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What went wrong: Stolen Phone

Time January 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Next thing that went wrong: getting my phone stolen. Talk to anyone in Buenos Aires and they’ll give you a lost of things they’ve had stolen. Just about every student in my program has gotten something stolen: wallet, phone, iPod, computer, backpacks, purses, passports, full things of luggage. It’s part of the experience, no matter how careful you all, you will most likely get something stolen. I had managed to avoid having my phone stolen. I was using my beat up Balckberry Torch that I had brought with me from the US. I just had to buy SIM card for it and I was good to go. It was great for the 4 months I was using it there. Even though the camera stopped working, it was chipped all over, part of the plastic fell off and some of the buttons stopped working. It was my phone, I liked it. One day I was going to meet a friend to study at a new place we were hoping to try out for its atmosphere. When I got there, the place was closed. S I took out my phone to call my friend and ask where she was and what we wanted to do instead. As I had it out in my hand a guy on a bike went past me and snatched it right out of my hand. I was dumbstruck. It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t some joke, I had literally just gotten my phone taken away by some random guy on a bike, and as I watched him peddle away I yelled “REALLY?!?! EFF MY LIFE!” As I considered that I did set it with a password, and that after so many tries it would wipe everything, and that my phone had so much damage they wouldn’t get much for selling it, I felt a little bit better. I also realized I had my laptop in my backpack, which I was safely wearing in front of me. So I guess I was also relieved he zoomed by instead of taking a gun or knife or other weapon and demanding all of my belongings. I hate not having a phone so I immediately bought a new one. As you’re already aware money has been tight, so that was a huge bummer to have to dish out all that money for a new phone. But I guess as a warning to all who will be in Buenos Aires, guard your things! But don’t be super surprised when you get mugged or get something stolen. It will happen. Just be smart about how you react and handle the situation and take a lot of preventative measures.

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Where I went wrong: Host Family

Time January 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Next thing that went wrong: my host family.

I was already having some reservations about my host mom. She screamed a lot, always about politics, always Christina. She would watch TV and tell the people she wanted to kill them. She had very strong opinions and I respect that. But she always would scream it. Stand up, wave her arms around and yell. The screaming was such a turn off. And something that was hard for me was changing a mentality that “I’m here to learn and others also want to learn from me, because I have valuable experiences to share, like everyone else. Exchanging is good and appreciated.”. Because, yes, they tolerate a little bit of what you have to share, but ultimately, you are there to learn from them. Not the other way around. “Oh,that’s what you do/say/think in the US? Well we’re in Argentina, it’s this way.”we had an incident that I won’t fully explain here, but I felt that I really wasn’t at fault. I had asked her permission to do something. Se gave me the permission. Supervised the event. Then afterward screamed how terrified she was the entire time it was happening. People in Buenos Aires have a deep sense of fear and paranoia. It’s warranted, crime is ridiculously common. But I felt that if she knew she was going to scared during that time, she should not have given me permission. She rebutted that she had been asleep when I asked. She had an hour and a half to realize and call me back to take it back. If she would have explained I would have understood. No harm done. She did call me back to clarify what I had asked her, which at that point, she later said, she did already feel fear, but she reaffirmed her permission and it happened. That was the final strike. I had really been torn about wether or not I wanted to move out or stay for the next semester. The home, location, and amenities were all top notch and comfortable, it was the actual people who I didn’t enjoy. But this settled it. I would move out. It took another month before I could, and I tried to be cheerful with my host mom, so as not to have that last month be awkward, but we still ended up never having a meal together again. I didn’t tell her my specific reason for leaving, I bet she sensed it, but I had already told her I was going to a new neighborhood for next semester and that I decided to move out a month early so that I could get used to it before leaving for break and coming back.

I love my new home. Instead of just one woman, I’m with an old couple who are very much still in love. They are kind and great conversation at dinner. My new room is a lot smaller with a lot less space, but the location is better for being able to sit in my room and still be social with them as they pass by. They also have a granddaughter who they speak of and to all the time, and I’m really excited to eventually meet her. I love kids! I’ve been missing contact with children since I left Wisconsin, and I’m excited to be in a home that visits a small girl often. One day, my new host mom saw me working in my room through lunch time, a meal that I’m responsible for myself. She came by and plopped a sandwich on my desk. My heart melted. They were also kind enough to let me stay with them the two days after the rent period ended until I left Buenos Aires. They even fed me! They also let me keep my things in their home, instead of having me pack it all and take it to some storage place. I did have to pack it all up into the closet though, a guest would be taking over my room within a day or so. I’m hoping I manage to keep a good relationship with them. My new neighborhood is in Recoletta, a much more expensive barrio than where I was before, in Almagro. So I’ve taken to hand washing my clothes since the new lavadera is so much more expensive than my old one was. But overall, the better home life makes it worth it. And it’s fun to have a new neighborhood to explore.

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Where I went wrong: Academics

Time January 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Next thing that went wrong: Academics.

There is a fifteen credit minimum, and depending on which university you’re taking classes at they range from 3-6 credits. Upon selecting classes, you submit the course information to UW Madison requesting an equivalency, so that they can transfer your credit. I ended up with 3 classes: The 3 credit IFSA Castellano course, that is pre-approved by UW. A 6 credit Literature class, that was quickly approved by the Spanish department.And a 6 credit International Criminal Organizations course, that was taking an oddly long time to be approved by UW’s Political Science department.

I’ll be honest, I did not take my classes very seriously. It all felt surreal. With it being taught to me in Spanish, and being in different buildings, and just a different environment altogether, I didn’t feel like I was really in school. Especially when in my literature course there would be pigeons walking in out and out of the room, confusing sign up lists to order course books that came up every other week, with an equally confusing time trying to remember which books i had signed up for, which I had paid for, and which I had picked up. That made it also difficult to keep up with what reading was due for when. Often a reading was due when I didn’t have the book yet, and I would end up reading the book the week after it had been discussed, almost always behind, but never once reaching out for help. It was part pride, part embarrassment. Part being difficult to follow along in classes when the students would speak so fast about topics I wasn’t familiar with: recent Argentine current events and social issues.

