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It Isn’t Over

Time January 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I woke up to the sound of my host siblings fighting for the 150th time. I got out of bed, went into the kitchen and had a conversation with my host mom, and then I got dressed and went walking through the city. It was another gorgeous day in Mendoza, and I couldn’t be happier to be living there.  And then I woke up for real.

This is what I dreamt about last night. It is the second time since I have been home that I have had a dream that I was still living my Mendoza life. My reaction when I wake up is bittersweet: I love finally being at home with my own family, celebrating the holidays with cold weather, snow, and Christmas carols (none of which seemed to be important aspects of Christmas there), sleeping in my own bed and exchanging stories with all of my friends from high school about our previous semester, but I miss the warm weather, the daily walks through Parque General San Martín, the wonderful new friends that I made and the laid-back way of life.

It has been exactly one week since I saw Mendoza last. Saying goodbye to my host mom at the airport was when it really hit me that I was leaving for good: knowing that this experience, this way of life, and these memories that I have made over the last five months would truly only be memories. But this past week at home has made me realize something: It’s not over. In fact, it’s nowhere close to being over. The memories that I have made are not just memories. They are life experiences that I can add to my repertoire. All of those times that I was forced to use Spanish (at the doctor’s office, in class, in the airline office, at the bank, at the tailor, in the restaurants, at the bus terminals, etc.) make doing everything in English in the States seem like the easiest thing in the world. All of the music professionals that I had the opportunity to meet in Argentina are now great connections to have for the future, and the materials that they have given me to improve my playing are invaluable. My new-found love for Argentine folk music will never die, and I have spoken to my Mendoza friends (and IFSA friends) just as much this week as I did when we were all in South America. Yes, things may be a little different now. Sharing a cup of mate over Skype with my Argentine colleagues is not the exact same as sharing a cup of mate with them in the park, but it’s still pretty close. There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Mendoza some day, which also makes the transition back to my “’normal” life much easier.

I have been thinking a lot this past week about what I have brought back with me from my time in Mendoza (no, I am not talking about souvenirs!).  I think it goes without saying that my Spanish is significantly better than it was last summer (although I am still far from being fluent, I realized that truly being comfortable in a foreign language takes much more immersion time than one semester can offer, and I am still proud of where I have come in these five months). In addition to my Spanish, the geography, history, and culture of Argentina and South America make a much clearer picture in my mind now. I am also comfortable now with traveling across borders and planning trips on my own, something that was very stressful for me at the beginning of the semester. The things that I have learned about my own country and culture while abroad, through comparisons and questions from my Argentine friends, are pretty remarkable, too.

The biggest part of Mendoza that I have taken back with me isn’t the knowledge or the Spanish, but rather all of the things that I realized that I was taking for granted. Heating and air conditioning are two of the big ones, but there are so many other things that I have appreciated more in this past week than I ever did before. I am so thankful that I have my own instrument on which to practice, my own car for transportation, a family that loves each other, and reliable health care. I realize even more now what great professors I have at Shenandoah, and what amazing opportunities the university offers to become an active member of the school community, to travel, and to make the college experience much more than just sitting in class. Never again will I take for granted that we have consistent and reliable running water, electricity, and Internet in our home and at my university. I also still can’t believe that I can use public bathrooms for free, and that they are almost always supplied with toilet paper AND soap! My family doesn’t have to have our laundry spread out all over the house to dry because we have an automatic dryer, and putting dishes in the dishwasher instead of washing all of them by hand has never been so easy! I can text or call my friends on our phone plan, and I don’t have to worry that they won’t have enough credit to call me back. Some of these things are certainly just luxuries and less important in my life than others, but it is all of the little things that add up that make a huge difference in daily living.

Lastly, I am thankful for the opportunity to have studied abroad. These past five months, without a doubt, have been the best five months of my life, and they have taught me more about myself than I ever could have imagined. Mendoza will always be a part of me. These experiences, these people that I have met will always be in my thoughts and memories. Studying abroad is so much more than living in another country and going to school. It is life changing, and it is difficult to put into words the role it has played, and will have played, in my life. If you are planning to study abroad, I promise you will not regret it. If you are thinking about studying abroad, finish that application and follow through with it! If you aren’t considering studying abroad, I really hope that you will reconsider, and regardless of your major, I guarantee that it will be the most rewarding experience of your time in college.

