Chile's unusual university initiation
Are you planning to go to university? What do you think your responsibilities will be in the first few weeks? Perhaps you will be choosing the classes you want to take, finding accommodation and enrolling in other activities. However, if you go to university in Chile there is something extra you must do before you can begin …
An essential part of starting university in Chile is the mechoneo. Mechoneo is an ancient university tradition here. Students beginning their first year at university are 'welcomed' by the older university students. They are taken from their classrooms on an unknown day and blindfolded. The older students rip their clothes, cut their hair, and cover them in raw eggs and other disgusting things. They are then taken to a place such as a swimming pool filled with horrible things such as old fruit, vegetables, meat and fish from the markets. They have to do games and dares and challenges for a whole day, which may include some really revolting things like kissing a dead fish!
The 'queen mechona' and 'king mechon' are chosen that day. This will be based on how well the students do the activities, and many students try very hard as they want to be king or queen for the year. The older students then take away the younger students’ things (their backpacks, money, phone, etc.) and tell them they must go out onto the street and ask people for money. They will need to bring back a certain amount of money (e.g. 15,000 pesos per person, or around 20 dollars) in order to be given their things back. This money is then used to have a massive welcome party in the night time.
During the month of March it is common to see new university students all around town wearing ripped-up, dirty clothes and covered in paint and mess. But the mechoneo is increasingly a source of controversy and debate. Some students see it as an important tradition and a unique experience that helps new arrivals get to know everyone, while others find it degrading and humiliating, like a form of bullying. There have been campaigns to ban or soften it in favour of more 'positive welcomes', and student organisations in some universities have voted to end the mechoneo completely. From what I've seen on the streets, though, for now the tradition is still very much alive!