Another factor that I think affected me was having so much free time. Back at UW I have classes, a job, meetings, volunteer events, friends to socialize with. Being busy helped keep me on a schedule, being on a schedule helped me stay organized, being organized made it easier to get work done. In Argentina, I only had class 3 days a week. I volunteered one day a week. The rest of the time I had was free. And back on campus if I had free time I would spend it resting, bumming, and generally being lazy and not doing anything. So that’s what I ended up doing with my free time in Buenos Aires. I would put off work until last minute or sometimes not do it at all.

It seemed like I would get away with it when in my literature course she assigned us a paper, due the last day of class. I had previously asked her how the course was being graded and she said we were getting that paper. That was all she mentioned. So I was pretty excited when the topic she assigned me was something we were about to talk about in my next class. I read what she had written about the topic in her book. I read the stories I was to analyze. I paid close attention when she spoke about it in class. She emphasized that she didn’t want us to repeat what she had said, but to come up with our own conclusions. My IFSA advisor reminded me to email him my paper before turning it so he could review and correct it. He knew how she grades, he could be a huge asset. I struggled to develop my concept, when I finally had it and had completed my paper it was midnight before it was due. Despite the late finish I was confident in my paper. I emailed it to my professor expecting a decent grade and relieved to be done with that class. I really hadn’t enjoyed my time with it and to have that paper over with was a huge relief in my life.

A few weeks later she emailed apologizing for not correcting our papers yet, she still had a few to get through. She also was sorry she hadn’t sent us the guidelines for the final paper yet. I did a double take. WHAT FINAL PAPER?! I had thought I was done with that class, I was working on my final 15 page paper for the other 6 credit class. I didn’t want to deal with another 15 pages before I left in 3 weeks. I was also terrified because i had left all the books from that course at my old host mom’s house, I did NOT want to have to see her again(I get to those details in my next point). I sent several emails, in the end it turned out I had failed to properly read the syllabus where it clearly said that we had a midterm evaluation(the paper I had turned in) and a final project(the one I was dreading having to do). She sent out the guidelines and I began the brainstorming, the good news was that the I didn’t need the old books I had left behind at my old place.

A few days later she emails me asking me to resend my paper, she couldn’t correct it in PDF form. I obliged. The next day she sends me an email. Essentially my paper was a disaster. She said I made a lot of points without giving the evidence to back them up. And that it appears to her that I didn’t properly read any of the materials necessary for the paper, and combined with my lack of participation in the class, she could not pass me. She awarded it a 3/10. The minimum to pass is a 4. She gave me two options: she could report my 3, admitting that I failed the class. Or she could withdraw it and say I was never in the course, therefore “avoiding” my fail. I looked into the documentation of the program. On my way there, I discovered my Criminal Organizations course was denied for transfer to UW. This sent me over the edge. I was bawling. Out of 3 courses, I failed one and the other was denied for credit. My semester had been a waste. The damage to GPA and my plan for graduation were irreparable. Could I even afford academically to spend another semester in Buenos Aires? Would I need to return to Madison to offset this blow to my academics? I sent emails to several advisors. I finally arrived to look at my program paperwork. A 3 at UBA would transfer as a D. A D is not good at all, but it is better than an F. With a D I still receive credit. I felt somewhat relieved. But not much. I asked my professor what happens with my final paper, could I turn it in to improve my grade? She said that no, a condition for turning in the final paper is passing the first.

The next day I received emails back from all the advisors. A few wanted meetings with me. A Skype appointment with my UW study abroad advisor, assured me that the course that was denied would be accepted in some way, since I am with a UW program, I am guaranteed to have my credit transfer one way or another. I would not need to return to Madison, but if I wanted to they would support my decision and help me through the process. I decided it would be messier to leave than to stay. I met with the IFSA advisor, we discussed the fail actually being a D. He said if I was ok with that then ok. He really lamented that I hadn’t had anyone read over my paper before turning it in. Such a step would have avoided this mess. I went home content, well as content as you can be with a 6 credit D. But knowing I would get credit and not an F helped me feel better.

Later that afternoon I received call from my IFSA advisor. He had been thinking, and he realized something very important. I might not receive the 3 in the class. Since I didn’t meet the conditions to turn in a final paper, I technically didn’t meet the conditions to finish the class. It was very possible I would receive an incomplete. That WOULD be an F. He advised I email the professor asking for some way to get the 3. I could rewrite my old paper, work with my advisors, do some name dropping. He drafted the email for me and I sent it. I was nervous all over again. She responded that she wasn’t sure if it was bureaucratically possible to give me a 3 instead of an incomplete. She would talk to the foreign students office and ask for me. My advisor also promised to speak to some university administration. The next day I received an email from my professor, it was a forward of what she had received. I was confirmation that. Could be given the 3. It was failing anyway. I was so relieved. I related the story to my one argentine friend, bemoaning the impact it would have on my GPA. He was astounded. I still passed the class without having to write the final paper? That was the best situation I could have gotten out of it. So I’ll be thankful I managed to get through all of that drama with credit. It’s not pretty, but it’s better than an F.

Aims/goals to improve next semester: I recognize that all my free time really hurt me, and so did being at such a disorganized university. So I will try classes at one of the better organized private universities, that have classes several times a week. My schedule will be a lot busier, but I’m hoping that will help me in the end. Also, I want to make sure the classes I take are clear about the way they will grade the class, and also what materials I will need and where to find them. I don’t want anymore ridiculous lists of books that I need to keep track of. Also, I need to establish a relationship with whoever is teaching, so I will not be so intimidated if I am confused, and so I don’t end up drowning like I did last semester. And lastly, I need to improve my attitude in regards to these classes. They’re real. They count. The sting from the 6 credit D will probably be as strong of a motivator as anything else. I am abroad and in college on full scholarship. People are investing in me to do well and work hard, I need to live up to those expectations.

