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21st century skills: Tutors in the Wild, Dennis Bus

In the 21st century skills articles we highlight tutors’ international and intercultural experiences. Leiden University strives to enable students to develop so called 21st century skills" which are defined as "the ability to work in teams, international and intercultural skills, entrepreneurship, leadership qualities and digital competences". Most of the tutors have acquired these skills during their studies, fieldwork for their masters or PhD and are happy to share their impressions and experiences. For this volume we talked to Dennis Bus, tutor at International Studies about his experiences in Chile.

Browsing for a memory
As a part of my research master I was required to go abroad to conduct fieldwork which would then be used for my thesis. At first it took me some time to decide on a topic and therefore which country I would go to, but in the end I settled on Chile. I had noticed that a lot of recent Chilean literature at least in some way dealt with the legacy of the dictatorship under Pinochet. One of the weirdest examples was a cyberpunk novel which seemed to criticize the effects of the policies implemented under Pinochet. So contemporary literature dealing with themes of dictatorship became the topic of my thesis and I left for Santiago de Chile. I was there during the spring of 2016 and stayed there for about three months.

During my time there I spent most of my time reading and looking for literature relevant to my topic in libraries and bookshops, as well as gathering academic sources that weren’t readily available in the Netherlands. Besides this, I organized meetings with academics and authors who I would interview or have a conversation with about the various ways in which Chilean literature represents the problems left behind by the dictatorship for current and future generations.

With a tear in my eye
What struck me most during my time in Chile while doing research is how different people´s responses are to similar issues in different countries. One of the issues that received quite a bit of attention is during my time in Chile was the quality of higher education along with associated budget cuts, something the Netherlands is dealing with as well.

I’ve witnessed several manifestations and protests in Santiago, but the first one is the one I’ll never forget. It was the first time I experienced tear gas. At first I had no idea why my eyes were burning but when I saw the Carabinero’s vehicles stationed at all of the crossroads I realized. Despite the fact that the protests were generally peaceful, there was always some degree of violence from both sides. Both sides also apparently felt that this was justified, this ready use of aggression from either side is not something I was used to seeing.

Besides the fact that people are much more likely to take to the streets in order to protest than I am used to, another thing I noticed was that there were many songs and banners referencing the dictatorship as being the origin for what they saw as problematic. This was interesting to me because most of the people taking part in the protest were born after the dictatorship but were using their own national history to explain the problems of the present. Seeing this made me realize I don’t really have this same historical awareness about my own country, which I could then relate to our contemporary issues in society.

I understood more clearly than ever afterwards how the ‘other’ can have completely different reactions and ideas about the same issues different societies or cultures are dealing with. This led me to listen more attentively and be more open to the views and opinions of others regarding the obstacles and problems they saw for themselves and their society.

Application of 21st century skills
Some of the most important things I learned in Chile were things that weren’t immediately quantifiable. One of the most valuable things during my time there was to gain a general impression and understanding of a culture that can’t be achieved through reading books or watching movies etc. This was extremely useful going in the process of writing my thesis, as I had a better understanding of the ‘other’ than if I had stayed at home.

The experience of writing my thesis taught me to create a sense of structure where there originally is none, in order to set clear aims and goals to constructively get work done. Besides this, I learned how to improve my interview/conversation techniques, how to use my time efficiently and how to identify and select sources relevant to my research. All of these are skills I think can be easily translated to different fields of professional activity and will serve me in the future.

My advice for anyone going abroad is to stay open-minded and to seek out new people and experiences. Stay curious and really listen to what others are telling you. Try to not take your surroundings for granted. As many have said before me, don’t be afraid to try something new. Oftentimes the most valuable experiences are the ones you least expected!

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