I will leave this post, and this blog, with a few final photos of my last night in Mendoza with my host family and my Mendoza home, and the first two pictures that I took in the States with my parents. Thanks for letting me share my experiences with you! As always, if you have any questions about Mendoza or studying abroad, I am happy to answer them the best I can! Comment below or send me an email at slahasky@aol.com.

I also want to thank IFSA-Butler for everything that they have done to make my study abroad experience a positive one. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been without them, especially with regards to the ridiculously unorganized Argentine school system! They have been with me every step of the way, and it has truly made my time studying abroad “more culture” and “less shock.”  ¡Hasta la próxima vez, Argentina!

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Final Days, Final Exams, Final Goodbye’s

Time December 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have one full day left in Mendoza. One. In less than 48 hours, I will be on a bus to explore the southern half of the country. I am beyond excited to go to Patagonia, but there have been so many things going on here in Mendoza that it really hasn’t hit me yet that I am about to travel to “the end of the world” in just a couple of days, and then return to my ‘real’ life back in the States. Here are a few anecdotes and pictures about my final week in Mendoza:

 

FINAL DAYS:

There were holidays on Monday and Tuesday of last week, and instead of traveling outside of Mendoza like most of the IFSA kids decided to do, I decided to be a “tourist” in Mendoza with my neighbor. On Saturday, we went to Potrerillos in Luján de Cuyo and we did Canopy across the dam (canopy is like a zipline course, in this case, from one mountain to another). We went to a ranch on Sunday and went horseback riding. The sunset and the view of the mountains were gorgeous, and the weather was absolutely perfect. On Monday, I went with a couple of IFSA kids to Maipu for the “Bikes and wine” tour, where you rent a bike from a man named Mr. Hugo and he hands you a map of all of the bodegas within 10 kilometers of his house to pick and choose which ones to go to and tour/do a tasting.

 

FINAL EXAMS:

I have decided that final exams here are just ridiculous. My first final exam was supposed to be last Wednesday. **Supposed to be**. I showed up only for my professor to tell me that they were just kidding about the exam, because the exam date was actually the following week (which is tonight, now.) The following day, I was supposed to have an exam at 4pm. My professor had told me previously that I would be done by 4:45. We didn’t start until after 7pm, and we didn’t leave until almost 8pm. This morning, I had another exam. It was supposed to start at 8am, so I showed up at 7:30 to review a little and make sure I was there on time. The professors didn’t come until 8:45, and the first part of the exam ended around 11am. Then, they started the second part of the exam, the oral exam part. Each student is called in individually and the professors can ask you whatever they feel like, and to my understanding, they base your grade on the time and manner it takes you to respond, as well as the accuracy of the answer. That was one of the most terrifying tests I have ever taken! I walked into the classroom, and they told me to sit down. They all sat around me, about 2 feet from my desk. There were three professors in the room, two of which were my professors from the class, and I have no idea who the other professor was. For what felt like 10 minutes, they took turns drilling me with questions. I was so caught off-guard by the entire experience, and my Spanish definitely suffered because of it! I had more trouble finding the words I needed in Spanish than I did at the beginning of the semester when I first arrived! Nonetheless, I got through it, and finally headed out at 12:30, FIVE hours after I had arrived. Tonight’s exam will most certainly be the same situation as all of the others: the exam time is only a number, and the amount of time out of my last day in Mendoza that I will end up spending in the School of Music waiting to take a test will greatly succeed the amount of time that I had hoped or anticipated.

 

FINAL GOODBYE’S:

I don’t want to expand too much on this topic because I have spoken previously and extensively about how hard goodbye’s are, but the time has finally come and I still hate goodbye’s more than anything. A few of my closest friends in the bass studio arranged a “fiesta de despedida” (goodbye party) for me on Sunday. We all had a great time, and no one wanted to say goodbye yet, so they decided that they would meet me at my exam tonight, and take me to the park to drink one last mate together before I pack up and head South. Last night, I also said goodbye to the English class in Ugarteche that I volunteer at on Mondays (see photo below). I never thought it would be so hard to say goodbye to middle-schoolers. I realized last night just how much they mean to me. This afternoon will be my final goodbye with the remaining IFSA students, and tonight, my host family is having a special goodbye dinner in which I was asked to choose the menu. Tomorrow will be the most difficult, and I am dreading the moment that I step on that bus in the terminal with all of my luggage and only photos and memories of the last 5 months here.

