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El Fin de la Adventura

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

On July 10th I arrived in Buenos Aires,  and now, four and a half later, I return to the United States.  It has been a wonderful experience, a wonderful opportunity, one I am fortunate to have been given.  Living in Buenos Aires and the surrounding areas has been an experience, to say the least, one that has been mostly positive.  However, since the interminable rainy season finally stopped, the city has been aggressively dripping on me, to the point where I’ve become a little suspicious that it isn’t intentional.  A walk down the street is not complete without a water droplet from someone’s radiator hitting you directly in the eye, though this is certainly preferable to my friend who was hit in the head by a poorly thrown bottle in a bum fight.

Since last Monday, I’ve been travelling through the nation of Uruguay, situated on the Northern bank of the Rio de La Plata.  Despite the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans probably could not pinpoint Uruguay on a map, it is an important country with one of the highest standards of living in Latin-America.  I visited three cities, Colonia del Sacramento, Montevideo, and Punta del Este.  All three had their charms, Montevideo especially.  There was a beautiful boardwalk where a small, unsupervised child showed us his Yu-Gi-Oh cards and asked us if there were a lot of clothes in America.  Umm, kind of?

Punta del Este, while home to some beautiful beaches, was a bit of a ghost town, populated by the tortured spirits of construction workers who’s unfinished business consisted of building expensive  condos.  I got slightly burned by the sun and I am nearly certain that someone in the hostel stole my toothbrush, yet mysteriously left both my iPod, money, and passport.  Hmmm.

Colonia was a nice, well preserved Portuguese and Spanish Colonial town.  As a member of the intermediate program, I got to spend a night in a room in our program-directors Bed and Breakfast, La Casa de Los Limoneros.  We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner consisting of Turkey, potatoes, yams, fruit, Choripan, squash, and pecan pie.  Having not seen turkey in my time in Buenos Aires, I imagine that the last few turkeys in South America were exterminated for or enjoyment.  It was scrumptious.

Yesterday I went to a Boca Juniors game.  It was una locura.  After enjoying blackberry pancakes, my friends and I met at a hostel where we were transported to the La Boca area of Buenos Aires, known for its colorful houses, tango dancers, and rampant crack use among the poor.  We were initially brought to a some circle of hell filled with slightly overpriced fake jerseys as well as very overpriced beer and soda.  I asked the beer vendor where the bathroom might be located.  To the back and to the right.  Gracias.  I walked through a door where a small family did classic Argentine tasks.  A wide-eyed girl stared up at me as she played with her Yu-Gi-Oh cards.  Is this the bathroom?, I asked.  Turns out it was the second door on the right.

The game itself was fun.  We arrived early enough to watch the reserves kick the ball around the field a bit before they were ushered off to make way for the professionals.  Things seemed relatively tranquil at first, no one was too rowdy and the stadium seemed structurally sound enough to survive at least a category four earthquake.

However, as soon as opening kickoff started people began to throw blue and yellow smoke-bombs and chant Boca Juniors songs that seemed mostly to be series of cusswords directed at Racing Club and its players.  It soon became apparent that we were on the balloon side of the stadium, people were passing around balloons, which were then hurled in the general direction of the field, possibly due to some government work initiative where the unemployed are hired to pick up debris.   Unfortunately, I felt that I had received the short end of the stick.  The opposite side of the stadium had, not only flags, but a small brass band.

The game itself was quality, 3-0 Boca.  Afterwards we were treated to some classic slapstick humor as the riot police on the field were sprayed by a malfunctioning sprinkler system.  It was uproarious.

I will take a wealth of positives from my time here.  My Spanish has certainly improved, though I wouldn’t call myself fluent.  I feel like I have enough of a base to continue improving and increasing my comfort with a language I enjoy speaking.  I’ve also made some wonderful friends here, some Porteños, others students from different parts of the world,

If I had to  pick a negative, I would point to the classes I had, though I attribute some of the blame to myself.  They simply were not challenging enough.  Despite the fact that they were in Spanish, I found them a little too broad for my tastes.  In retrospect, I probably should have done direct enrolment in the Argentine Universities program where I could have had a wealth of classes to choose from.

