As I was leafing through today’s El Mercurio, I came across an editorial piece entitled “¿Donde estudiaste?” or “Where did you study?” After reading the one-page article, I actually felt PLEASED (of all things!) because the author reflected what I have thought all along about this ridiculous question:
- Discriminatory by defacto, this question seems to have little-to-no socially relevant objective.
- Those who pose the question want nothing more than to tell YOU where THEY went to school because in their mind, something about the school is better than yours
- There is no Eton-equivalent in Chile (sorry, Grange and Nido) so there is no justification for such a mundane question
- In the end, most, if not all of us, are pretty much run-of-the-mill and no amount of English words in your school’s name will change that
But I guess what I should do is take a step back to clarify that here in Chile, perhaps in Latin America as a whole even, the question “where did you study” does not automatically mean “From which university did you graduate?” or “Where did you attend college?” Rather, this question literally means “Where did you go from Kindergarten to 12th grade?”
The author of this article goes as far as to claim that said question is usually third or fourth in a conversation between adults who are meeting for the first time, usually following suit shortly after “What’s your name,” “What do you do,” “Are you married/have kids?”
When I moved to Chile, this issue came up in various conversations with different groups of people. At first I found it hard to believe that anyone would care where one went to school 20, 30, even 40 years ago especially in light of the fact that most real-world experience is obtained later in life, in college and post-college. Perhaps this is why I find it more relevant to be asked where I attended college and what it is I studied there. My personal experience here in Chile has been that people don’t ask me this question once they find out that I didn’t grow up here. But it has been the case that I’m asked where my husband went to school. (After the snide “What do you care” crosses my mind) I answer that he grew up in the northern part of Chile and didn’t move to Santiago until he was 11 and then, he attended a Catholic school in Macul (a middle/working class district of Santiago). The answer is met with “Oh” and followed by “I went to Santiago College” or “I went to Nido.” At which point I make it a point not to ooooh and ahhh over said statement.
When considering where G and I would send our future kids to school here in Santiago, we discussed three fundamental factors for selection: 1) the school needs to be fully – and I do mean 100% fully – bilingual (English and Spanish), 2) the school must not be psycho heavy on religion (Catholic schools are OUT OF THE QUESTION in a dominantly Catholic society), 3) the school must have a curriculum that promotes individuality, adventure, exploration, teamwork and curiosity (in other words, I want innovative, forward thinking education. Not something that’s stuck in the dark ages.) Given the above criteria – things that are FUNDAMENTAL to us – are the chances high that our kids will go to the Granges, Nidos and Santiago Colleges of this world? Maybe. Unless I found another school that will prove to support our criteria for our kids’ education, it may very well be the usual suspects as contenders. Regardless, I’m not bound to any brand name school in Santiago, I’m bound to the three points above. Unfortunately (or fortunately) every adult I’ve met who attended one of the brand name schools of Santiago speaks pretty fluent English. Even the kids I’ve met who currently attend these schools are already on the road to said fluency. The fact of the matter is that in my case, English is my first language and as such, it remains a priority for me to make sure it’s always spoken to a good extent in my home. Sadly, the options are limited in Santiago.
This brings me back to the author’s last point of the article where he states that the answer to the infamous question does not grace the person answering with some kind of admirable quality or attribute. After all, they didn’t decide where to go to school – their parents decided that FOR them. If the person did happen to attend one of the brand name schools, does that mean that the parents are worthy of all the merit? I think it depends. If they carefully looked through all possible schools that combined their fundamental educational goals for their children, and then opted for what turned-out-to-be a brand name school, then yes. If said decision was based more on status and keeping up with the Joneses, allowing the family to use the child’s school as another indicator of the family’s wealth (such as the car and the house), then no.
Taking that into consideration, when someone in Chile asks you where you went to school, what if they’re really asking “how much money did your family have while you were growing up?” Which actually equates to asking for the family’s financial statement prior to engaging someone in conversation, interviewing them for a position or, generally speaking, deciding their worth as a human being.