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mendoza (this is my last post)

Time July 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve been back home for about a week now. While I feel slightly bombarded with a mixture of excitement, sadness, relief and confusion, there is one consistent question in my mind: “did I really live in Mendoza for five months?” I’ve been looking at my pictures constantly, unable to believe that I ever called such a beautiful city my home for an entire semester, and that I traveled to Bariloche, Iguazu, Chile, and Peru. But pictures don’t lie! 😀

The whole process of getting from Iguazu-Buenos Aires-hostel-airport-Miami-Boston was a huge blur because I was so worried about meeting bus times & travel schedules, making sure I had all my luggage, etc. On the flight I immediately passed out from exhaustion and even when we landed in Miami, it didn’t really register that I arrived in the US. Hearing Spanish everywhere still made it seem like I hadn’t left. It wasn’t until the plane touched down in Boston that I finally saw the city skyline and my parents for the first time in five months, that reality gradually started to sink in. But even now, it hasn’t completely sunken in yet. I haven’t left Mendoza mentally and it’s hard to describe the state I am in right now. As much as I love being surrounded by my family, friends, and familiarity, I’m definitely not ready to accept that I actually left Argentina! After getting into the work and internship schedule this past week, I miss the excitement of traveling and exploring a new city.

A few things currently freaking me out right now: peanut butter, (REAL) spicy food, understanding EVERYTHING (signs, conversations, music, etc), talking & responding in English, getting excited when I understand snippets of Spanish I hear from people when passing by them, the lack of acequias & siestas & packs of dogs, free refills, how stores are open pretty much 9-5, eating dinner at 7pm, how organized Boston drivers are (haha…). It feels nice to be at home, but I’m ready to hop on a plane and start my next adventure, as cliche as that sounds. I’m already feeling restless!

It’s without a doubt that I learned so much from this semester. I am immensely grateful that I had a supportive host family, and the fact that I got to have an amazing opportunity to delve directly into the culture and improve my language skills. I’ve made friendships with the most incredible people, where Spanish is required to keep in touch (a good way to practice, no?). I definitely feel more independent and better at stepping outside of my comfort zone. This experience has made me more appreciative of the comforts, services, and support I have in my personal environment (online academic information and printers, for example).

And……I am extremely, extremely glad I came to Mendoza (sorry Buenos Aires!). As much as I love Buenos Aires, the big ol’ city doesn’t have what Mendoza does. I can go on and on about how much I love Mendoza. For one thing, the small city is absolutely beautiful. The Andes mountains, palm trees, and friendly rays of the sun (not the scorching rays like we’re getting here in Boston right now) will be wherever you are. You’ll learn to set your schedule around the siesta and figure out whether shopping for your needs works better before or after the siesta. (fyi, siestas are amazing and necessary). When you’re walking, you’ll learn to quickly step around acequias, smile at the packs of dogs that can be found in any street, and develop a system so that you can efficiently cross the street without waiting a lifetime. Importantly, you’ll learn to love free time and to enjoy & truly live life. You’ll also fall in love with wine and go on numerous wine tastings and tours. Since Mendoza is the perfect location (by bus: 6-7 hours to Chile, 14-15 hours to Buenos Aires, 17  hours to Bariloche, relatively close to Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay) you’ll probably venture out to San Rafael, Puente del Inca, the hot springs, Potrerillos, and Las Lenas to ski……just to name a few places. On days where you feel lazy, you’ll stretch out on one of the many parks to take in some sun, and read. Part of Mendoza’s charm is its versatility. Mendoza is stunning, peaceful, and has a small-town vibe. But at the same time, restaurants, bars, and boliches stay open all night and you’ll  fall in love with the nightlife. Go to calle Aristedes. Check out the boliches in Godoy Cruz. And anywhere you are, talk in Spanish, regardless of whether it even makes sense. When in Mendoza, you should definitely take advantage of everything it has to offer!!

Lastly…..part of the reason why my Spanish improved so much is because many people I met in Mendoza could not speak English, which forced me to constantly converse in Spanish. And not to mention, everyone is friendly! Anyone you ask for help will not let you go until they know you’re good to go on your own. So there is no need to be intimidated 😀 I am not always the best in expressing my thoughts in writing, but I hope my blog was a little helpful in preparing for your semester! I hope to return to Mendoza/South America soon.  Don’t be scared to talk to your host family before leaving and get pumped for the most incredible time of your life! ¡Hasta proximo viaje!

P.S. If you have any questions, I’d love to help! Email me: brl91@brandeis.edu

 

 

 

 

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travel tips

Time July 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve compiled a brief list of hostels and activities from my semester that I hope might be helpful during your travels!

Wherever you go, be prepared to see the best & worst of a place, to taste the most delicious food, to meet the most amazing people, and to encounter unexpected (both good & bad) situations. Try to find a Tips for Tours in the area and do it! (The tours in Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, Chile were really good). The tours not only offer interesting facts and history of a city, but it’s also a great way of meeting other travelers!

Random things to pack if you have room….

-towels, soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper/tissues/napkins, shower curtain (for bed bugs)

-water bottle, watch, notebooks (for jotting down emails, names, etc)
-MONEY (carry USD so you can change into the local currency during emergencies)

-souvenirs for your host family!

Hostels

Hostel L’ouvre (Santiago, Chile): Single, double, and triple person dorms with bathrooms. No kitchen or common area. Old building, but clean with pink and green color schemes. Breakfast is not included, and food & drink service is slightly over priced. Towels are included. No wi-fi, and a small fee must be paid for luggage storage. Location was decent (a bit of a walk to the center/Plaza de Armas). Staff was friendly and the prices were cheap.

Kalagen Hostel (Vina del Mar, Chile): Different types of dorms avaliable. There is a kitchen, computer area with wi-fi, common space and a deck. Only 4 bathrooms, which was a little inconvenient. Breakfast  and luggage storage included. Location was excellent (right near the bus terminal), and very clean with friendly staff. Hostel hosts activities.

Hostel Achalay (Bariloche): Small hostel with different types of dorms. There is a kitchen, computer area with wi-fi, and common space. Only 3 bathrooms. Breakfast (excellent and can be taken at any time) and luggage storage (lockers and keys provided) included. The staff is extremely friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Hostels hosts activities, such as an asado every Friday, and meals almost every night.

Pariwana Hostel (Cusco, Peru): Big hostel with many different types of dorms. There is a kitchen, computer area with wi-fi, TV room, bar, dining area. Breakfast and luggage storage included (lockers have outlets inside). Staff is friendly, and there is also an ATM, travel, transportation and laundry service on site. Excellent location, and hostel hosts activities.

Hospedaje Aturkey (Aguas Calientes, Peru): Small and old hostel with single and double rooms. Breakfast not included, and there is only cold water for showers.

V & S Youth Hostel Club (Buenos Aires): Clean hostel on the 3rd and 4th floor of a building. Must pay for wi-fi and computer use. There is a common room and kitchen. Breakfast and luggage storage included, but not towels.

Timbo Posada Hostel (Puerto Iguazu): Clean hostel with different types of rooms. Breakfast, computers, wi-fi and luggage storage included, but not towels. There is a common area, tiny pool, hammock, garden, and patio.

When you’re traveling, speak as much Spanish as possible! Granted, there will be travelers who can’t speak Spanish, of course, but it definitely helps to know the local language. ¡Buen viaje!

 

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miscellaneous

Time July 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

a) You will never understand the concept of “cheap” until you’re in Peru. You’ll also fall in love with bartering for the souvenirs you’ve acquired and the stories you’ll hear from the vendors.

b) Never again will you share mate & wine with your professor before, during, and after class.

c) Never again will you see a orange and red colored school buses instead of the familiar banana yellow bus.

d) Never again will you have the most relaxing time of your life. When I first got here, I had to suspend the continual, persistent question: “Am I supposed to be doing something right now? Why do I have free time?” NOPE. Never again will you be comfortable with free time anywhere else.

e) When you’re placed in a country that speaks another language, survival instincts will kick in and you will understand and learn so much more quickly than you ever imagined.

f)  You will never have 2-3 days canceled due to the Viento Zonda (instead of a snow day or something; ” wind day”), and where people attribute headaches & illnesses to the wind (there ARE fires and such, but in northern part of Mendoza. Where I live, it was just really windy and there were higher temperatures).

g) Only in this continent, will you hear Adele EVERYWHERE. Bars, clubs, and restaurants will BLAST the soulful, passionate songs of Adele.

i) Only here, will you walk by people and everyone will be reeking of perfume and cologne. Especially the men. Including the plumbers and street cleaners. Apparently,  cologne marks cleanliness and “freshness.”

j) Only here, will you be reminded every minute, moment, day, of your ethnicity and your status as a foreigner.

k) Only here, will you get the MOST FLATTERING compliments (I will probably never have someone stop traffic for me again, ha) of your life, and the MOST OUTRAGEOUS catcalls of your life.