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First semester done: where I went, where I went wrong: money

Time January 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Wow. Ok. These last few months have been a blur. And I finally calm enough to write a blog. A really quick summation is that I left Buenos Aires to be with my aunt and uncle who are missionaries in La Paz. My time here is lost up since I leave Sunday to go see Santiago, Chile. Then I will be in Lima, Peru for a week. Then I shall return to Buenos Aires.

Let me explain what ended up happening for my first semester abroad. I let a lot of things go terribly wrong. I take full responsibility for it, and am sharing it in the hopes that others who go abroad can avoid my same mistakes. It is frustrating because my mistakes were mostly from me ignoring lessons I had already learned from starting college.

Let’s start with money, I failed to make a budget, and I let my spending get out of hand. Pretty soon I realized I would only have a couple hundred dollars to last me 3 months. Buenos Aires is expensive. I was still in a spending mode as if I was back on campus, getting paid every other week. That is not the case here. Things I should have avoided: taking money out of ATMs. They slap on an extra $19+ peso charge for each extraction. That’s approx USD$5. Also, I should have avoided all the extra snacking. Argentina has some really good candy, beverages, and snacks, but all those little treats start adding up, both in dollars and calories. Another note, is that when looking for a good study spot with wi-if, you can really be limited to restaurants and cafes, if you’re insistent that you want to leave your house. Being in a cafe, you’re going to have to buy something, if you’re there for too long, you may start to feel guilty and order something else.

My aims/goals to improve my spending next semester: no more snacking! Maybe just once a week: I am abroad, I should get to enjoy these treats while I still can, but I need to do a better job limiting myself. Instead of taking money from ATMs, I want to start using Xoom, an online business where you can get a much better exchange rate and pick it up when you can. A lot of other students in IFSA have been really happy with their service so I figure I should try it out. Working with a student visa in Argentina is illegal. Yet there are some opportunities to teach English on the side that, again, I have talked to fellow IFSA students who have taken advantage of it as a way to make some spending money. I will be looking into this for next semester.

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Keeping in touch, homesickness, and the awesomeness of IFSA!

Time November 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Now that you’re on the ground, how has the adjustment affected your family/friends at home? Are you in frequent contact (and if so, what do you use for communication)? How are you confronting/handling homesickness?

 

Moving to college three years ago really changed my family dynamic. I wasn’t around so we communicated by phone and, since I was only 60 miles away; it was easy enough to pick me or to ride a bus back home for a visit. Being on a different continent, it was fairly interesting how my parents and I would catch up almost every other day when I first arrived (which has tapered off lately, as we become more comfortable and there are not as many new things to share). Before I left I made sure to teach my technologically-challenged parents how to use the computer for Skype purposes. And of course, most of my friends have and know how to use Skype, so it’s definitely one of my main tools for keeping in touch with my loved ones back in the US. Also, Facebook has been great, since people will post updates about their lives without me having to ask, I can still feel somewhat “in the loop”, and the chat feature has been marvelous.

A week before departure I invested in an iPad, and I have never regretted it since arriving here. A lot of people I’m close to use Apple products and a great feature about a number of them is FaceTime. It’s an Apple version of Skype. And also useful has been that I can text message people who have iPhones from my iPad using their messenger. Also great for keeping in contact has been a texting app I downloaded from Apple’s App Store. It assigned me a US-phone number that I can use to text other US-phone numbers – for free! It also gives me the option to buy minutes to be used to make phone calls, which has been really convenient because it lets me get in contact with my parents through their cell phones and they don’t necessarily have to be signed into Skype.

The tricky part about all of the means listed above is that they are entirely dependent on an internet (specifically WiFi for the iPad) connection, and preferably a good one. But it’s not terribly difficult to find WiFi, the IFSA office has it available, and so do most cafes and restaurants.

I have written quite a few postcards, but since my internet driven technology is obviously preferred for more urgent or simply quicker conversations, they’ve mostly been just a way of sending a small souvenir to loved ones back home. Who doesn’t like getting [good, which is to say not bills] mail?

I get homesick quite a bit. A lot of the time it’s just little things that will remind me of home and make me nostalgic and wish I could be back. What I do in light of being homesick depends on what kind of homesick I am. I usually will combat it by getting in touch with a loved one, with a call, a message, or whatever, just letting someone know I miss them and have them give me some words of comfort. Other times I talk to other IFSA students who are here with me, and go through homesickness too and so we have conversations that may vary from encouraging each other to just a vent session to let it all out.

I’ve noticed I have some moments where I yearn for home, not necessarily because I truly want to be there, but because I feel overwhelmed by what I’m facing here. Like what happened to me a couple weeks ago. I had gotten into an argument with my host mother the night before, and didn’t sleep at all that night because of it. The next morning I had an immigrations appointment and it was a very stressful and long process, only to arrive 3/4s of the way and be rejected because I had the wrong paperwork. I made my way to the IFSA office to let them know about my rejection and I ended up having a breakdown. One of the staff members took me aside, gave me tissues, heard me out and gave me advice. It was great being able to let out all the frustration I was feeling over the disagreement with my host mom, and learn that redoing the immigrations appointment would not be difficult, and that there was an empty room in the office where I was welcome to take a nap. The points about this story that I want to leave you with are: 1) If you are having issues with your host family, IFSA has ways to help you. Ranging from simply hearing you out, to sitting down with you and your host family to problem resolve, and switching host families entirely. 2) IFSA staff in the Buenos Aires office are fabulously helpful, and the office itself is a great resource for a number of different things. From free WiFi, to study spots, and places to nap. 3)I feel it’s important to know why you’re homesick. In this case, I wasn’t necessarily homesick because I wanted to be home. I was homesick because I was frustrated with what was happening here and I simply wanted to be in a setting where I know how things work. In this case, combating homesickness came in the form of advice, reassurance and a nap. Thanks IFSA!

 

Overall, I keep in fairly frequent contact with the friends and family back home. It’s definitely not as close as when I was home, but it’s still been enough to keep me and the relationships going. I definitely recommend a Tablet also because it’s powerful enough to use for a number of different tasks, but it’s small enough to fit into a medium sized purse so you don’t seem obvious carrying around electronics (safety and keeping your belongings safe is a huge concern here, so the discretion of a tablet is marvelous!). I get homesick a lot, but it isn’t crippling, and it subsides quickly enough. There are so many ways to move past it, and I just keep in mind that once I leave I won’t be able to come back for a long time, so I need to make the most of it and appreciate it while I can.

