to foreigners. Together with the other teachers of the Program, including Constanza Serralde, Daisy Bravo and Francisco Quilodrán, they are in charge of giving three weekly classes to Afghan families for three months. And to reinforce these classes, they have tutorials from UC Literature students, such as Catalina Pizarro, Felipe Lledo and Valentina Sánchez, third and fourth year. “Despite language barriers, communication has flowed. There is a lot of will to do so. We practice, we reinforce what they see in class, we help with pronunciation. It’s a horizontal relationship, ”says Catalina.


Weaving a psychosocial support network
“It is very important to us that you are well in Chile and that the integration and settlement process is positive,” says the professor from the UC School of Social Work, Olaya Grau, also present at the activity. She, together with Professor González, are beginning to articulate a collaborative network made up of professors from the various subunits of the UC Faculty of Social Sciences. “We have made progress on different fronts: today we convened a commission with professors from the School of Psychology where Germán Morales and Verónica Monreal are, who joined academics from Social Work, Sociology and Anthropology, in order to articulate a collaborative program of psychosocial support ”, says Professor González.

“We care very much that you are well in Chile and that the integration and settlement process is positive” – ​​Olaya Grau, academic School of Social Work

The director of Pastoral UC, Benjamín Cruz, at the request of one of the Afghan families, points out the possibility of organizing social integration activities, such as trekking tours through the hills of Santiago. The women of this immigrant group are part of Ascend, an international non-profit organization whose objective is to promote female leadership in Afghanistan through sports activities linked to mountaineering. That, at least, until before the arrival of the Taliban regime in the capital of that country in August.

The women of this immigrant group are part of Ascend, an international non-profit organization whose objective is to promote female leadership in Afghanistan through sports activities linked to mountaineering.

“Thousands of Chileans had to emigrate and live in exile during the dictatorship and various countries opened their doors. In this area, what our country does is reciprocity, being there at times when we need each other. It is a look of gratitude, “says the rector, who recalled that the Catholic is” the universal, the broad, the inclusive and welcoming gaze. The migrant family by definition is Saint Joseph with the Virgin Mary, looking for a place far from home, in other horizons, to give birth to their child. That image is what we feel ”.

The Vice-Rector’s Office for International Affairs (VRAI) will seek to provide a space for the promotion of the culture and traditions of Afghanistan, as many international students do during their exchange at UC. Faced with this possibility, Fawad Rasa (25), an engineer and geologist, enthusiastically reiterates his interest in promoting cultural exchange between Afghans and the university community.

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