On another note, if you can understand some Spanish….this video is a parody of “Shit X says.”

 

 

 

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iguazu!

Time July 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Before heading home, I stopped by Iguazu, which I’m extremely happy I made the time to do so because it is definitely one of my favorite highlights of this semester.

Getting there was a hassle. For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep during the 20 hour bus ride (the chairs felt so uncomfortable!). I felt nauseous from the constant movement and slightly disgusted by the 3 empanadas that were served. Sigh. I felt even worse when we arrived at Puerto Iguazu since it was raining hardcore. Luckily though, my hostel was just a 2 minute walk from the bus terminal, so things started to get better from there.

It was a lot colder than I anticipated. The hostel facilities were all designed for summer use: open patio, hammock, pool, garden, etc. Since I was just there for a day, I opted to walk around the town for a little bit, but besides the cafes, bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops, there wasn’t much.

After going out with other travelers, I woke up at 6am the next morning (rough) and was served the most delicious breakfast I’ve had since arriving in South America (fresh orange juice!!). Energized, I waited for the 25 minute bus ride that would take me to Iguazu.

devil’s throat

I’ve always heard of Iguazu (didn’t Eleanor Roosevelt say, “My poor Niagara” after seeing Iguazu?) and was amazed by the pictures of the falls taken by friends. So I was already prepared to be amazed, but I can’t stress enough of how the pictures don’t do it justice. I can’t even begin to describe  how incredibly beautiful, magnificent, and powerful the falls are. Even walking down the metal walk way to the Devil’s Throat, I was astounded by how Amazonian everything seemed. The water seemed to stretch on endlessly, and I couldn’t even fathom how the animals ventured so close to the falls without getting killed.

I opted not to do any of the boat rides since it was beginning to rain and I didn’t want to get wet and more cold than I already was, but I definitely feel like I got my ticket’s worth. Walking around the falls was extremely enjoyable, and again, every part of the jungle provided a different perspective of the falls that was stunning.

Check out my videos of the falls (all unedited!): I, II, III.

Everyone should make a trip to see the falls! It’s worth the 20 hour bus ride 😀

 

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chau, mendoza

Time July 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today is the day. I’m leaving Mendoza. Ahhhh! I have no idea how to feel right now as I’m trying not to feel sad so I can be productive and pack instead of being hit with nostalgia every time I come across a souvenir, memento, or look outside the window. I remember the first time I stepped into my room, I couldn’t even feel excited since I was SO nervous. I was too horrified at myself for even thinking I could speak another language on a daily basis. Sigh. So much has changed since then! (Luckily, haha).  [below is a picture of my house]

I went last minute souvenir shopping this morning and tried reaaally hard not to register how it’d be my last time passing by the crazy dogs that bark at pedestrians two streets down from my house, the big Carrefour on Belgrano, the touristy shops on Las Heras, busy San Martin…..

getting ice cream with the host fam!

When I was buying some shirts (“I love Asado”, “Mendoza: tierra del buen vino”), the vendors spoke to me in English and explained to me what the shirts said. When I replied that I live(d) in Mendoza, they seemed pleasantly surprised and treated me like a local. It was refreshing and I surprised myself by being able to understand & reply to everything in the conversation. The discount was nice, too. 😀

So now, in about two hours, I’ll be on a bus heading to Buenos Aires. From there I’ll visit Iguazu before flying back to Boston. I can’t even believe I’m typing the words “I’m leaving Mendoza.” This place has become another home for me and I want to return someday. One semester certainly wasn’t enough to see everything (and taste all the wines!)! I am so grateful I had the opportunity to stay with the most amazing host family, meet incredible friends, and live for five months in the “tierra del buen vino!”

otra despedida

the day I tried to cook for my host family…

view of my street

another view, with cars crowding the sidewalk..

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despedida

Time July 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yesterday was the goodbye lunch that marked the end of the program. The restaurant was on the top floor of a ritzy building with an incredible view of the city (I’m going to miss seeing the Andes every day!). Minus the fact that it was weirdly hot out that day (70 degrees!), the rooftop was perfect for lounging and siesta-ing 😀

The lunch was absolutely delicious. Probably the best steak & empanadas I’ve ever had.

There were also presentations from professors who handed out mini-diplomas and a group picture of all of us. Everything about that lunch made me feel super sentimental…..where did the time go?

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my opinions on the academic system

Time June 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As a student of the US academic system, let me just say that I have never had to exert so much effort to attend class before. ….! Whereas I’m used to a clear-cut and organized structure with an emphasis on the importance of education, here, it is purely at your will whether you want to learn or not. Below are some of my observations…

1. Education is free here. Which means that no one is forcing you to go to school. It is only for the benefit of obtaining a good job in the future. And to my knowledge, I think that financial aid is available, but only with the condition that students not work.  This also means that since education is free, the students who choose to attend universities are very intelligent. Sometimes, there are older adults who enroll simply to expand on their interests.

2. There are no majors or minors here. No words or concepts exist in Spanish. Instead, students declare “carreras” (careers) in a facultad (department).

3. Students choose their carrera before entering the university, which has a set track. Therefore, everyone already knows each other in the same facultad, but never cross paths with other students who aren’t taking classes with them. And since they’re all on a set track, it’s nearly  impossible to take a variety of classes in different facultades, since they all overlap. We discovered this early on.

4. Nothing is online. Information can change last minute. The student has to go to a bulletin board of their facultad, where class info is posted. Everything is done in person, and tend to be disorganized.

5. Classes never start on time. Professors show up late (and sometimes super early), and often there are technical problems that delay the lecture or presentation. (One time, in my art class, someone asked who was the first one to show up to class. My professor remarked, “Obviously the Americans!” It was all lighthearted, but true).

6. Classes also end very late or very early.

7. Classes are also canceled frequently due to strikes, commemorations, and numerous holidays.

8. Usually, there isn’t a huge emphasis on attendance (and professors tend to be more flexible toward exchange students), and often share mate with the students during class. (My professor would begin the lecture, pause, ask for mate, take a sip, then resume).

9.  There is a lot of activity during class: students walk in and out  (usually to get  hot water for mate), and talk/text/show PDA.

10. Students don’t buy textbooks. They go to a fotocopiadora, where they pay  for the readings & materials. A cheaper option than textbooks, but so much paper! Note: there are always loooong lines at the fotocopiadora!

11. Students and professors often engage in passionate and intensely charged debates that take up most of the period. Both extremely interesting and difficult to follow.

12. When the professor says, “and that presentation was by the foreign students, who clearly had difficulty with another language,” or “how difficult it must be for the foreign students, who are trying to work through a new language,” it is considered a courtesy.

Although I’ve had some frustrating moments, I’ve also learned a lot from my classes here. At first I felt intimidated to ask other students or my professors for help, but I found that everyone was patient with my Spanish and very helpful. My professors were also lenient about the work (“It’s okay if you want to turn this in later, since you should be traveling instead/you’re still learning Spanish,” etc). They were certainly more understanding than I thought they would be!

On the last day of my class at UNCuyo, we sipped on (good) wine and everyone kissed each other goodbye. We exchanged double kisses and everyone told me “good luck, ” and “it was nice to have you in class.” Sigh. I certainly wish that I spoke up more instead of sitting there, trying really hard to understand the rapid flow of conversation and feeling intimidated! But all in all, I definitely had a valuable experience.