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Kayaking and cultural tidbits

Time October 22nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hey!

First time KAYAKING!

I don’t have a whole lot of updates on what I’ve been doing, but a week ago I went kayaking for the first time ever! It was soooo beautiful. We went to a city an hour away by train outside of the main Buenos Aires called Tigre. A really cool thing about Tigre is that it’s a city built on top of a delta, so it’s this cluster of islands. The part we kayaked through (I would assume most of the rest of the city would be similar) was full of gorgeous, colorful houses, gardens, wooded plots of land. The style of a lot of the houses was reminiscent of something you’d expect to find in Central America (as opposed to South America, or Argentina), so I really appreciated the change in scenery. I was the only student in a group of 12 of us who had never been kayaking before. We were put into 3-person kayaks, and as the virgin kayaker, they put me up front, since the back people do more steering. It was really hard to maneuver at first, but after about 40 minutes we finally got the hang of it as a group. We stopped for lunch at this super cute restaurant in the middle of all this water and had choripan (which is really similar to a Mexican torta, but it’s a lot smaller, without all the extra toppings, and chorizo is a completely different thing here. But it’s still really good!). We were all soaked from kayaking, and before we took off we left all our things behind in a locker so I wasn’t able to take any pictures. Our guide from IFSA had brought along his digital, not waterproof camera, and had been taking pictures of our group, but then he accidentally dropped it in the water. He managed to find it and tried to dry it out, but now it’s sort of up in the air if we’ll be able to see those pictures ever. We then continued to kayak for another 50 minutes, and were happy to be done since all of our arms were in massive pain. It had never even occurred to me to put on sunscreen so now I’m sporting some great tan lines, and I paid all this week with some gross sunburn on my face.

I thought I would write about some interesting things I’ve encountered.

Politics and the Presidential Debate

My host mom, Silvia, is always talking about politics. When I say always, I mean ALWAYS. Just about every comment I make she can find a way to lead the discussion to the Argentine government and how corrupt it is. Even when her adult children come over for lunch on Sundays, it’s not much small talk about how their weeks have been, what projects they have going on, instead they all passionately yell about politics the entire lunch and then afterward until they leave. It’s definitely more interesting during these lunches because when it’s just me and Silvia I have no input. During these 4 person discussions, they don’t always agree on things so I get to watch them hash it out. But they do make a lot of comparisons to the US government. And sometimes they bring me into it and ask me my opinion on so and so in US politics.

One of the first interesting comparisons that was brought upon me was when they asked how many rich people (I think more specifically they may have asked about millionaires) are in the US. I told them we have a lot, that there are quite a few people who become entrepreneurs and quickly become millionaires. That it’s more impressive to reach billionaire and above status, and told them a bit about the Occupy Wall Street movement. And they brought up an interesting point; that the richest people here, in Argentina, are politicians. While our richest people tend to be people who invest their money in companies, oil, etc. They are at least making their money (assumedly) in a legal way, it may not always be an ethical way, but it’s legal. This is opposed to their richest persons, who, becoming rich after achieving their political status, they assume are stealing it from government funds.  Just thought it was a good reflection.

 

Next interesting point: I, as many others, Silvia included, tuned into the presidential debate the other night. The next morning Silvia asked me what I thought of it. I told her my response to some of what was discussed and she gave me her response. That despite what may have been said; she looked at it in a more simple way. She saw two men being respectful to each other and having a debate about policy and government as part of the process for presidential elections. She remorsefully told me that here they have never had such a thing happen. The candidates for their presidency would never enter the same room and have a civil debate for the world to see. She was also impressed by how the candidates were able to count off a number of promises they have fulfilled during their terms. Silvia yelled quite angrily how the candidates here never seem to fulfill their promises, instead stealing their money. But something to take away from this is, yes, some people may not agree with one candidate or the other, or things the government is doing, and we should always strive for the best, for improvement, but we should also be thankful for what we have established. We should be thankful to have a stable government, a (relatively) strong currency that is used in a great number of other countries (including Argentina, when they save large amounts of money, or make large purchases, such as homes, they do so in American Dollars, because they have so little faith in the Argentine peso’s stability), there are such big profound things that don’t seem so profound until you experience something else.

Photoshopped

Something really cool I’ve been noticing on a lot of advertisements have been disclaimers at the bottom saying something to the effect of “The pictures of people in this advertisement have been altered or enhanced artificially”, essentially admitting that the person in the ad has had their image photoshopped. I think about all the times that locals here have thrown in my face that Argentina is a third-world country, that they aren’t developed, and I’m never sure how to respond to that. But then I see things like this, a statement at the bottom of an advertisement admitting that they have retouched the models’ photos, and it makes me think that the US still has a long way to go to, just in different aspects. There are so many campaigns against bombarding our media with images of flawlessness and perfection that can hurt people’s self-esteem because they could never be that way, which the models aren’t even that way to begin with since they get photoshopped. I just think it’s really great that here, they at least admit to when they have enhanced photos.

 

Using the bus

The everyday task of riding the bus actually took a while to get used to. One of the first steps I took was obtaining a Sube card. This relatively new system gives each card a debit account that you use to pay for rides on the buses and subways. The subway costs a flat AR$2.50 per trip, so about 50 cents in US $. The buses cost a flat $2 if you pay in coins, with the Sube card, you get charged according to how far you are going to travel. Typically you tell the bus driver which stop you want and they decide how much to charge: AR$1.10 for a short trip, AR$1.20 for a medium length trip, AR$1.25 for long trips. So a ride on the bus won’t cost more than approx. 27 cents in US$. Nice and cheap.