If anything, after a few weeks back in the states, I imagine I’ll be ready to travel abroad again, somewhere new, somewhere different.  The experience I’ve had here has been absolutely extraordinary.  If you’ve followed my blog (And you know who you are), thank you very much, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing as much as I’ve enjoyed living them.

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Buenas Ondas en Mar del Plata

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

It’s hard to believe, but I only have three weeks left in Buenos Aires.  Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to do some truly extraordinary things the past few weeks here in the City and outside it. Election night here in the BA was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had here in the City because of the patriotism and love of country that the bar full of expats expressed.  Watching the results come in on CNN packed into a room filled with hundreds of fellow Americans singing and cheering as states on the map were colored in was truly inspiring.  I’m having a wonderful time in Argentina, but images like that remind me of what I miss most about my home country.  Anyways, back to all the wonderful things I’m doing in Buenos Aires.

The weather in the city has turned from chilly and rainy to North Carolina in the Summertime hot and humid.  I’ve probably increased my water intake by half to replenish all the fluids I’m sweating out.  Despite the fact that I have yet to find that swimming pool I desperately look for everyday, I did go on IFSA-Butler’s fantastic trip to Mar del Plata.  The trip was fun, as one might imagine a trip to beach with 100-plus college students would be.  Mar del Plata certainly had a different feel from Buenos Aires.  My best description would be the French seacoast with a few German inspired houses and odd-castle like structures sprinkled in for good measure.

The South-Atlantic coast was truly beautiful, the waves crashing against flower covered, platform-shaped rocks made for a beautiful sight.  Unfortunately our time was there rather brief, the first day we explored the town a bit, the second we took a boat tour of the coast and got treated to the sight of lounging sea lions.  We also ate at a seafood restaurant, where the appetizers consisted of calamari and little fish fried whole.  I was a little unsure of whether to eat the heads or not and I imagine that some of them, still, are swimming about in my belly.

Recently I also saw a one-man independent work of theater called “Borges.”  It was very excellent and served as a criticism of the elderly Jorge Luis Borges and his political complacency.  While it was, of course, a little difficult to understand at times, it was fun and I think a somewhat valid criticism of someone who is considered Argentina’s greatest writer.

Well, next week I’m going to both Creamfields and Uruguay, so expect another exciting blog entry soon.  Hasta luego!

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Bikes and Bodegas in the Shadow of the Andes

Time October 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

 

You cannot possibly overestimate how much fun tandem bikes are.  Chances are you have never rode one.  Well, after spending a day riding through Maípu and visiting the bodegas (wineries), I can safely say that they are the most fun thing ever.  After, waking up early in Mendoza, the provincial capital, my friends and I took a bus to Mr. Hugo’s Bike Shop, located conveniently on El Camino Del Vino.  The  area was lined with fields of grapes and olive groves, lorded over by the shadow of the snow-capped Andes in the distance.

We visited several area bodegas.  The first of which was a huge, pristine, modern facility with a fantastic tour in both English and Spanish.  The tour took us through its facilities, showing the breadth of machinery used to produce wines and taking us through the process from the grape crushing, to the casks, to the finished product.  The tour culminated on a porch with a beautiful vista of the Andes and Mount Aconcagua, tallest mountain in the Americas.

We visited another less impressive bodega  in addition to a gourmet chocolate shop and a delicious restaurant.  We also found vacant lots in which to push to boundaries of tandem –biking by driving over small mounds of dirt.  We did this until we, inevitably, injured ourselves.

The next day we took a bus to visit las termas.  Nestled in the Andes, the hot springs were not quite as I imagined.  Instead of natural pools, the hot springs more resembled swimming pools filled with elderly people.  The facilities size was rather impressive, complete with over 20 pools and two water slides, though one appeared to be made out of rusty metal.

We also climbed a small mountain in the area until it got so steep that I was sure I was going to end up sliding to the bottom.  It probably didn’t help I was wearing board shorts and running shoes.  The view was stunning though, check out the pictures.