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scattered thoughts

Time June 15th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yesterday, I woke up to see my host family lounging in the kitchen, because classes were canceled for the day due to the wind. So instead of a snow day, it was a “wind day.” Haha, who would’ve thought? The temperatures were significantly higher (though it didn’t feel that humid to me), and it wasn’t until we were out eating ice cream in the afternoon that it got really windy. We had to protect our ice cream from the leaves and debris with napkins! 😀 Apart from the wind bothering my eyes and the cooler temperatures today, it wasn’t too bad. We were warned that feelings of sadness, fatigue, and headaches can be attributed to the wind, but nothing of the sort happened. 😀

On another note…..lately, I haven’t been able to make dinners and lunches with my host family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to; it was because of class schedules, birthday dinners, outings with friends, and the occasional times when I fell asleep early that caused me to miss meals. Plus my host sisters have been so busy that when we all finally got together a couple of nights ago, it seemed that the last time we all ate together was a loong while ago. Anyway, for dinner that night, my host mom bought sushi (complete with the soy sauce, haha), and a full array of vegetables. She told me how she noticed how I hadn’t been eating recently (she also notices what I eat and don’t eat), and that she put out sushi so I could actually have my favorite food for dinner. I was really touched. And how did she know I missed vegetables like crazy?? Siiigh, how am I going to leave this place???

Also, earlier this week, my computer crashed, so I had to leave it at the repair shop. It was extremely frustrating having to pay someone (who didn’t seem to understand me, and I couldn’t understand him either, mainly because I am not a computer person) to have them tell me four days later that my computer is basically unable to be fixed. Right now I’m frantically moving all of my important information over to another location so I don’t lose all the pictures I took during the semester. Aghh. This was definitely an unanticipated problem!!!

Different topic: recently I’ve been thinking of some misconceptions that arose during conversations with other people in the program/with others in general, and I wanted to quickly address some of them…

1. Before leaving what held me back from being completely and thoroughly excited was being paranoid that I wouldn’t be able to speak. Or fail my classes since it was in another language. Everyone told me, “it’ll be fine, you’ll learn faster than you think,” blah, but that was so hard to believe. But seriously, everything falls into place so quickly. There is something about being directly exposed to the culture of a country that makes you grasp the language instantly. Granted, everyone learns at different paces, but for the most part, you will learn much more of the language (and much more quickly) during your semester abroad than during any semester or class you took before going abroad. So, don’t worry, be excited; it will only get better! Just step outside your comfort zone and let yourself go. Immerse, you’ll be fine!

2. What also held me back was being scared to talk to people one-on-one, since I was terrified that I wouldn’t understand what the other person would say to me (most of the time I knew what I wanted to say), then I’d just stare back helplessly. And for the most part, this situation repeated itself numerous occasions, and even occurs to this day (like at the repair shop…). But the only difference from the early weeks of my semester is that I’m not embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask the person to repeat themselves so I can try understanding again. The more you practice, the better!

3. There is a belief that Argentines eat nothing but meat, cheese, and dulce de leche. And drink nothing but wine. OBVIOUSLY a part of this is true. You will always see those foods in Argentina. Always. But veggie lovers, vegetables and fruit ARE here! There is variety in your meals!

Alright, back to moving my files!

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things to expect, part 4

Time June 15th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


  1. Expect to carry napkins/tissues and hand sanitizer (sale at Bath & Body Works!) everywhere. You’ll need it.
  2. Expect to have dinner late (as late as midnight!).
  3. Expect streets with restaurants, etc. to be empty until at least 11:30 pm, when it begins to pick up.
  4. (Always) expect free entry into any exclusive venue for the ladies 😉
  5. Expect to say no firmly and persistently when you’re approached (for both genders!)
  6. Expect everything to be closed during the siesta except the big supermercados and post office (good time to go!).
  7. Expect to always be asked the question of where you’re from.
  8. Expect cat calls, whistles, multiple forms of greetings, etc. on the streets.

Random

  1. Expect cars to be in stick shift (if you’re planning on renting a car to explore Bariloche, for example…)
  2. Expect to wait a few minutes to cross the street.
  3. Expect craziness on the streets when driving.
  4. Expect dogs and cats everywhere (and don’t pet them!).
  5. Expect to take caution while walking (acequias, litter, etc).
  6. Expect roads to be long (I believe my street consists of 7 cuadras alone).
  7. Expect to refer to streets/blocks as cuadras.
  8. Expect to get good answers when you ask someone for directions! For street directions, ask “a que altura de la calle ‘X’ esta?”
  9. Expect to see many parks!
  10. Expect to see PDA (between couples, but hugs, pats and kisses are exchanged frequently on the streets among friends and family members).
  11. Expect staring (and it’s okay to stare right back)!
  12. Expect to share saliva (food, mate, etc).

Academic system

  1. Expect class to start late, and end both early and late.
  2. Expect students to come in and out during class (often to get hot water for mate).
  3. Expect mate to be passed around during class (including the professor).
  4. Expect classes to be canceled due to strikes, etc.
  5. Expect to hear (interesting) debates during class.
  6. Expect to go to the fotocopiadora for your readings (and may get slightly expensive).
  7. Expect to go to the fotocopiadora for your printing, fax, and scanning needs (no printer!).
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mate

Time June 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

If you’re new to mate, you might be turned off by the bitterness. Keep in mind that it’s more of an acquired taste. The more you drink it, the faster you’ll become accustomed to the comforting taste. :) Also note that the warmer the water and the longer you let it sit before drinking, the more bitter it will be.

I’ve come up with some simplified directions to prepare mate, so you can drink mate all the time :)

To prepare mate:

  1. Fill your cup about 1/2 to 3/4 with yerba mate.
  2. Moisten the mate slightly with lukewarm water, then wait 30 seconds.
  3. Prepare the hot water, then pour until it nearly reaches the top.
  4. Let the mixture stand for a few seconds, then insert the bombilla firmly into the mixture.
  5. Sip your mate with the bombilla (but never touch the straw!!!)
  6. Replenish with hot water when necessary.

Note: sugar, other herbs (mint, for example), honey, or milk can be added, depending    on the drinker’s preference. Some don’ts: never touch the bombilla and never drink for too long; always pass it on!

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things to expect, part 3

Time June 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

1.  Expect postage to be expensive:

•to send 3 postcards, it cost 46 pesos (around 12 USD)

•there is a fee to pick up packages

•there are strict rules regarding what you are permitted to send abroad

•the website: http://www.correoargentino.com.ar/

2. Expect to see no to-go cups/containers, etc. Which means a lot of sitting & dining J

3.   Expect internet to fade in and out (save, save, save your work!).

4.   Expect to call flash drives= pen drives.

5. Expect to put in effort to get change (once when I bought ice cream, the vendor gave me extra scoops since she didn’t have change for me).

6. Expect minor earthquake tremors/temblors (there have been 7 so far, yet I’ve slept through all of them!).

7. Expect to wait all the time! Have a flexible schedule, and bring a book.

8. Expect the bus to be late (and crowded).

9.   Expect to see mate parties everywhere (and don’t refuse when offered!).

10. Expect girls to have long hair and rock skinny jeans (and sneakers, usually converse styles are popular)

11. Expect everyone (guys and girls) to have this type of bag.

 

Random

12.  Expect to operate on military time (i.e. 3pm is 15:00. Just subtract 12!).

13.   Expect commas to substitute for decimals. For example: 9, 315 is 9.315.

14.   Expect N ⁰ to mean the number of something.

15. Expect to call cars autos, not coches

 

I also leave you with my (very short) video clips from Peru! All unedited, of course, but I hope you can get a sense of how amazing it was there! Parts I, II, III, IV (alpacas!), V (please ignore my stupid voice!), click on the Roman numerals!

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peru

Time June 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Before coming to Argentina, I never dreamed that I’d be able to travel to (the tip of) Patagonia, Chile, and PERU. Even now, I still can’t believe I was at Machu Picchu! I’ve been looking at my pictures non-stop, unable to actually believe it. Is this real life?

Entering Peru was definitely a culture shock, after having lived in both the US and Argentina (at least, for a couple of months). During our taxi ride from the airport, I was surprised by how much I related Peru with India. The amazing scenery, dominating presence of culture, and llamas walking around in the center plazas may have contributed to that sentiment. Although I can’t quite explain it, the Peruvian culture was so alive in every corner of the city. As much as I love the Andes, the mountains looming in the background in Cuzco were breathtaking.

But then of course, there was the element of tourism. There were SO MANY tourists! Since we were at the peak of tourist season (good weather), we had numerous vendors approach us (there was one day where I was approached in English, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin all consecutively), asking if we needed massage or other tourist services. It was overwhelming!