When navigating the bus system there is this extremely useful booklet called the Guia”T”, it has maps of pretty much everywhere in the capital city of Buenos Aires, and it has graphs that let you know what buses pass through where. The tricky part is finding the where the bus stops are. Once you find the bus stop, you either start the line or wait in it. Yes, one thing I truly appreciate here is that people line up for the bus. Back home we create a mob around the bus stop and when the bus arrives, it’s a mad dash to squeeze in. With this, it goes much smoother and you will get a turn. To actually get the bus to stop, you must hail it, like you would a taxi. If they don’t see anybody with their arm out, they won’t stop (unless one of the passengers is getting off, but then they don’t open the front door). It increases efficiency all around.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Emily

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From US University to Argentine University, the differences, challenges and resources

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

As the first person in your family to attend college, you are a seasoned academic pioneer. How is this adjustment to yet another new academic system? Are you using skills you gained your first year on campus? Any unexpected surprises? What challenges have you encountered? How do you navigate having to learn a new system so quickly? What role (if any) has IFSA-Butler played in this adjustment?

 

 

The first thoughts that come to mind when I read this prompt are horrifying recollections of the dread, fear, frustration, and stress that plagued me, and almost every single one of my fellow program participants, during the first few weeks of “shopping”. To understand what I mean by that, let me explain to you how very different Argentina’s universities function from what I am used to at UW-Madison.

Back home, it is common, daresay, expected, for a student to change their major at least once, if not five, times during their undergraduate experience. Reflecting, I believe that part of that is the result of how most universities require well-rounded courses in order to graduate, no matter what the major. If you’re an Art Major, you will still need to take math classes, if you’re an Engineering Major, you will still take a speech class, if you major in Underwater Basket Weaving, you’ll still have participated in a social studies class. This well-roundedness exposes each student to a variety a materials and this “exploration” helps student confirm or discover what they are passionate about and/or talented in. Not to mention, if you do change majors, most of your credits will count towards some part of your new major, so switching is not always the end of the world. On the other hand, here, you pick a carera (a major), and then you stick with that and take classes focused solely on that subject area. Someone doing a literature carera won’t spend practically any time in a math class, and someone in a politics carera most likely will never get the opportunity to study art history and have it count towards graduating. Once they have picked a carera, if they were to decide they don’t like it, and they want to change, they start from scratch.

Being from a large university, I am used to beginning a semester without the expectation that I’ll know many, if any, people in my classes. There are so many students, and again, with the idea that people are taking classes outside of their major all the time, you don’t really start to recognize a group of people until you have moved up to more advanced courses in your major. Here, they essentially have the same group of people in their year of the carera and so they become a really tight-knit unit, and any foreigners are spotted immediately.

Another common aspect of a typical American university is the presence of a campus. All the buildings in close proximity, student housing, and so campus is its own bustling community, especially in Madison, WI, campus is its own massive bubble. Here, campuses don’t really exist. The buildings are spread out all over the city for some schools, and especially since most students will live at home all throughout college, dorm life isn’t really a thing. This makes commuting a huge pain. I had to adjust from a 15 minute walk to class to a 25 minute bus ride, plus another10 minutes walking, that’s on Thursdays. Tuesdays, I have a 45 minute commute on the subway, with 3 transfers, then about a 7 minute walk apart from that.

That’s some generic insight on how the university system is here. Now, through IFSA-Butler’s program, we are able to attend any of five universities, some public and some private. Each has their own unique way of organizing; some which are more effective than others. Our orientation included several presentations about the different universities, and schedules and class lists and titles and descriptions. I usually appreciate having options, but quite honestly, all of these universities and classes to choose from was extremely overwhelming. And to add to that, we get to choose as many as 15 different classes to “try out” at any of the universities, for a period of about 3 weeks. With so many different schedules that aren’t always clear, it’s easy to get confused. I had mapped out a schedule of classes I wanted to try, and my very first one I had understood to be Mondays and Wednesdays. I arrive that first Monday to discover it is Monday, Wednesday AND Friday, and that I had missed the Friday before that. Another class I wanted to try was really only scheduled for the opposite semester and so bit by bit my ideal trial schedule was chipped away at, mostly as the result of misunderstandings, and getting lost.

Preparing for college as a first generation student, I pored over my university’s websites. There was so much information available at the click of a mouse, and that was really one of my main resources. Here, information just isn’t out there like that, especially when what information IS there is in another language, it gets really confusing. Another resource that was extremely useful was living in the Multicultural Learning Community. I was surrounded by a lot of other first generation college students and we were a great support system for each other and as a community became our own family. So I would say the biggest help with learning how to navigate college was knowing resources were available to me.

One of the skills I learned as a first generation college student was to map out as much as I possibly could my schedule and to be flexible with the different events and such that came up. This is especially useful here, where the syllabi I have received from the public universities convey no clear due dates or assignment descriptions. One of my classes is continually requiring me to buy a new book a week, which seem to just be continually popping up with no warning.

Flexibility is extremely necessary here, but it’s not always easy. Those first few weeks of orientation with IFSA-Butler really pushed us all to adapt quickly to this new pace of life, which at times is very slow and you worry that you’re missing something, and at other times can stack up with new tasks that you’re not entirely sure how to complete. The staff here has been extremely supportive, answering our frantic questions, clarifying the many things that don’t seem to make sense, building our confidence as bilingual students.

It’s been hard, and I’m still not always sure what exactly is going on, but I know how to find the resources available to me that will help me out when I need it.

 

Thanks for reading!

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Tons of things to talk about! :)

Time October 1st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Wow. It’s crazy to think that two whole months ago I was struggling through orientation and desperate to get out and enjoy life in Buenos Aires, to start classes, meet people, get into a routine and just overall feel like I knew what I was doing.

 

My friends, I believe I have made it there. And it feels fabuloso! I think one of the best ways to convey this to you is to go over what I do in a typical week. J If I put something in bold that means I’ll go into more detail about it after my schedule outline.

Monday: I wake up bright and early to go over to the Facultad de Agronomia and volunteer with an organization called Pecohue. After that, I’m free to go home and take a nap (believe me, I always need it!) and generally just enjoy not having anywhere to be, so I sometimes use that to do homework or try to upload the vlog I still haven’t gotten to work yet. Haha.