 

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The Final Sprint to the Finish Line

Time November 19th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Before I studied abroad, I had countless people tell me that studying abroad was like a roller coaster ride, with many up’s and down’s. Although I understand, more or less, what they meant by that, I wouldn’t compare my study abroad experience to a roller coaster, but rather to running a marathon. Before my traveling began, I spent MONTHS preparing for my time in Argentina; much like a marathon runner spends months training before the race. When race day came around (the day I boarded the plane for South America), nerves, excitement, and adrenaline counts were at an all-time high. As I arrived in Buenos Aires and attended orientation, I began to second-guess my adventure when I realized just how long I would be living in a foreign world. I am not a marathon runner, but from running cross country in high school, I can suppose that a first-time marathon runner would perhaps wonder at the beginning of the race if she/he could really complete all 26.2 miles. After the first few miles (or weeks, in my case), everything becomes very easy, and any self-doubts are erased from the mind. Once the 22nd or 23rd mile comes around, everyone is ready to stop running and finish the race already. This study abroad “mile” was perhaps the shortest, but most difficult mile of my race, and it certainly still came for a couple of days, around the end of October.

The end of the race though, I am realizing, is what makes studying abroad and running a marathon different. In a marathon, once the end is near, the runner sprints to the finish. Now that the end is near for my time in Argentina, I am looking for every way possible to turn around and sprint the other direction! The scenery keeps moving forward at an accelerated pace, even as I resist it. I took my first final exam today, and I only have four left before my academic responsibilities are completed in Mendoza. I also had to say goodbye tonight to my students in the English class that I help teach in Ugarteche, which was especially hard because it has been, by far, the most rewarding experience of the semester (and probably of my life). This is a difficult position in the study abroad race, because it is hard to balance studying for finals with planning trips at the end of the program, and with spending that one extra day with my host family. Goodbyes are certainly the worst part about this experience, and they will be lengthy and difficult when December 4th rolls around. Although it is hard to focus on anything but the fact that my time in Mendoza is basically gone, I am trying to focus on how great of an experience I have had, how much my Spanish has improved, and how lucky I am to have had an opportunity such as this to live and learn in another world. I also try to comfort myself knowing that if the time hadn’t passed quickly, then it would have probably meant that I did not have as great of a time. As everyone knows, time flies when you are having fun, and these last four months have flown by faster than the speed of light. As the holiday season approaches, my excitement to be at home with my family and friends, sleeping in my own bed and drinking hot cocoa by the fire sometimes gets the best of me, and I think I am ready to leave. As soon as I step out of my door in Mendoza though and I see the beautiful palm trees next to the sparkling lake with the snow-covered mountains in the distance and the 80 degree weather, I realize just how much this place means to me, and just how difficult it is going to be to say goodbye, especially without having plans of returning in the near future.

On the bright side, this past week has certainly been one of my favorite weeks that I have had in Mendoza, and I know exactly the reason why: Because when I realized last week how close I was to the end, I took every moment and every opportunity to go enjoy the beautiful weather, to get together with my friends, and to have conversations with the Argentines without a care in the world about my lack of fluency in Spanish. In a way, the way I have lived this last week has reminded me a lot of Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying”. I am (hopefully) not dying, but this chapter of my life is most definitely almost over, and there is a good chance that I won’t ever get to see these people and these places again. And because of this, I don’t care if I mess up a word, or make a bad impression, because I only have two weeks left, and I want to take advantage of every opportunity I have here while it lasts. It’s an exhilarating feeling to truly live without regrets, and to maximize every moment I have here, and I really hope that I can remember this feeling when I return to the States, and continue to live my life as if I only have a couple of days remaining. While I am still not liking the “sprint to the finish”, I am beginning to accept the fact that not leaving is not an option for me (although returning is always one!), and rather than dwelling on the end, I am going to make these last two weeks the two that I remember and cherish the most.

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THE LIST

Time November 7th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Now that my semester abroad is coming to an end, I have been thinking a lot lately about all of the things I will miss about living in Mendoza, and all of the things I can’t wait to get back to in the States. Here is a list of many things that I will/won’t miss about Argentina when I return home next month (Oh my goodness, NEXT month?!? I swear I just arrived in Buenos Aires last week!):

Things I will miss about my life in Mendoza:

-Being able to practice my Spanish every time I leave the house (and at home, too!)

-Living close to all of my IFSA friends, who have basically become my family here

-The 90-degree weather and sunshine every day (coming home to winter is going to be ROUGH)

-Not having a course load like I typically do at Shenandoah, and therefore having time to enjoy a couple of hours in the park, shopping in the center, or traveling outside of Mendoza, any time I feel like it

-Rarely having rain and being able to expect to wake up to sunshine every day

-Rarely having humidity. At all.