All that was left was to catch the bus back to the bus station and ride home to Buenos Aires.  Of course, that was easier said than done.  We allotted 3 hours to take the hour-long bus ride back to our hostel.  How wrong we were.  Immediately after setting out, our bus became mired in traffic as far as the eye could see.  While we were a bit nervous, it was nothing to worry about.  After an hour and a half of driving, we finally reached Mendoza.

Passing a familiar area, my friend decided we should get out of the bus.  We promptly realized we had no clue where we were.  We decided to ask a police officer, who preceded to tell us that we were really far away from Mendoza.  Ignoring logic, we attempted to run back to our hostel, only stopping when a passerby informed us it lay 25 kilometers away and that we were literally in a different city.

This prompted a reevaluation of our plans.  We decided to call a taxi.  When the car finally pulled up beside us, we had 45 minutes to reach the bus station.  The driver assured us that we had ample time, that is until we saw the traffic jam on the highway.

Eventually after pulling 85 mph on some back-roads, we arrived at the bus station with three minutes left.  Never had I been so thankful to be going on a 14-hour –bus ride.

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Fast Times at Iguazu Falls

Time September 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

 Looking out the window of the bus on the way back from Iguazu National Park, I watched the countryside race by.  Mere seconds later, a cloud of smoke enveloped and I thought “Not again” as the bus slowed to a halt on the rural highway.  So, for the second time in a total of four bus trips, engine trouble caused me to take an unwanted respite from my journey.  A bit of an underwhelming capstone to what was otherwise an incredible trip to Missiones Province and Puerto Iguazu.

You know the movie Avatar?  Probably not, it’s kind of obscure, but anyways, the movie was filmed in the Park.  Actually, it wasn’t but it might as well have been because the park was a verdant paradise, with hundreds of cascades gushing between the palm trees.  Pictures don’t do it justice as there are few sensations comparable to standing next to millions of gallons of water tumbling off a cliff.  I’m posting them anyway.

The park itself occupies two countries, Brazil and Argentina, with the majority of the falls being located on the Argentine side.  Besides the beautiful falls, the park teemed with wildlife.   I fulfilled a long-held life goal of seeing a monkey doing the most stereotypical monkey action, swinging from a vine.  I also encountered several small brown dog-sized animals that seemed to have migrated to the area only to try and eat park-goers’ food.

We also discovered a secret lagoon at the bottom of a waterfall, perfect for swimming.  It was amazing.  The pathway to the lagoon was marked with signs exclaiming “peligroso,” y “prohibido pasar.”  However, we took these signs as suggestions rather than commands and trekked down the rickety stairs to the pool.  It’s hard to imagine a more stunning location to swim.  If you’re going to the Park, be sure to ask me how to get there.  Es vale la pena!

While the park is very well maintained, sometimes this fact took some of the wildness out of the park.  It felt more like Disney’s Animal Kingdom than an actually national park.  None more so than when we took a speedboat out on the water to the bottom of the falls.  Though I easily got the wettest I’ve ever been in my entire life, it was definitely worth it despite its short duration.

Not worth it, was the full-moon of the park.  While it might sound magical and romantic, it was a bit of a disappointment.  I saw no nocturnal animals (though perhaps my hopes of seeing a jaguar were a bit misplaced) and the falls were the same as in the day except more difficult to see.  Plus the entrance fee was more expensive for limited access to the park.  I recommend you spend your money on several tacos at La Fabrica del Taco in Buenos Aires.  If you haven’t experienced them, you may want to reevaluate your priorities.

At the end of the trip, I also visited the tres fronteras, the location where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet.  I was pleasantly surprised by the spot, as there is a beautiful view of a river and not a 15 foot tall wall as I had feared.  We didn’t have long to enjoy it though, as we had to dart to catch our bus.  After being stuck an extra day in Salta, the prospect of staying in the hostel an extra night and playing foosball with random eastern-Europeans was something I wanted to avoid.

If you made it this far, I want to thanks you for sticking through this somewhat lengthy blog post.  If you just skipped to the end, shame on you.  I’ll be sure to update my blog shortly so keep checking back!

Roughly one-third of the falls.  Yes there was more.