One thing about Mendoza is that the province generally attracts an older crowd of tourists who mostly come for the wine and stay for a couple of days. But in Peru, the common “young tourist” was a European backpacker either traveling or volunteering (in a jungle, teaching English, etc) with no grasp of Spanish. Pretty interesting. Then of course, there were hordes of tourists, both young and old, from all over the world, to go see Machu Picchu. Due to the tourism, there was a strong presence of commercialism. The Inca legends and history were all hyped up, and exaggerated. The quaint architecture that contained elements of the Incas and colonialism, all housed modern Starbucks, KFC’s, and other fast food chains. Speaking of food: Peruvian food is amazing! We didn’t try alpaca, llama, or guinea pig, but we had delicious chica and other foods. Note: do not eat the Chinese food, at all costs!

Regardless, exploring the different parts of the city was extremely enjoyable. Although during the first few days, my friend and I walked quite slowly due to the altitude. We were out of breath fairly quickly. (Turns out we were lucky, since some other lodgers at our hostel were violently throwing up, yikes). Remember the three rules to prevent altitude sickness: drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, and sleep before you’re tired! 😀

After a few days in Cuzco, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, so we could catch a train to Aguas Calientes. Interestingly enough, the train cars were separated for locals and foreigners (and a heavy fine for foreigners who ended up on the locals car). The view of the landscape on the train was absolutely stunning. They served us banana chips (delicious) and corn covered in chocolate (even more delicious).

Of course, the minute we got to Aguas Calientes, we were met with a million faces asking us if we needed hostel, tourist, and bus services. It was too much. We asked the third lady we encountered for the price and she seemed pretty reasonable. She took us to a dingy “hostel” with a sketchy room and a tiny bathroom with only cold water, and one miniscule bar of soap. We were too tired and wary to protest or muster the energy to find another hostel. But somehow, after chowing down on bread and jam (living the backpacker’s life!), we walked around the town (mostly consisted of Inca figures hyped up), then settled on a pizza place for dinner. (note: the price seemed cheap, but they hid the tax fee, sigh) Since there wasn’t much to do, we went to bed super early so we could get up at 4am. Which…..we miraculously did.

There were buses picking up (lazy :D) people from their hotels to Machu Picchu. We chose to walk all the way to the top. The walk to the entrance itself was mystical. The mountains loomed over us, tall and menacing in the dark. The river seemed to pound against the rocks, which were in weird shapes and sizes. Since we didn’t have a flashlight (mistake), we tip-toed carefully against the bridge and trail, slightly scared but ridiculously excited. Then…..we reached the entrance point. Long story short: there was a problem with my ticket. I ran back to the village, where thankfully, they had tickets left for that day. I paid, ran back, and THEN we started our trek uphill to Machu Picchu at last.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t THAT out of breath during the climb. Each step we took, we were rewarded with a view that grew more and more gorgeous and unearthly. To put it crudely, it’s incredible how the Incas even found the mountains, had the adrenaline to climb up, decide on a location, then BUILD AN ENTIRE CITY up there. It was also impossible to take a bad picture.

Once at the top, it was ridiculously hard to register that we were there. The image in front of me was unreal. Everything was majestic and built to perfection. The weather was perfect, too. Maybe a little too perfect, since we both got sunburned. -_- There were people from all over the world, with tours being given in numerous languages. There were alpacas up there, beautiful foliage, and although I was scared for my life, I couldn’t help but look down every few seconds; to understand the fact that I actually walked all the way up to the site and survived (in fact, as we were walking down, there were these two girls who were excitedly shouting, “We conquered the lost city!” a little too much, haha). Interesting fact: you’re not allowed to take jumping pictures on Machu Picchu. The guard yelled at me.  Then, before we knew it, the day was nearing 5pm, and the park was about to close. The trek downhill took 2 hours. We were exhausted, but unbelievably happy.

After Machu Picchu, we took a bus to Puno, to go see Lago Titicaca. Fun fact about the lake: if you turn a map of the lake upside down, you can see a puma hunting a rabbit. The puma is Peru, and the rabbit is Bolivia. Titi means great (I think), and caca means rock, although we’re more familiar with the slang meaning. Obviously the latter refers to Bolivia. Oh, international rivalries. And due to the black market, no one is permitted to travel to Peru or Bolivia via the lake.

When we got to Puno, we were dropped off at 4am (we arrived much earlier than they said we would!) at a very silent terminal. We were pretty aloof, so we followed a woman who was trying to sell us a tour at her agency. When it seemed like we were about to walk off (we were just really, really tired), she lowered  the price, so that we ended up paying $20 for a day’s tour. Unintentional bartering strategy, yay!

We boarded a boat that took us to the Floating Islands. The islands are constructed from a reed that grows at the bottom of the lake. Each island is the home of a family, and it felt slightly awkward intruding upon their private space, yet….it was clear tourism was their main source of revenue. They showed us how they live, and took us for a ride on their reed boat.

Then we went to Taquila Island, which was quaint and beautiful. We were served lunch and given time to walk around the island, and the island gave off a Mediterranean vibe, with the clear and amazingly blue water. The lake was stunning, and the tranquility made everything enjoyable. I had no idea how big and beautiful the lake was. Next time I’m in the area, I’d like to cross over to Bolivia…..algun dia!

Overall I am extremely happy that I had the chance to go to Peru. It is a country that is not only home to Machu Picchu, but other amazing sites that I unfortunately did not have the time to explore. I’m going to miss the majestic mountains, the friendliness of the people (everyone addresses you as ‘amigo’ or ‘amiga’) and the bartering (best strategy is to feign interest, look disinterested, and then walk away, haha)! I hope I can return again.

captions: Plaza de Armas/Cuzco/Cuzco with Cristo Blanco in the background/Cuzco 1-2/streets/delicious chicha/San Pedro market/successful bartering!/rickshaw/Ollantaytambo 1-2/train/view from train/soccer field/center/Aguas Calientes/more markets/bridge entrance/Machu Picchu/view from climb up 1-2/incredible view 1-4/friendly alpaca!/amazing views (city in the shape of a condor) 1-8)

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things to expect, part 2

Time June 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I know I’ve already done part 1, but I decided to come up with new lists and group them into categories. Some may be repeated!

Kitchen

  1. Expect  to see a gas stove. Which means you have to turn on a switch and light a match to get it going  (I had to quickly get over my fear of matches, haha).
  2. Expect to see a jar(s) of dulce de leche in the fridge. Note: You probably won’t be able to help yourself as you sneak a spoonful of dulce from the jar 😛
  3. Expect to be able to drink from the tap (refills, yay).
  4. Expect to see fernet, coke, and water (congas and cingas) in the fridge.
  5. Expect juice to be concocted from a mix.
  6. Expect milk to be in a plastic bag.
  7. Expect food (i.e. leftovers) to have no covering, both in and out of the fridge.
  8. Expect coffee to be from instant coffee mixes.
  9. Expect no spicy food (since smoking affects taste buds, it seems that the food considered spicy here is significantly more bland than what I’m used to).
  10. Expect to see lots of desserts (indulgences everywhere)!

Bathroom

  1. Expect to see a bidet.
  2. Expect the toilet to hum for a few moments after flushing.
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3 weeks

Time June 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past week was a nice transition back to Mendoza from Peru (a post on that later). For one thing, I had two friends from Brandeis visit me on their way to Buenos Aires (both studied abroad in Bolivia and Peru). I can’t even begin to explain how nice it was to have familiar, Brandeisian faces in Mendoza! We caught up over cena (empanadas and pizza with mucho queso, surprise surprise) and helado. We also talked about the differences between Northern and Southern South America that are extremely interesting. I think I’ll also dedicate a post on that later, as well.

Then last night, one of my non-program friends had her birthday. Attending the party made me think of how easily we came together…..all of us were scared and nervous for our experience abroad, and somehow, we quickly formed friendships and a ‘foster family’, to replace the ones we have back home. I also met a couple of Argentines and I surprised myself by blabbering away in (perhaps incoherent) Spanish, and it seemed that the other person understood me. Yay.

When it was time for cake & candles, the song was recited in Spanish, then Portuguese, French, and calls for Korean (me) and German were made. It was a moment that made me think of how much I’ll miss this semester. And how much I’ll miss being able to practice Spanish, meet friends from other cultures, and the fact that an occasion involving two people can multiply to include the entire exchange (and others) network.

While I sort through the hundreds of pictures I have from Peru, I also leave you with some pictures from the wine excursion that IFSA took us in April!

malbec grapes

beautiful alta vista winery


Sigh. Three more weeks in Mendoza. Someone tell me where the time went?

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lounging in the lake district!