-The bass studio/bass students (they are some of the greatest people I have met here, and I am really going to miss the chemistry/atmosphere of the studio, as well as their determination/excitement for playing music together)

-My morfología class—I know. I’m a dork. But I really love this class (students, professors, and material!).

-Having access to all different kinds of concerts, especially tango concerts!

-Hearing popular Argentine folk music in my kitchen, on the radio, and at parties instead of the “pop” music that everyone loves in the U.S.

-My English class (specifically, the kids in the class) that I help teach in Ugarteche

-Seeing the Andes Mountains every time I walk to school

-Having easy access (financially and geographically) to several other countries (Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil…)

-Living in a place with very accessible public transportation, and a great bus system for traveling across the country

-The weekly weekend ferias (booths lined up with artisan crafts) in all of the main plazas and streets

-Living in a place where the wine is cheaper than water!

-Having stray (but ADORABLE!) dogs/puppies always follow me around while I am walking to school or going shopping, or whatever.

-ICE CREAM. Mendoza has THE best ice cream. In the world. I am convinced.

 

Things I won’t miss when I return home:

-ASADOS-I. am. so. sick. of. beef. I have had at LEAST one asado every week since I have been here, and I would be perfectly content if I never eat another bite of red meat in my life.  I have surely eaten an entire field of cows by this point (not to mention, mountains of salt!)

-Not having a car/my own transportation (mostly at night, or when I want to go somewhere that the busses don’t run)

-Siesta. The five hour nap from 12-5pm daily when the whole country closes and goes to sleep is still not something to which I look forward, and I forget far too many times that everything is closed, and I try to run errands during the afternoon.

-Eating vegetables without having bathed in oil and salt

-Not having AC at school. When it is sunny and 97 degrees out, and your class meets at the hottest part of the day, and all of the windows are open “just in case” a breeze comes along, you realize just how much you take air conditioning for granted.

-Having to share an instrument with 25 other people, and only having access to the said instrument from 8am to 9pm, Monday through Friday (i.e. no weekends)

-Being the dumb kid. Who doesn’t understand what is going on. Ever.

-Being the socially awkward kid. Who can’t speak the language well enough to hold a meaningful conversation.

-Argentine pizza: 2 parts crust, 1/100 part sauce, 4 parts cheese

-Fernet y coca: the most popular drink among adolescents. Still tastes like mouthwash to me.

-Having to pay for water at restaurants

-Showing up to school every day just to find out that class has been cancelled because there is a professor strike, or the water is shut off, or my professor is sick, or my professor is travelling through Europe, or my professor didn’t feel like coming, or the water pressure is low, or there is a concert that my professor wants to see, or there are tests in other classes so my class will not be held, or my class doesn’t have a free classroom to use, etc. and no one finds it necessary to notify me before I walk the 35 minutes to school or wait for/pay for the bus.

-Zonda winds. Sickness, irritability, and extreme weather fluxuations accompanied by winds that break windows and tear off roofs are not quite as exciting any more as they were at the beginning of the semester

-SUPER SLOW Internet, or no internet connection at all at home

-Having to buy phone credit in order to send a text message or make a phone call

-Listening to cashiers complain about having to break a 100 peso bill when you buy something that is 70 pesos and don’t have smaller denominations/exact change

-Living across the street from a military base and never knowing if the gunshots that I am hearing are dangerous to my well-being , or if it is just daily shooting practice

-Living with a cat (I am allergic to cats), and constantly worrying that I will have an allergic reaction when I find the cat sleeping on my bed because my host sister forgot to shut my door before inviting the cat inside

-Listening to the daily (or twice or three or ten times daily) arguments between my host siblings (I forgot how much my siblings and I fought when we were younger until living with an 8 and 10 year old that have nothing in common with each other)

-The feriados (holidays). I am all about celebrating, but when there are more holidays than there are not, it gets to be a little excessive (especially since school is cancelled for ALL of them)

-Eating white bread with every meal

-Jumping over the acequias to catch the bus or cross the street, and constantly worrying that I will be the next Gringa to fall in the “Gringo trap”

-Living thousands of miles from my closest friends and family, and trying to keep in touch with everyone with nothing but a terrible Internet connection

-Watching the meat and eggs and cheese sit out all day(s) and then seeing said meat and eggs and cheese on my dinner plate. (Obviously, it hasn’t killed me yet, but I don’t want to take unnecessary chances!)