The Forbidden Lagoon!

 

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Salta La Linda

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

After spending a month in a half in a Buenos Aires that as of late has has only showed an interest in being rainy and cold, I decided to get out of town.  That’s when some of my friends told me about Salta.  Warm weather, majestic mountains, delicious comida típica, what was not to love?

I left for Salta on a Wednesday at 8:30, barely making the bus after being tremendously confused by the arrival and departure list in the station.  The bus was very nice, with semi-reclining seats and all you can drink coffee or as is more appropriate in this situation, sugar-water.  Fifteen hours later I was standing under a tree in the middle of the pampas with nothing but scrubland and the fuming bus in sight.  As I listened to the elderly Argentine woman cuss under their breath and the bus captain try and repair the bus with what might have been a hammer, I wondered if I would ever make it to Salta.  Perhaps Salta didn’t exist at all and was simply a prank played on unsuspecting Yankees where the bus company arrives back in Buenos Aires after 20-odd hours.Luckily my fears were unfounded.  When I finally got to Salta I didn’t have much time to do anything so I went to sleep and prepared for the next day.

Salta had a really unique vibe.  The relatively diminutive colonial style buildings gave the admittedly large city the feeling of a smaller community and the arid hills surrounding the city gave way to towering mountains in the country.  With empanada and tamale restaurants on every corner and several impressive pastel cathedrals, Salta had a distinct Spanish colonial feel that is absent from Buenos Aires.

The city had a dearth of things to do, highlighted by the Museo Arqueologico de Altas Montañas, a museum that contained three mummies of Incan children sacrificed to ensure the grace of the Incan gods.  Adjacent to the city center was a small mountain which could be ascended using a gondola that departed from a city park.  I later, in what I can only assume was a fit of madness, ran to the top of the mountain and ran back down, getting myself lost in the process.

However, the highlight of my trip took place south of the city on the Rio Juramento, when my friends and I went rafting with the excellent Salta Rafting, which I whole-heartedly recommend should any of you find yourself in Salta.  The river swirled through a dynamic landscape of sheer cliffs and mountains, flung from the Earth’s crust by the convergence of the Nazca and South American plate beneath our feet.  Within the stratified rock jutting diagonally at the river’s edge, fossilized algae gave a sense of how the region at one point was submerged beneath the ocean.  Also the rafting was incredibly fun, we even had a canine guest on our raft, though his contribution to the paddling was minimal.

Unfortunately, I ended up getting stuck in Salta an extra night, away from my friends.  The city became slightly more boring after this because the natural beauty of the region requires planning to see, and my extra night in Salta was completely unplanned.  Eventually I made it back to BA after an incredibly boring bus-ride, but I did finish the second Game of Thrones book so it wasn’t a total loss.

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Eye of el Tigre

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

 

My apologies for the long wait for this blog post, I hope you have found something to do with your time in the interim.  Part of the wait involves my unfortunate encounter with turista.   After my awesome trip to Tigre last Monday, I fell ill for the rest of the week with food poisoning.  I felt absolutely miserable on Tuesday.  While I am feeling better now, perhaps I will shy away from street food for a while.

The trip to Tigre, a river town used as a porteño weekend getaway, was nice, if not a little too quiet.  There was a a museum of fine arts that I would have liked to visit, but it appeared to be closed.  After exploring the town and grabbing a bite to eat, I took a boat tour of the rivers snaking throughout the area.  There were a number of interesting houses, most of the slightly-dilapidated vacation home variety.  Most interesting however, was a small yellow cottage with a well manicured lawn.  The house and yard were encased in a large class cube.  The tour was not guided so I literally have no idea what the purpose of the structure was.  Feel free to guess in the comments.

My favorite experience this week came as a pleasant surprise.  On my weekly run in la reserva ecologica in Puerto madero, a fog set in, obscuring everything except the path in front of me.  For the first time since coming to BA, I felt the sensation of being somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of city streets, from the interminable kinetic energy of the populace.  However, soon the fog lifted and I was again well aware of the fact that I was in Buenos Aires and not some seaside forest.  The experience reaffirmed my desire to travel soon and explore more of the gargantuan country that is Argentina.