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend was a holiday weekend, so I trekked down to Bariloche, at the tip of Patagonia.  As the town was originally settled by the Swiss, Bariloche is known for its (delicious) chocolate, lakes, and skiing. Needless to say I was pretty pumped. When my friend I got to the terminal, we had two problems because we were clearly travel noobs: a) we couldn’t tell which platform our bus was supposed to arrive, and b) we ended up missing our bus. I was more enraged at this than our friend and demanded an explanation from the travel agent. Frustrating thing: turns out that our bus was actually in front of us the entire time, but just had the final destination listed because it was making several other stops (such as Bariloche). We felt stupid and annoyed, but luckily, we were able to purchase tickets for that night for half price. *sigh*

view from the bus ride

chocolate store!

well-bundled up tree

The bus ride itself was horrendous. I’m not sure how I survived. Since we bought last minute tickets, we were on the bus (and lower level) that stopped literally every ten minutes. GAAAAAH. Which meant that each time I somehow got my seat to recline comfortably, one of the bus drivers would open the door and yell something, thereby interrupting my sleep and letting the cold in. Dios. On the way up it was slightly better: we were on the full cama (fully reclining seat) at the upper level, and those two things actually make a huge difference! The only few times I woke up were because we were being served food (dinner with wine and a movie, classy), and the bus only made two stops, which was obviously more bearable.

the main square, always full of activity

in the morning

casual mountains in the distance

We were extremely relieved to finally arrive in Bariloche. The hostel we stayed at was really homey and the owners made us feel like we were included in a big happy family. (sidenote: the JAM is to die for during breakfast) The first night, we had an asado where we met other lodgers and went out to explore the nightlife. One word for that night: TEENAGERS. So many of them! Apparently Bariloche is the place to go after graduation/during breaks in high school, so while we were at bars and boliches, we felt OLD. -____-

The next day, we went kayaking in the lake by Cerro Ventana. The view was absolutely breathtaking and while I was rowing, it was really difficult not to be distracted by the scenery. We rowed for two hours and while I felt bad that I was holding up my friend and the guide (it was my first time!), I was too cold and in too much pain to try any harder, haha.

My arms were in pain when we hiked up Cerro Companario the day after (I have no upper body strength!). It was the steepest 30 minute hike I ever walked but the view from up top was breath taking and unbelievable. From the top of Cerro Companario, you can see all 7 lakes! Each lake glistened pale shades of blue and turquoise, changing under the sunlight. It was truly nature at its finest.

about to start the trek

adventure pose

we took the chairlift down, and the view was amazing

breath taking

 

Since the famous Llao Llao Hotel Resort was around the corner, we had to stop by, of course. This clip is of the lake near the hotel.

llao llao!

chocolate factory

cascada del duendes

beautiful, peaceful sunrise on nahuel huapi lake in front of the hostel

restaurant decorated with money

And for dinner, we had to pick up some chocolates. You’re only in Bariloche once, right? 😀

amazing chocolate

 

As much as I loved meeting new people, spending time playing Bananagrams and passing around fernet with other lodgers (we met other IFSA-ers from Buenos Aires!), my complaint for Bariloche is that it’s very commercialized and caters toward tourists. There were times when I felt that there was nothing to do but buy and eat chocolate. And one of the differences between Mendoza and Bariloche is that everything there is much more expensive. Plus, it’s so easy to continuously buy chocolate! 😀 Apart from the prices, tourism, and the loooong bus ride, I’m really happy I got to explore the lakes district. I can’t capture or explain the view in words. You’ll have to go there for yourself!

If I have more time, I think I’ll head down to El Calafate to see glaciers. Or maybe see Tronador in Bariloche, as it’s snowcapped all year round, and has both glaciers and volcanoes! Enjoy this quick clip of the lakes!

 

 

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adventures during semana santa

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This post is way long over due, but better something than nothing! 😀

During Semana Santa (March 30th-April 7th), some friends and I headed to Chile, where I had one of the most enjoyable and relaxing vacations of my life! I was obviously excited for the trip, but I had no idea how much fun I would have in Chile.  I learned so much from the culture, met incredible people, indulged in delicious food (seafood and sushi, YUM), and loved every minute of it. Everyone studying abroad in Argentina should head on over to Chile! Luckily for us in Mendoza, it’s only a 5-6 hour bus ride with some amazing views 😉

so many curves while crossing the andes

view from the bus ride

We spent two days in Santiago, trekking through the metro (and getting shoved in the process, there were a lot more people that weekend particularly because of the music festival), frequently treating ourselves to delicious gelato after long walks in Santa Lucia, trying pancho con palta + mote (national drink of Chile with peaches and rice, very sweet!), constantly buying water (urgh, that was annoying) and admiring the street art and architecture. The style of the buildings was something I noticed immediately. First off, it was very different from Mendoza, and second, the architecture reminded me of….Spain. I couldn’t really place a finger on it. The vibe of the city was also hard to characterize. There were many, many tourists and it was a relatively busy city, yet, the palm trees, artists casually sketching the scenery, and the local people sauntering by just gave Santiago a chill, sleepy vibe.

pancho con palta

architecture in the square

santiago

central administration

horses and police were everywhere!

so much color compared to mendoza

street art!

indulging in some delicious helado!

pretending we were at lolla

at the top of santa lucia

view from santa lucia

busy church for easter

After Santiago, we took a two hour bus to Vina del Mar. I was so taken back by the scenery during the ride! But then again, I don’t think I’ll ever stop talking about/get sick of the scenery here. Everything is just too beautiful :)

For the rest of the week, we walked around Vina then took a metro to Valparaiso (the transportation was so convenient!).  I was absolutely in love with these two cities…..we took the elevator to go up the steep hill so we could explore the fun, colorful houses that were stacked up on the hills. And of course, once we were at the top, the view was amazing. I could see the ships near the port, some people lounging by the ocean, and the stray dogs aimlessly sauntering in the streets…..I particularly liked the view from Pablo Neruda’s house. He could see everything from his room!

beach at vina

reloj de flores

elevator

houses along the beach

steep neighborhood

a sunny day in vina

The street art is another story. Calling it “graffiti” simply doesn’t do justice to the talent of the work. Walking around in Valparaiso was like receiving tickets to a free art exhibition.

Although I was in Chile for only a week, I feel like I got an authentic essence of the three cities I visited. Vina and Valpo, in particular, were two places that didn’t seem to be engineered toward tourists and so, I felt like I was exploring the true culture and dynamic of the city. I loved being able to talk to the people on the streets, striking up a conversation about various Chileans wines with a friendly man at the supermercado, and learning about the ascensors (elevators) from a nice woman while we we were waiting to go up to the cerros (hills). Needless to say, it was hard for us to leave.

favorite street art

piano stairs

colorful houses in valpo

valpo, the port city

another fave!

steep ride up

I was particularly drawn to Valparaiso. It felt like the people in Valpo really knew how to utilize every inch of space given to them! Every wall was adorned intricately and each building had its own character. The houses are all neatly  stacked on the mountains, with each cerro (hill) having a different reputation. Nothing was uniform in terms of design, but in the sense of aesthetic appeal, the buildings provided the eye with a homogenous pattern of colorful splashes of beauty. It was similar to Vina….yet I loved Valpo more. I felt as if I was walking into someone’s home, exploring their lifestyle and trying to adopt their habits as my own and make myself familiar with their ways. Everything was set in its original, functioning place and nothing was altered for the benefit of tourists. It was ridiculously convenient to hop on the metro from Vina to arrive in Valpo within minutes. I loved the transformation from a cool, unique port city into a crazy wild scene at night. Oh, Valpo.