Tuesday: I wake up early again and head over to UBA CS (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales) for my Criminal Organizations class until about 1 PM, and then I go home to make lunch and nap (again, haha) and since I usually have homework due the next day that I’ve been putting off I’ll work on that. At night I go to the Centro Cultural de Rojas for my Tango lessons. Then I go home, eat dinner and go to bed.

Wednesday: Depending on whether or not I finished the homework due that day, I may or may not wake up early. Wednesday is when the cleaning lady, Julia, comes. I eat breakfast and get ready for class, and for the afternoon I’m at the IFSA office for my Castellano class. After, I go home and do homework, eat dinner, veg out until bed.

Thursday: I wake up early to go to UBA FyL (Filosofia y Letras) for my Lit class, and after I again go home to make/eat lunch and nap, and it’s free time until dinner and bed.

Friday:  I have no official structured anything to do this day. J So I tend to use it to make myself something really awesome for lunch, or clean my room, or work on some other things. But what I like about Fridays is that my host mom is gone for most of the afternoon and all night and so I get the house to myself which is really nice because I can play my music loud, dance all around the place, and other things people like to do when they have the place to themselves.

Saturday and Sunday: More days with no official things planned. But I do have friends and I manage to make plans or if not I go to the mall and shop around or see a movie or something.

 

Ok, I know it sounds like I have a lot of free time, which I do. But there are always tons of things that come up that I fill those time voids with. Also, part of the program fee goes toward the tons of activities that IFSA puts together, there have been so many really cool things, like Tango lessons, soccer games with Argentinos, plays, operas, kayaking, etc.

Now let’s get into some detail about the things I do during the week:

Pecohue: Part of the IFSA staff is a volunteer coordinator who connects interested students with organizations who use volunteers like us. There are a lot of organizations to choose from and chances are you’ll find something that fits what you’re interested in, and if not you always have the option of seeking out something yourself (but for safety purposes, you must get it approved by IFSA).

Back home, I work as a Spanish tutor for minority high school students, and I love love love that job. I miss it a lot, so when the volunteer coordinator mentioned a program that utilizes volunteer tutors for economically disadvantaged high school students I knew immediately that that’s what I wanted to do! We e-mailed the organization with my information and let them know I was very interested in becoming a tutor. SADLY, they never emailed back. I met with the volunteer coordinator who told me that they had changed their own volunteer coordinator and that they had never answered her back in general. So we sat down to discuss some other options that might appeal to me.

Buenos Aires is a very large city and nature can be hard to come by, the UBA Facultad de Agronomia is a HUGE plot of land that’s devoted to plants, and is home to Pecohue. Pecohue is an organization that aims to rehabilitate young people who have various backgrounds into a working environment, things such as working as a team, having a person in authority over you, keeping to a set schedule, etc. They have a chunk of land that they utilize to cultivate food that they sell and then use the money to pay the participants. The people of Pecohue are made up of participants (those who the program is working to help), counselors, students from the Agronomy facultad, and volunteers like me. When the coordinator was describing it to me, she really emphasized that a lot of the participants were about 15-20 years old and that they came from backgrounds like recovering from addictions, being recently released from jail, and other things in that sense. This is what really appealed to me so I went ahead and signed up.

The entire Pecohue team is such a fantastic group of people! They are so welcoming and kind, it immediately felt like a part of the family. The only thing that surprised me was that the majority of the participants are not really recovering from addiction, recently released from jail, etc, but actually persons with special needs. I personally do not have any kind of background in working with people with special needs, so I’ve felt awkward at times. It’s definitely exposing me to new things, but like I said, the entire team is really nice and supportive that even when I’ve found myself having an awkward moment they all help me out.

The jobs I have been doing at Pecohue have mainly been weeding, but I don’t mind at all. It’s relaxing, doesn’t require a lot of thinking, and is a good atmosphere for conversation, which is a great way to practice Spanish. After they finish for the day, they all sit in a circle together and discuss what was accomplished and what needs to be done the next day. During this discussion, they eat snacks and drink mate.

My first time having mate was with the Pecohue group and I loved it! Well, not the taste. It’s an acquired taste, very bitter; actually, it tastes like grass. But what it represents is wonderful. Mate is a kind of tea that looks like chopped up grass, which they pack into a special serving cup. One person has a canister of hot water that they pour into the cup and they pass it to someone who drinks it out of a special straw that has a sifting mesh at the end of it. That person drinks it until all the water is gone, and passes it back to the water person, who pours in more water and it gets passed to the next person, who also drinks until the water is gone and passes it back and so this happens until everyone’s had a turn and all the water is gone. While I’m not a fan of the taste, it definitely brings about a sense of community. Passing around the mate is a gesture that connotes friendship and trust. It’s great!

 

Criminal Organizations Class: This class is my most interesting by far. The tricky part though, is that there are two lecturers who switch of every week and don’t seem to communicate with each other. Like, last week, the guy didn’t show up, so after an hour everyone left, I’m not complaining though, haha. This week we watched American Gangster and have to write a report on it. Me gusta. J

Another tricky thing about this class is that they leave a lot of readings at the photocopy center. There’s like 3 of them in the building. So you have to go to one, wait in line, ask for the class and when they tell you they don’t have it, you have to climb up the stair to the next one and repeat and until you find the reading.

Also, I guess it’s ok for people to smoke inside of the building. I was waiting in said line, and the girl is front of me was just smoking away like it was nothing, and upon further inspection, the floor had quite a few cigarette butts littered all over. As a non-smoker, it’s a bit obnoxious.