Additionally our program began to sample the classes offered this week.  I am able to select three from around eight.  As a political science major, I will surprisingly take the political science class, along with the history and theater class.  Once the classes start in earnest I will be sure to update my readers on how they’re going.

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Acclimating to Buenos Aires

Time July 23rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

  This week included a major milestone in my Spanish speaking journey.  I walked into a Librería to make photocopies of my passport, a standard event in the US made challenging through language barriers.  As I stated what I wanted done, I waited for a confused response from the employee behind the desk.  To my surprise, he made the photocopies and I was on my way.  Honestly, in all my years of Spanish study, this simple moment may have been the most satisfying.

This week also included the awesome show, El Hombre Vertiente, translated literally as The Spring Man.  While one might assume that the show is about a super-hero that has the ability to make water trickle from his hands, you would only be half-right.   El Hombre Vertiente instead was an essentially plot-less spectacular with lots of water, a giant video-screen, and a man riding a giant, inflatable dragon over the crowd.  Unfortunately I do not have pictures because prior to the performance I assumed it was going to be a play and people usually do not look kindly upon taking flash-photography during your community theater’s performance of The Tempest.

Also this week I visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which unlike El Hombre Vertiente, did ban flash photography.  The selection of art was stunning.  The museum contained art from roughly the past thousand years, the oldest I believe being a wooden, German statue.  However, the works that made the biggest impression on me were those of Rodin.  The castings’ size made an impression on me that can never be gleaned from a reproduction in a book or on the internet.  I was only able to spend a brief amount of time at the museum but due to its proximity to my apartment, I will most assuredly go back.

And thus concludes my second week in Buenos Aires.  I’m off to a rugby game this afternoon, and I will without a doubt have pictures.

Buenos Aires Train Station- Probably one of the most impressive civic buildings I have ever seen

Semi-Pro Rugby Match in San Isidro- The trip to San Isidro to watch CASI, a rugby team, play is my first trip outside the city

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La Primera Semana…

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

So concludes my first week of class in Buenos Aires.  The most important take-away from this week was that if I do not have my guia, a guide that details the streets of Buenos Aires, I WILL, without exception, become lost.  Last night in an ill-fated attempt to find the apartment of a friend from class I ended up winding through the streets of Recoleta hoping that no one wanted to steal my wallet, .  I live in an apartment in Recoleta, a very nice neighborhood, with a beautiful mixture of French style and modern buildings.  The building also has very clean streets with the exception of the burned out car I saw earlier this evening.   While I have mastered the art of of walking to my classes, which require taking approximately one left turn, travelling much farther requires constant consultation with my guia, or what might be more appropriately called my new best friend.

This brings me to the interrelated  topic of my human friends.  The other students in my program are fantastic and together we are able to converse with the porteños, if not with ease, a semblance of clarity.  Over the past week my Spanish has improved significantly due to my long conversations about culture, politics, history, and other topics with my host family.  While conversing with my friends is certainly helpful, my host parents knowledge of the Spanish language is a major boon to my learning of Spanish.  At this point my main difficulty lies with my accent.  The accent in Buenos Aires is rather unique and hard to replicate, but at this point I assume that my style of speech will gradually conform with the locals.

Earlier this week we embarked on another tour of the city, this time of Montserrat, a district which houses the metropolis’ oldest buildings.  The churches that we entered on the tour were of many different styles and represented an intersection of the political and the religious history of the city.  For example, the neo-classical Cathedral Metropolitan of Buenos houses the remains of Jose de San Martin famed liberator of Chile, Peru, and Argentina, while the Cathedral of Santo Domingo was an important British stronghold in Buenos Aires.

                All in all my first few days in Buenos Aires have been both a blast and a challenge.  Hopefully this weekend will provide me with an opportunity to venture outside Recoleta and into other parts of this immense city.