I loved striking conversations with vendors, having people approach me out of genuine curiosity while I was waiting for a friend at the plaza, befriend other travelers, and walk up and down the long, steep hills (and award myself with delicious gelato after). The people here get their exercise (RIDICULOUSLY long stairs with many steps)!!! We took a free walking tour (I believe it was called Tours for Tips, there is also one in Santiago as well!) and we learned so much about the city! As we walked up and down the hills, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the tourists “touring” the city on a bus; walking is the only way to get a real feel for the city! We passed by so many beautiful artwork (free exhibition!), got to talk to locals and eat some delicious cookies and swig some pisco sours. Not to mention, we met awesome Europeans on the tour, and we all went for DELICIOUS (and cheap) sushi afterward. Ahh. I’d missed sushi. In Mendoza, sushi/seafood is expensive, not THAT delicious, and I had to pay for chopsticks! Grr. The delicious and cheap seafood is something I’ll miss! It is truly a unique port city tucked away, and I could feel the immigrants’ presence from years before.

orgasmic sushi

Before we left, my friend and I deemed the one cent peso (un peso) cute, and thought it’d be a cute idea to give them away as souvenirs. (Maybe punch a hole in it to make a bracelet or keychain?) But since it is of so little value and rarely in use, we had a hard time finding a store that had those pesos. Strangely enough, a male cashier in a lingerie store ended up being able to trade 10 pesos for the ones we wanted. He thought our idea was funny.

slanted :)

so much valpo pride

color splashes

pablo neruda's house

Things we did not anticipate: the unreliability of buses. As it was getting closer for us to leave, I realized that I wanted to stay a little bit longer. But since we bought all of our tickets in advance (Vina–>Santiago–>Mendoza), I decided to just go along with the original plan. This was mistake #1. To my future self: make hostel reservations in advance, but if possible, buy tickets at the terminal of the destination once I have a better idea of dates/how much longer I want to stay. Because in reality, you meet friends and encounter places you want to spend more time exploring. Mistake #2 happened when the bus was 40-60 minutes late. Hence, we missed our bus from Santiago to Mendoza, and had to spend the night in Santiago. We also had to buy another set of tickets because the offices weren’t open early enough, and we didn’t want to risk waiting any longer. Luckily, the tickets were cheap, but this mistake could have been avoided. To my future self: don’t buy bus tickets in advance; be flexible with travel plans!!

On our way to Chile, we traveled at night, so I was comfortably asleep for most of the ride and the entry process was very efficient and quick, as there weren’t too many travelers. But since we were returning to Argentina during the weekend, amidst the peak traveling time, we ended up waiting at the border for three hours. I mean…..it didn’t feel that long, though. We made friends with the people (only four of us on the bus, haha) and was asked the popular question, “do you like Chile, or Argentina, better?”  😀 We waited a long time because the entry process consists of a bus driver registering every passenger on his bus. Lots of buses=lots of people=long time. But eventually, we got through and it wasn’t too bad, like I said. The mountains were breathtaking and we mostly sat around and relaxed.

vina, night time

I couldn’t  help but feel jealous of the many European students we met along the way, who were traveling the continent by themselves.  The freedom! The adventure! But then again, it’s wonderful to be back in Mendoza, and I’ll be going to Peru in two weeks!

sunset



 

 

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caution and cooking

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

everyone getting ready

On Saturday, IFSA gave us a cooking class at a culinary institute! It was really cute how they equipped us with chef hats and aprons, plus the staff was really nice. After we were decked out in our cooking gear, Chef Gustavo taught us how to make flan, the most amazing meat ever, sauces, and empanadas. We received tips and anecdotes while helping him roll the dough, stuff the empanadas, etc.  It was slightly torturous to constantly smell and watch great looking food when we had to wait…. But finally, after three hours (at least, it felt like three hours), we got to eat our DELICIOUS meal. The sauce was beyond amazing and everything was muy rico! 

the chef hard at work

After our meal, we received “diplomas de asistencia” (basically, certification of helping/completing the class), signed by the chef.  Adorable!

empanadas, ready to bake

sizzling MEAT

everyone avidly listening to chef gustavo...or just waiting for the food!

flan con dulce de leche

elena and nicole excited for the food

FOOD

On to a more serious note….in general, I feel safe here. While I was away in Chile and Bariloche, I genuinely missed Mendoza and felt a sense of familiarity and belonging when I returned from my trips. Although I admit that there have been several times when I should’ve been more careful (for example: walking home alone late at night), I have been very lucky.  There were also several instances when we were out at bars and restaurants when we had to be extra careful of the children that kept coming up to us, repeatedly asking for money and trying to join our table. But apart from that, Mendoza is like any other city. You should stay alert at night, watch your belongings, etc. However, since I’ve encountered nothing bad, and since my time here feels like a perpetual vacation, it’s hard to stay serious and cautious at all times.

I was walking to the IFSA office last week, and I was about two minutes away when suddenly, a woman shoved me up against a wall and put a knife against my throat. Strangely enough, I was too shocked to absorb the seriousness of the situation. I couldn’t believe that I was getting attacked DURING the day, in a safe and yet one of the wealthier neighborhoods! More so, I felt like I was in a dream….unable to register that this woman, casually walking down the street, was threatening my life just so she could grab my personal belongings. It’s impossible to describe exactly what I was thinking…..but I was too scared, enraged, and unsure of what to do. I looked at her blankly, pretended not to understand her Spanish so I could buy more time. I started screaming at the top of my lungs, nearly shrieking: “Why are you doing this? Ayuda! etc.” Eventually, she looked at me disgustedly and stormed off with just my headphones (lucky for me, my headphones were actually broken, with only the left side working), nothing else. I feel extremely fortunate to have come out of that situation unrobbed and unharmed. Especially since that day, I had my wallet, camera, ipod, AND my passport in my backpack! Dios.

From that point on, I stopped carrying anything valuable. I’m obviously not going to let this incident affect my time here, since all of the amazing people I’ve met  clearly outnumber the one bad person who attacked me. I’m not exactly paranoid, but this incident has definitely made me more cautious. Just some tips I’ve come up with from the situation: never carry anything valuable (if you have to, keep it hidden or carry copies of important documents), always walk on the main road, always try to walk with someone else late at night, try not to look scared/lost/confused, be alert, cross the street when you’re suspicious, and remember that if you have nothing to protect yourself, screaming helps! It’s always wise to think twice since petty theft does occur here (and like any other city). Although this was definitely a wake up call, it doesn’t change the fact that Mendoza is a beautiful and wonderful place! Could this have been because of the super luna this weekend? 😛 I swear I’m not superstitious.

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just a casual day at UNCuyo….

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Two weeks ago, my friend and I were up at the university, lounging on the grass and admiring the view. Although most of the students here are pretty much used to the Andes in the background, I can’t get enough of the sunset I see while I’m walking to class, the magnificent display of clouds, the peaks of the mountains. Sigh.

Anyways, below are some casual shots of the university.

map of the campus

just some buildings in the distance

the pathway to filosofia y letras

sculpture in front of filosofia y letras

entrance

arts buildings

more stairs!

ciencias politicas




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things to expect, part I

Time April 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Here are some observations I made in Mendoza so far…..

1. Expect to pay to have your backpack stowed away in a locker while you shop at a supermarket (or actually, most stores). Security is tight at the supermarkets, so if you walk in with a large bag or a backpack, they make you pay (or sometimes they hold it up front) to have it stuffed in a locker.

2. Expect to share saliva. Always. Whether it’s food, drinks, or mate, you WILL share saliva with others. 😀

3. Expect to touch people. At first, I thought I was doing people a favor by not greeting them on the cheek when I was sweaty or something, but it’s actually rude to NOT do it. And on that note, people touch, all the time. Hugs, pats, etc.

4. Expect to see PDA. So many couples here……lots of hand holding, but also lots of frequent and passionate make-out sessions in all corners of the city.

5. Expect to see streets full of stray dogs and cats. Sometimes they’ll follow you, and sometimes they’ll be cute; avoid touching them at all costs!

6. Expect to walk through litter, cigarettes, dog poop, and acequias. Keep your eyes peeled!

7. Expect dulce de leche, cheese, fernet, coke, and meat everywhere.

8. Expect to not see toilet paper or soap in public bathrooms. Usually, you’ll have to pay for your use in public venues.

9. Expect class to start and end late.

10. Expect stares, but don’t feel like you need to avoid anyone’s gaze!

11. Expect people to ask you where you’re from.

12. Expect to lock and unlock your house door twice each time.

13. Expect to get lost, with your map in hand. The streets are very long and change names without warning!

14.  Expect streets to be silent during siesta.

15. Expect to specify the type of water you prefer: cingas (without gas; “normal” water) or congas (with gas; sparkling water).

16. Expect mate parties! Especially during classes, with the teacher involved.

17. Expect to eat dinner late.

18. Expect delicious food! Desserts, emapanadas, pasta, dinner dishes, etc. are SO available and muy rico!

19. Expect to triple check just to cross the street.

20. Expect to walk everywhere 😀

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how to ride the bus!

Time April 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hopefully with these directions, you’ll be all good to go with the buses (known as micros) when you get to Mendoza! 😀

I’ve shared this clip before, but this video illustrates the funny differences between the US (Europe in the video) and Argentina (represented by Italy). Our program director actually introduced the video during orientation and I thought it was too funny. 1:36 makes the point about buses.