 

Tango Lessons: My tango lessons are great! But I’m really bad at it haha. I take my lessons at one of the many cultural centers in Buenos Aires and the instructor is this really fantastic and really tiny lady who dances really well. The other people in my class are really fun and nice and non-judgmental, which helps since I really struggle and lumber through class. I’m getting better, but I’m still not at a level where I would wow everyone at a legit Tango place. In fact, when I was at one, no one even asked me to dance. I would’ve said no anyways, because watching the people who were dancing was really intimidating, they just glided across the floor all sexy and fluid. I definitely do NOT look like that when I’m dancing tango. But before I leave in July I aim to be competent enough to not be an utter embarrassment to myself and others at such a tango establishment. J

 

Julia: Every Wednesday, Julia comes to clean the apartment. Yes, we have a cleaning lady. This is something kind of unheard of where I’m from. Cleaning ladies are typically something that we only imagine in the homes of the upper class. But here I am, in a middle class home, and have a cleaning lady who comes once a week to change my sheets, take out my garbage, wash dishes, etc. I thought about it and realized it’s not so much a part of privilege and laziness, but giving work to someone else. I also take my laundry to a Lavadero (a laundry man), which started off really awkward because those are my clothes… my personal belongings, and I was expected to pay some random guy to wash them for me. But it’s really convenient because he’s literally right next door to my building and so far I haven’t had any issues. He (and some woman, I’m not sure if that’s his wife, sister, some random lady) separate, wash, dry, fold and spray a perfume on the clothes and charge by how many loads it was. It can take a day or so, so I have learned to not wait until I had absolutely no clothes left to take them down, and I can see through the window when I walk by so I can see my blue hamper and if it’s still full of my dirty clothes or if it’s empty or if it’s filled with the plastic bags that mean my clothes are done. I even walked by once when I saw my clothes all over the folding table, which was really embarrassing because I saw some underwear just out there for any of his customers to see. But other than that I don’t mind it, and I’ve gotten over the whole, this is awkward thing, well for the most part anyways.

 

IFSA Office: The IFSA Office is located in the centro, which is a really lively part of the city, so it’s great to have a reason to head down there once a week. This office is also where I go to check if I got any mail, and also a great place to go if you want to use some free Wi-Fi, or just do some homework. Just don’t try to speak English, because the staff is all over and will yell at you if you’re not using Castellano.

 

UBA FyL: People have told me that this is the most disorganized facultad that UBA has, and I find that it lives up to the reputation. Two weeks ago, when I showed up late for class (classes always start late anyways) the classroom was empty. Not just in the sense that no one was there, but there were no desks in a room that is usually filled with them. I walked around the building and took in the sights. There were desks all over the hallways, outside in the courtyard, outside in the streets, and professors were holding their classes in various sections of these areas. There were also a lot of desks stacked up recklessly to block stairways. I walked around trying to find my class to no avail, and soon decided to give up and go home. Later that night I received an email saying they had moved class to a bar and that it was a toma (a kind of strike) run by students to “take” the facultad and hold classes in the open. I guess this happens a lot.  It’s definitely different from what I’m used to back home at UW-Madison, but it’s really great to see another way of running things.

 

My host mom: Oh goodness, I have so much I can say about my host mom. She’s this tiny lady who is uses her home to host her patients because she’s a psychoanalyst. Yup, the kind that are real big on Freud. She’s really friendly, and when she’s talking she gets really excited and starts yelling and stands up and waves her hands around. It was really cute at first. She very anti-Cristina (the president here) and vehemently yells about how much she hates her and is waiting for her to die or for someone to kill her. Almost everything we talk about she can turn around into a long-winded scream session about how much she hates the president and what the president does.

She eats dinner with me just about every night, and engages me in conversation. I’ve heard some horror stories about some food the other host families serve, but my food is always great and usually something different every night. I appreciate that a lot. She’s never had a Mexican-American like me as a host student before and so when I make Mexican food for lunch she’s always surprised by what I manage to find, whip up and eat. I’ve made tacos, quesadillas, pico de gallo, horchata, and some other stuff and she for the most part she’s enjoyed the taste when I offer her some. As long as it isn’t spicy. That’s my main lament about the cuisine here, there’s no kick! I live off spicy food back home, and am a firm believer that almost everything can be improved with the addition of hot sauce or jalapeños, but Argentinos can’t handle spice to save their life.

My family had sent me a huge birthday box full of goodies and one thing was a box of pre-made mole. Mole is a Mexican sauce made from chipotle peppers and chocolate that you can put on a lot of things, but I mainly just eat it with chicken. I was super excited when I saw it and made some chicken right away. I don’t find mole to be the least bit spicy, so I thought it would be safe to offer some to my host mom. I gave her a tiny bite, and she had a two second delay. Then she ran off, literally ran away, screaming “ES HORRIBLE! ES HORRIBLE! TENGO QUE TOMAR ALGO! ES HORRIBLE!” (“It’s horrible! It’s horrible! I need to drink something! It’s horrible!”) It was actually pretty amusing.

For the most part she’s a very friendly woman, but when we disagree on something, she starts her yelling and hand waving and it really irks me. Other than that, I’m happy here, if I weren’t though, I would be able to switch into a new host family whenever I decide, so that’s another great part about this program, but it’s definitely a give-and-take and pro-vs-con kind of mentality.

 

The Mall: About 10 blocks away from me is a really big mall called Abasto Shopping (“Shopping” is the word they use to refer to a mall, not “centro comercial”). It has about 4 floors of stores, a movie theater, a children’s museum, a giant Chuck-E-Cheese style arcade and a food court.

Interesting things about the food-court, they have a Kosher McDonald’s, and when people are done eating they don’t throw away their trays. They just leave it on the table for the employees to clean up, which is really odd to me, who is used to being in malls where people are expected to clean up after themselves.

I’ve already seen about 4 movies at the Abasto movie theater, 3 of which were American movies in English with Spanish subtitles, which is an interesting experience in itself. I don’t typically read the subtitles and so there have been instances when the words are on the screen before they come out in the audio and so the audience laughs at the joke and then I laugh a few seconds later once it’s actually been said. When I went to see “Ted”, yup, the movie about a guy and his teddy bear, there was a flashback to 2005 (or some year around there) and the characters were at a club listening to “Kiss Kiss” by Chris Brown. The guy says “Chris Brown can do no wrong!” (a reference to the scandal a few years ago when he hit his then girlfriend Rihanna) and I was the ONLY person who laughed. They didn’t get it, probably because that scandal never made it over into the tabloids here (which is also really interesting because I don’t ever really see tabloids), and so I laughed alone.