Above is the tower of the Cathedral Santo Domingo that was bombarded by the Spanish

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires which houses, despite its neo-classical exterior, much baroque statuary

The Obelisk in la Avenida Nueve de Julio

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El Primer Día

Time July 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

My Grandfather studied abroad. Except back then it went by different name: WWII. I think my Dad may have visited Canada once. As you can see, I come from a long line of foreign travelers. However, as far as I know, I am the first person from my family to visit South America. Today I first stepped off the plane at Ezeiza national airport greeted by pleasantly cool weather. The jackets and coats I saw were a far cry from the 100 degree-plus weather of North Carolina. However, despite the change in scenery, the fact that I was in a vastly different country from my own did not become apparent until I stepped out of the airport into the streets of Buenos Aires. After checking into our hotel, we embarked on a bus tour throughout the city to get a brief overview of the neighborhoods and their respective vibes. Initially we stopped at La Plaza del Mayo, the political center of Argentina. Surrounded by European-style architecture, the square was rather impressive. Also characteristic of the square were the large groups of protestors, one group (pictured below) was protesting a lack of military pension and recognition for soldiers who were drafted but did not fight in the Falklands War against the UK. In La Boca, milongas advertising tango and shops selling Boca Juniors jerseys lined the streets. While, the colorful buildings attract a touristy crowd, an air of poverty can be seen in the neighborhood. Just behind the main street of El Caminito shantytowns play host to poverty and drug use. Trash littered some sections of the street. La Boca stands in stark contrast to the luxury shopping in Recoleta. The neighborhood features many European style homes with beautiful architecture. It is apparent that this luxury continues even through death upon entrance into the massive Recoleta cemetery. A giant necropolis, alleyways cut through rows of opulent mausoleums celebrating the cities’ rich and powerful. The cemetery’s most famous resident is Eva Peron who, despite her great importance in Argentine history, is buried in a relatively nondescript mausoleum. I definitely want to spend more time in the cemetery, it’s absolutely gorgeous and it would be a pleasure just to get lost in it. I finished the evening with dinner at Filo, an Italian restaurant, and really started getting to know the various people on my program, of which there are 20 or so involved. The food was awesome and a great ending to my first day in BA.

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Buenos Aires Bound

Time July 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A few days from departing for Argentina, the realization that I am leaving has just begun to set in.  I have never travelled outside the United States before and though I am excited view another part of the world, my travels still seem to lie a ways away.  However, I think my lack of foreign travel provides me with a unique perspective through which to view the culture of Argentina.  It is on this blog that I plan on chronicling my adventures in Buenos Aires and the surrounding area bi-weekly for the five-month duration of my trip.  Considering I have yet to leave, I realize that there is not much to post, however, I want to provide a bit of insight into my decision to travel to Argentina and my mindset prior to departure.

At Davidson College, I approached Spanish, or Castillano, as it is known in Argentina, with a bit of trepidation.  Despite a few semesters of high school Spanish and my school’s high Spanish-speaking population, my skills ended at asking the time and perhaps waving my arms and repeating baño to let my teacher know that I needed to use the restroom.  However, at college, I found Spanish to be enjoyable and my abilities quickly improved, leading to my decision to improve my Spanish in Buenos Aires.   The language also lends itself nicely to my major, political science, especially since I have a particular interest in the international.

While I have very little idea about what my daily life in Argentina will be like, I am eagerly awaiting to meet my host family, a husband and wife that live on the eighth floor of an apartment building in the Recoleta district of BA.  Considering I have lived in either a suburban home or a dorm room all my life, I am intrigued to get a taste of urban living.  I am also anticipating an escape from the triple-digit North Carolina heat to what weather.com promises is chilly-yet-pleasant winter weather.  Packing has proved to be more challenging than anticipated.  Multiple seasons combined with the length of the trip make it tough to decide what to bring and what to leave back at home.

Through this blog I hope to provide both anecdotes from my trip and a commentary on my larger study-abroad experience, which will in all likelihood will be punctuated by hilarious misunderstandings as I attempt to speak Spanish with the locals, though ideally there will be less of those as the semester progresses.  I also plan to feature many pictures from my journey in BA and other locations in the southern cone.   I hope you will continue to follow my adventures throughout the semester!  ¡Hasta que llegue en BA!

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