1. Find your bus. This sounds simple, I know, but it’s quite complicated. First, you have to figure out the number that corresponds to where you’re headed. Say you’re going back to your house, and your bus is in the 5 group. Then you have to walk down the street to find a bus stop with a big 5 on it.

 

not my photo, but basically what some buses here look like

 

2. Next comes the WAITING. This is the worst part. The bus schedules (they have “schedules” online, but only use the source to get a rough idea of the time) simply don’t correspond with the arrival of the bus. Rarely, they’ll arrive early, or even on time. 99.9% of the time, they’ll be late. The average wait time spans from 10 minutes to an hour. Which may not make sense considering how fast the buses go down the streets and usually manages to escape traffic.

3. After much waiting, you see a number 5, which means the bus is in your group, but then you have to check the small number on the front left hand corner of the bus to make sure it’s going to your destination. Let’s say your bus number is 52. But by the time you can make out the tiny 52 written on the window, the bus speeds on by. Too late!

4. Luckily, another 52 bus approaches you. Flag it down! (be warned: when the buses are too full, the driver will just pass you!)

5. GET ON THE BUS. The bus driver won’t stop completely to make sure you’re on, so once you have a foot on the first step, hold on tight!

6. You must swipe your card at the front of the bus, but you have to hold it in a certain way. A magnetic chip inside the card will beep, then the machine will print out a receipt of how much money you have left on your card. But you have to do this super fast, as the bus will be going at a crazy speed any second and there will be people behind you, all impatient.

7. I was wrong about step 2. THIS is kinda the worst part. You have to squeeze past people to find a suitable place to stand. Unfortunately, there won’t be seats left and there will be so many people that you’ll be forced to stand in the middle, knees bent, one arm guarding your belongings, attempting to maintain SOME balance during the ride (many curves and bumps), and trying to breathe. The bars are too high on the bus so no one can even hold on to them for dear life. Brace yourself, and try not to bump into other passengers too much!

8. You see your stop. How to get off? You have to make your way over to the back of the bus, press a buzzer, then get ready to hop off. SIGH. Fresh air!

*Lesson learned: Plan accordingly! You should always be prepared to have something to do (book, ipod, etc). Lots of waiting around and frustration are to be expected.

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mendozan musings

Time March 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yesterday, my friend and I met at calle Las Heras to buy mate cups. We walked in various tourist-y shops, stores that sold amusing trinkets, and another shop that was entirely dedicated to mate (mate bags, cups, straws, yerba, etc.) before finally buying a ceramic one. I was pretty excited to buy my first mate cup. My host family doesn’t drink too much mate (since my host mom is so busy with work), but I love it and plan on drinking more.

We had a mate fiesta at the IFSA office where we learned about the history and the proper ways to drink and mix mate. We passed around thermoses and cookies while stirring the mate to our liking. Mate can be drunken with sugar, dulce de leche, etc., but in my opinion I don’t think condiments are needed! I should probably stress how common mate is here. Even when you walk down the street or wander through the parks, you can see everyone (the young and the old), sipping on mate cups and pouring hot water from the thermos to get the mixture just right. Drinking mate is symbolic of friendship, community, and culture, but it’s also an enjoyable social activity. After all, it’s beneficial for your health and highly caffeinated (although you certainly won’t receive the awful crash from coffee highs).

Afterwards, some of us trekked to Mailo’s, a delicious ice cream place. Oh man. Desserts are so cheap and accessible here! Granted that my host family provides relatively healthy meals for me every day, I’m still trying to get used to eating between 10-11:30pm then being treated to dessert. How 99.9% of this population remains extremely thin remains  a mystery to me.

While we were eating ice cream (I opted for tiramisu and dulce de leche), we received many jealous stares from passerby (we were eating outside), and one man looked so happy by the thought of our ice cream that he immediately went inside and got himself a big cone. Ice cream is popular among everyone :)

Fueled with ice cream, we walked to San Martin, an extremely busy and commercial street that is always filled with people. Sigh. We were really tired at this point, and I felt frustrated weaving in and out, struggling just to move forward. It was a struggle because a) lots of little children were present, b) the elderly slowly ambled on with their canes, c) people stopped in the middle of the street, forcing us to somehow walk AROUND them, d) there were SO many people, e) people do not weave in and out like we do, and f) the streets are ridiculously long (address starting around the two digits to the triple digits). Oh, and did I mention already that Adele has followed all of us to Argentina? You can hear her at your house (my host sister is blasting “Someone Like You” at this very moment), on the streets, by the people, boliches, restaurants, bars…..personally, I love her music but I think it’s a tad too soulful to be played at lively venues. -___-

Those are some thoughts I have from today! If you have any questions or want to check out my personal blog and see more pictures, feel free to send me an email: brl91@brandeis.edu.

 from top to bottom: mate cups/drinking mate/mate ready to be tasted/ice cream

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more surprises

Time March 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today roughly marks the date when I set off for Argentina a month ago. WOW. I remember days before leaving, how extremely nervous I was, and in my anxiety, I was questioning whether I should actually leave home since I wasn’t very confident about my Spanish. I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle homesickness; after all, I’d lived in the Boston area for 10+ years AND Brandeis is only minutes away from my hometown. And yes, I’ve traveled before, but this would be the longest and farthest I’d be away from my family and friends. I kept wondering how I would make it five months. BUT looking back now, I can’t emphasize how extremely relieved I am that I’m here. And while I’m at it, I’ll stress again how Mendoza is the place to be :) It’s essentially the outdoor lover’s dream. The weather is beautiful, palm trees line up the sidewalks, gorgeous parks, inviting flower gardens, and best of all, everything is walking distance! (So far I’m refusing to take the micro/buses until it gets cold. And I’m proud of myself for not needing my map anymore!) With all these things, it’s impossible to feel homesick or stressed out. And that’s another point I want to make (although I think I’ve emphasized it before): I haven’t felt this relaxed in so long. The culture is to live and enjoy life; and so, I’ve been able to shed the stress I’ve always accumulated during the past semesters.

This past weekend was my 21st birthday and St. Patrick’s day, so needless to say, there were celebrations :) The streets were so packed it was hard to find a place to sit down!

On a different note, I went to my first class at UNCuyo yesterday. My friend and I each wrote down the times and names of five classes we wanted to check out before committing to a set schedule. Once we got to the building of the first class, we had to locate the wall that contained information regarding professor names, class hours and locations, and office hours. We were slightly frustrated that the times of all five classes had drastically changed. Furthermore, the classrooms were hard to find (we wondered if there were multiple classrooms with the same number), and I felt more unsure about what my schedule would look like….for example, I wanted to take an art class but every art class is around 16 hours a week. Since I only want to take it for fun and not as an art major, I’m not quite sure I’ll follow through. Anyways, we entered a class about 10 minutes late (oops), and I could immediately sense EVERYONE watching. Which was weird to us, since there was a continuous stream of students coming in the room (AND leaving, darting right past the professor!)! Someone even came an hour and a half late to the class (I wondered why she would bother coming). We tried to blend in with the class and take notes, but it was hard because the professor proceeded to ask us where we were from, and any time US was mentioned in conversation, he pointed toward us. As if we needed more attention….-_-  I thought I imagined the stares, and the curious glances, but my friend confirmed that we actually weren’t. Maybe it’s because we were wearing bright colors. No se.

But I can honestly say that I was relieved. First off, the professor told us he had experience with international students and spoke pretty slowly, so we were able to understand roughly 80% of the lecture. Second, the material was interesting and the other students seemed pretty nice/interested in the class and in us. So I guess it was okay…..but after class, we were told to buy photocopies of the syllabus (programa). Seeing as we had 2 hours until our next class, we went to the photocopier, but the cashier told us there weren’t any syllabi. Confused, we then went to find the professor, and when we couldn’t, we decided to just recover from the class outside, but just as we were about to leave, a Johnny Depp look-a-like professor quickly approached us and INSISTED (VERY STRONGLY) on helping us and wouldn’t leave us alone until he located our professor. So basically, our professor walked us down to the photocopier, reassured us (at least, that’s what it sounded like, at this point I was so exhausted that my brain was refusing to operate at 60mph translating and spitting out Spanish), and directed us to a (very cute) classmate who spoke English and helped us out. It was a long day. 