Below are just a few photos that I have taken in the streets Mendoza that I have neglected to upload. Now that it is springtime and everything is blooming, the city is even prettier! More photos to come in the upcoming weeks!

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Family Reunion, 2 Weeks in a Row!

Time November 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In the last two weeks, we have had two IFSA excursions: the first one to a bodega (winery) for a gustación (tasting) and an elaborate lunch, and the second one to the Valle Grande in San Rafael, about 3.5 hours south of the city of Mendoza (but still in the Mendoza province) for a relaxing weekend getaway from the city.

There isn’t a whole lot that I would like to say about the two excursions, other than the fact that they were both a lot of fun, and flawlessly organized (all of the IFSA excursions are impeccably put together: it’s like they have been doing it for so long they have every minute down to a science!) I think I laughed harder this weekend than any other time that I have been in Argentina this far. Even though I haven’t spent a LOT of time with IFSA kids during my stay here (I have tried to spend more time with the Argentines so that I can practice/improve my Spanish), I am so thankful that they are here, to share the experiences and to experience the culture shock together. We understand each other when one of us is frustrated with the Argentine school system, or craving peanut butter and spicy food, in a way that the Argentines can’t relate. And this weekend was like a big family reunion, because we were all in the same place, enjoying each other’s company and comparing our “Argentine” lives.

Check out the photos below for a more detailed account of my past two weekends! I think in this case, the pictures speak louder than words (and besides, who wants to read another long post?)!

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A Halloween to Remember

Time October 31st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Happy Halloween! Even though Argentina doesn’t celebrate Halloween, this has certainly been the scariest Halloween yet, and it is not even nighttime yet! The Halloween scares officially commenced last night, shortly after midnight. A few friends and I were outside, and a black cat crossed paths with us. I am certainly not a superstitious person, but considering how my Halloween has started off, I am beginning to have second thoughts…(read on).

When I turned off the alarm on my phone this morning, I noticed I had a message from my bank reporting unusual activity. This raised a red flag, since I have not used my debit card in over two weeks. I checked my account online, and someone had taken $400 out of my account….in CHILE! After a brief panic attack and a far-from-brief chat with Mr. I-read-everything-from-a-script at Wells Fargo, the bank told me they would have to cancel my account and send me a new card….but they can only send the card to my address in the States, and it will take 7-10 days…and THEN, my parents will have to send me the card from Kansas, which will take at least another 2 weeks…So I will be without a way to get money for at least 3 weeks! Yeah, I know what you are thinking. There are surely other ways for me to get money, and surely they are (borrowing from a friend, wiring money, etc.), but those arrangements have not been discussed yet, so it is still an added stress to an already-stressful week. Study Abroad/Traveling Lesson/Advice #1: Bring more than one debit/credit card with you routed to two different accounts!

The second realization this morning was that we still didn’t have water. There was a water pipe (or something?) that broke yesterday, and they had to immediately shut off all the water to the city in order to fix it. Last night was strange, turning the faucet on only for not even a drop of water to fall. Last night, I realized how much we take running water for granted! Washing dishes, cooking food, flushing the toilet, taking a shower, washing your hands, washing your clothes, etc. etc. Our classes were cancelled yesterday, and most everyone’s classes are cancelled again today (we are going on 26 hours without water! We are all going to die from dehydration!), but I still have my morfología class this afternoon, which brings me to my final Halloween scare: my first parcial!

I have my first parcial/major exam in my hardest class today. Even though I feel like I know most of the material, studying for tests here are so much more stressful, because I am constantly trying to remember not only the concepts, but all of the words that I will need to use to describe the concepts in Spanish. Additionally, I really don’t know what to expect! I generally have an idea of what the tests will be like in the States, but since I haven’t had a “major” exam here yet, I have no clue! It doesn’t help that this exam today and the final exam are our only grades for the class…. Hope everyone is having a less stressful/scary Halloween than me! :)

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From Student to Teacher to Nutritionist, Overnight

Time October 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

These blogs are getting harder and harder to write. Now that I have had a somewhat-normal schedule for a while, there is less to talk about! I am still really enjoying my time in Mendoza (not to mention, it is finally Spring here and the weather is PERFECT every day!), and I have been trying to stay busy seeing and experiencing new things because I know that my time abroad is quickly coming to an end in the next few weeks (I have just over a month remaining in Argentina!). I realized this week though that I have neglected to tell you all about one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had thus far in my semester abroad (and honestly, one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life!): my volunteer work in Mendoza.