 

 

Thanks so much for reading all of this! I’ll try to keep shorter blogs more frequently from now on, so be sure to check back soon!

 

Ciao!

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Changes

Time August 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

When I told my father that I wanted to study abroad in Argentina, he responded “Porque mija, en Argentina no tienen comida mexicana, como vas a comer tacos?” And so we joked about it the entire time that I was getting ready for departure. We joked about how we could mail me tacos and spoke reassuringly about how it would not be difficult to find Mexican food in Buenos Aires.  But now that I have been here for 3 weeks, it has actually become an issue. The stores don´t have any Mexican food, Mexican restaurants are few and far between and the quality of the food there is not what I had been hoping for. And aside from that the names of a lot of things are different here than what I learned and used often in Mexican Spanish. I was sitting down to lunch and later on a snack with this guy from my program, and he was so enthusiastic  as he told me how much he loved the food here and how it´s such a great quality and everything has just been so fantastic for him. I looked at him and felt a pang of jealousy. He has clearly been enjoying his time here, appreciating everything Buenos Aires has to offer culinarily. I, meanwhile, have been acting like a spoiled brat, missing the spice and bite of Mexican food, or even just any type of spicy food, the food that I live off of back home.

I started to reflect on this. Why am I not enjoying the food here as much as I should be? Why am I so stuck on keeping my own lifestyle when I obviously came to Buenos Aires to experience and appreciate a way of life that is different from my own?

I then thought about how hard the last few years I have worked to resolve to myself who exactly I am. Figuring out my place in the community as a half Mexican half white Chicana in Wisconsin, in the United States. Developing a sense of pride for who I am and the roots that I come from. A sense of pride, that perhaps I am slow to give up. And not even that I SHOULD have to give it up to enjoy another culture, but perhaps I´m not so confident in my own skin, as I thought I was. That my resistance to enjoying myself here, in Buenos Aires, is actually proof that I´m still struggling with my sense of self. Now that I have worked out an idea of who I am in my own community, Wisconsin, and the United States, I must now add another dimension as I work to recognize who I am in the scope of Latin America.

The director of my program sent out an invitation to the students, inviting those who considered themselves minorities to come to a presentation and dinner about what to expect, what it means, to be a minority in Buenos Aires. As I looked at this invitation, I wondered, ¨Am I a minority here?” I´m really not even sure. I KNOW I am part of an ethnic minority in the United States, although I live my life on the cultural borders between US American and Mexican cultures. Now, I find myself in a country full of Latinos, who have been recognizing my differences from the other Norteamericanos, by way of my accent, my appearance, my use of the language. These comments have been welcoming, recognizing a bond as Latinos. Yet, my Spanish is what I have always called Español, not what is called here Castellano. And I´m not exactly sure how I feel about that yet. I am prideful to be a Chicana, but I´m still struggling to find the confidence to open up to adding this new aspect of identity.

I miss Mexican food and just in general, SPICY food, so so so much. And as I have taken every opportunity to tell people that, I now recognize how unthankful it is to feel that way. I am here to open my mind to a new culture, and even though I´m still struggling to get fully reach that point where I can appreciate everything the city is offering me, I hope that before my time here is over, I can report back with confidence on my new sense of self, having learned lessons taught to me my this experience, and while I am sure to always miss spicy food, excited to eat the “higher quality” pizzas, pastas, empanadas and milanesas that dominate the menus.

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My comfy chair in Milwaukee

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

I’m sitting in a very comfy chair staring numbly at my still unfinished packing. Tomorrow I fly from Milwaukee to Newark, where I’ll meet the group flight headed to Buenos Aires. All this month I’ve been saying my good-byes and assuring my loved ones I would see them in a year. One year. One whole year. I say the words, I see the words, I think about the words “one calendar year” and yet they still seem to have not sunk in. Like when you picture a million dollars; you can’t really fathom what that is unless it’s right in front of you in cold, hard cash. That’s how I feel about leaving for a whole year. I’ve left the country before, but it was never for more than a month. This time, I have no familiar faces to guide my way, just names on a screen I associate with messages from the kind and helpful staff at IFSA-Butler. This, of course, has been exciting for me to think about: the independence I would develop knowing my mom and papi are no longer just an hour’s drive away. Leaving for college was exciting too. Yet I distinctly remember, on more than one occasion, being homesick enough to beg for that hour long drive back to the familiar and comfortable. As time went on, my campus became my new familiar comfort and my homesickness would be towards school and not my parents. Then again, that’s because they’ve only ever been an hour away. Now, in anticipation of my absence, I have been teaching my technologically-unskilled parents how to use Skype, Google Earth and the various bookmarks I have set up so they can see the weather, exchange rates and of course, my blogs. I’m relieved to announce that they’re getting the hang of it. :)

My family has been voicing their concerns and advice. I’ve been told everything from “Don’t fall in love in Argentina!” to “Mija, they don’t have Mexican food in Argentina, how will you eat tacos?” . Of course, an obvious solution to one of those was the pack of tortillas sitting next to my luggage right now.  Packing for a year abroad has been really different from packing for my dorm room. My microwave, dishes, laundry hamper, bookshelves and futon all sit dejected in the basement. One of my suitcases is home to my year’s supply of Proactiv, a year’s supply of contacts and what I’m hoping is a year’s supply of contact solution (which I have been advised is very expensive over there).  I had to sort carefully through my clothes. My luggage space is precious and if I wasn’t sure I’d wear it, I had to peel my own fingers off of its hanger and say bye to it.  I’m still not finished with that process, oops, procrastination at its finest.

The two most daunting aspects have been how well I will survive a WHOLE YEAR and how quickly I will be able to accustom myself to Argentine Spanish and break away from the Mexican Spanglish I use at home. My papi has just gone up to bed, telling me the whole time that I should get myself to sleep. I think I’ll take that as my cue to get out of this comfy chair that reminds me I’m home and kneel on the cold kitchen floor to finish packing up my future.

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