To be honest, the experience made us miss the school system in the US. Yes, they don’t take attendance here and in a lot of ways it’s easier to get away with things and not to be studious, but in the US, powerpoints would be posted online, all registration and academic information would be easily provided, and everything is very organized. I think I wasn’t expecting myself to have to exert so much energy in finding classes, figuring out my schedule, and operating on my own…..since everything in the US is a lot easier. Don’t get me wrong; I am very capable of acting independently, but it was hard to be independent with no information available, if that makes sense. But complaints aside, I’ve only been to class once, and it can only get better, right?

*Fall is coming to Mendoza! The air is definitely getting slightly chilly, but I’m still loving the weather! I had to keep telling myself it’s FALL, not SPRING, since I’m in the southern hemisphere.

from top to bottom: San Martin Park/acequias, aka “gringo traps”/lake/beautiful sky

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san rafael

Time March 14th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

This past weekend, we went on a program excursion to San Rafael! It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable weekends that I’ve had in a while. We woke up extremely early on Saturday morning, drove for four hours to San Rafael, and even inside the bus, the view was breathtaking. San Rafael is a very popular destination for tourists (surprised?) and after google searching the region, I was definitely pumped for the trip.

 

                                  

When I woke up from the bus ride, the sun was rising through the cracks of the Andes mountains and we were served (very) sweet cookies and coffee (a note to coffee drinkers: so far the coffee I’ve had is of the instant variety, and not strongly caffeinated). We checked out our cabins and I was particularly happy to see that there were TWO pools with a beautiful view of the mountains, and a gorgeous rose garden. So naturally, we spent several hours at the pool, cooling off from the hikes and reading “beach books” (my friend read “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo; I read “Julie and Julia,” which made me hungry). Yet it was very tempting to day dream or take naps because of the cloudless, perfect sky and the tranquility of the scenery that was presented before us.
All of our meals were served outside right by a small “lake.” Occasionally, while we were sipping on Coke (another VERY popular drink here), munching on a milanesa or empanada, a fish would mysteriously emerge from the dirty water and double flip in the air, scaring one of us. And at dinner, it was hard not to be in a peaceful, happy mood with the delicious food and the stars glittering above the woods. Although I felt annoyed at the bugs and mosquitoes, it was hard to stay mad for long because everything was so alive, natural, and for the most part, untouched.  Definitely something rare in Boston! 😀

The first day, we climbed down a set of rackety steps to board a ferry that took us to a shore where we could relax by the lake. The water shimmered aqua green and I was perfectly content in alternating between lying underneath the sun and floating on the lake with my eyes closed. I haven’t experienced such stillness in a long time! At school, I’m accustomed to a hectic schedule where every hour of my day is planned with a specific task, and the brief moments of tranquility I have is when I’m sleeping (but even then, there are the occasional dreams of missing assignments, etc). Needless to say, this is a very welcome change :) Mendoza is where it’s at!

The next day, we hiked a series of small hills, and the intricacy of the geography was fascinating. We even saw a colorful snake winding its way toward its hole….

But my favorite part of the trip was rafting. Unfortunately we didn’t get to  take pictures of us actually rafting, but I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable moments of my life.  The whole time, I couldn’t help but think, “Am I really rafting in Argentina??” Sure, I got soaked and my arms were sore from rowing, but the view is also unforgettable and all of us were smiling the entire adventure The pictures I took don’t really do justice to the scenery. I have the mountains, the noises of the rapids, the friendly people waving alongside the river, and the adrenaline rush etched in my brain.

 

It finally feels like Mendoza is my home more and more each day. I’m walking to places without the help of maps and looking like an obvious tourist! Life is good! :)

note: I sincerely apologize for the order and organization of the posts (particularly the format of the photos)! For some reason, my internet has not been cooperating with me, and blogging has been difficult. The post “Under the Mendocinian Sun” should come AFTER “First Impressions.”

from top to bottomcabins/rose/part of the rose garden/pool/at the beautiful lake/more lake/on the ferry/huge slope/rafting/more rafting site/end of the hike/snake/slopes/more mountain/obligatory jumping picture/IFSA love!/end of the hike triumphant pose

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first impressions

Time March 9th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

from top to bottom: expect this when you order grilled cheese/in San Telmo (“no tocar, por favor,” oops)/the Pink House/ one of the tombs in Recoleta/jumping to our first adventure in Buenos Aires!/Buenos Aires!

I’ve only been in Argentina for four days yet SO MUCH has happened. It’s obviously hard to write everything, so I’ll narrow it down a bit.

My first impression of Argentina was definitely influenced by the welcoming weather, gorgeous skies, palm trees, and amazing architecture. After an intense eight hour flight (four hour delay), we were all relieved to finally arrive at our destination. Orientation got me very excited for the next five months ahead! While we were roaming around Palermo, Recoleta Cemetery (very intricate tombs!), San Telmo, Rio de Plato, and Casa Rosa, I immediately fell in love. Buenos Aires is such an alive and beautiful city!

The Friday before we left for Mendoza, we had dinner at  Mala Cara, a restaurant not too far from the hotel. Looking for something easy and familiar to eat, three of us ordered grilled cheese, expecting two slices of bread enveloping a slice of cheese. After several minutes however, the waiter brought out a large piece of tomato with a hunk of cheese on top of it. Needless to say, we couldn’t finish our cheese (very salty!) and were disappointed yet amused all at once.

The next day, we flew to Mendoza and finally met our host families. My heart was racing as I was getting in line to pass the sliding doors to face the crowd, but my anxiety slightly dissipated when I saw a friendly looking woman carrying a sign with my name on it. She greeted me warmly and told me not to be nervous. Unfortunately, I was actually very nervous and found it extremely difficult to participate in conversation. My brain was working 50mph trying to register, decipher, and create a response.

My host mom was very understanding and patiently let me work out the sentences slowly as she guided me around her home. My room is very clean and cozy with excellent wifi….I was worried I wouldn’t have internet access! After a delicious dinner of home baked pizza and dessert (with dulce de leche, of course), I immediately returned to my room to recover. I have to get used to the Argentine way of living! Although as a sleep lover, I’m not too sure how I’ll manage at the moment. Lots of coffee, I guess 😀 It’s finally sinking in that I’m at Argentina at last!

* I apologize for the pictures and format, for some reason I had great difficulty trying to upload bigger pictures and getting it to the right format.

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under the mendocinian sun

Time March 9th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Bienvenidos a Mendoza!

It’s been a while since I last posted! So many things have happened in just 15 days! It’s really hard to believe that only two weeks ago, I was at the airport anxiously counting down the minutes for my flight to Buenos Aires!  After a wonderful two days in the capital, we flew to Mendoza on the 25th to meet our host families. During the entire two hour flight I remember trying to figure out some basic phrases I could say, but I fell asleep; and within minutes,  my heart was racing as I was pushing the cart loaded with my bags at the airport in Mendoza, greeted by smiling faces who were all holding up each of our names. My host mom was extremely welcoming and had the patience to speak very slowly with me so I could understand everything. Her daughters are also very generous and the house is wonderful! Arriving in Mendoza made me finally realize that I’m actually in Argentina for a semester, trying to integrate myself as a Mendocinian. In a lot of ways, the adjustment has been both much easier and harder than I expected. For one thing, I’m falling in love with the patio outside my window, the pack of small dogs that follow me down the street when I leave for class, the endless rows of palm trees, the beautiful parks, excellent weather, and the friendliness of the people. I also can’t get over the vivacious energy of Mendocinians: I can feel the excitement at bars and boliches even on Monday nights, the happy family picnics I see frequently when I go for runs at San Martin park, and how the people are constantly relaxed and know how to live life.  But at the same time, speaking Spanish 24/7 has been a challenge. While at this point, I’m comfortable enough to initiate conversations with my host family and no longer afraid to ask for directions on the street (no longer getting lost!), I also realized how much I have to learn. Classes at the University start in two weeks, and although I’m nervous, I’m ready for the challenge and excited to make more Argentine friends. 

Everything is passing by like a whirlwind and since I can’t describe everything, here are a few pictures below to describe my life so far!

Here is a brief video about the Vendimia festival. I apologize for the shakiness, for some reason I really couldn’t hold still!

I also apologize for the order. From the first picture: Mendoza sign at Plaza Independencia/palm trees/a scene from the Vendimia Festival/Vendimia parade on San Martin street/the Andes/man made lake at San Martin Park/IFSA love/Vendimia stage 1/Vendimia stage 2

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