IFSA-Butler offers volunteer work as part of the program. It is typically not for credit, it is just an opportunity to become more involved and to give back to the community. There was a meeting at the beginning of the program with the volunteer director, and she told us about all of the volunteer opportunities that we could do through the IFSA program. I was really excited to assist either music or English classes in an elementary school. To make a long story short, there were two “absolutely mandatory” dates that we had to be available in order to ‘apply’ for the volunteer program and to learn about what exactly we would be doing. The first “absolutely mandatory” day was less than one week later, and I had already planned well in advance to attend the international bass convention in San Juan on the same day (I had paid for registration, bought my bus ticket, paid for my hotel, and made arrangements with the other students to go together). I spoke with the volunteer director, but she made it clear to me that there were absolutely no exceptions to missing this day. That week was filled with emotional distress, contemplating whether I should skip the bass convention in order to attend the 15-minute interview or forget about the volunteer work for the entire semester. I finally decided that the bass convention that I had been excited about attending before I had even arrived in Mendoza was more important to me than a volunteer program that seemingly did not need my help very badly to begin with if they could be that strict with dates/attendance.

I wasn’t satisfied with just throwing the idea of doing volunteer work out of the window though. I wasn’t allowed to participate with the IFSA program since I had missed the interview, but I was confident that there was something out there with which I could help. I contacted my resident director and asked if he knew of any other organizations that needed volunteers. He sent me the contact information of an IFSA alumnus who lives in Mendoza now and has started a non-profit organization here, and so began my life-changing experience.

The organization for which I volunteer is called Fundación SERVIR, and the main objective of the program is to offer extra-curricular education to rural communities that don’t otherwise have access. At this time, the organization offers free weekly computer and English classes to children, adolescents, and adults in the rural, wine-producing, extremely poverty-stricken town of Ugarteche, about 45 minutes South of the Mendoza capital. I help out on Monday nights with the “teen” English class. Technically, the class is for kids ages 11 to 15, but there are kids as young as 7 and as old as 18 that show up wanting to learn. I help teach the class with the IFSA alumnus who helped to start the program. Although I was really excited to help with this project, I was extremely nervous when the other volunteer asked me to plan and lead the second class! We don’t have a strict curriculum, but I was supposed to come up with activities/games/worksheets that incorporated 12 new vocabulary words and helped teach about the culture of English-speaking countries.  I am far from a public speaker, especially when it comes to speaking in Spanish to a bunch of native speakers, but the class that I had planned went surprisingly well, as the kids were very receptive and patient with my terrible Spanish, and it certainly gave me a boost of confidence to continue to help teach.

The kids in the class are absolutely incredible. They are extremely hard working (similar to their parents, many of which work long days in the fields harvesting grapes), always polite and well-behaved, and are truly excited to come to English class and learn something new (some of the kids have to walk over a mile in order to get to class). One seven-year-old boy always arrives to class 15 minutes early (which is unheard of in Argentina…), always with a huge smile revealing his four missing front teeth, and immediately begins to help us assemble the tables for class (class is held in a soup kitchen that is only open earlier in the day). At the end of the class, every student comes up to the other volunteer and myself and individually thanks us for the class and tells us goodbye. I always leave Ugarteche feeling extremely blessed for all that I have, and feeling so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and work with these indescribably inspiring kids. The town of Ugarteche is obviously very different from the capital of Mendoza: most houses have tarps or cloths for a roof, and the brick structures are falling apart. There is a large dirt field next to the soup kitchen, where a group of kids (and sometimes adults) are always playing a game of fútbol (soccer) with a ball that has clearly seen much better days. Seeing the rough conditions in which many people live is not something completely new to me, but I have never had the chance to personally meet and work so closely with this type of community.

Last week, the founders of the organization asked me if I could help with a nutrition and well-being workshop that they are offering next weekend to the adults in Ugarteche, as well as a sports class for the kids at the same time.  For those of you who know me, you already know that I have always been fascinated with nutrition, and was 100% sure that I wanted to major in dietetics instead of music until just before applying for college. I eagerly accepted the ‘nutritionist’ position for the workshop. I won’t actually be able to attend the workshop due to our IFSA excursion to San Rafael that weekend, but I am helping three other volunteers to find materials (and translate them if they aren’t already in Spanish), create games, and help design the class. I am excited to see how it turns out!

In the States, I have never had opportunities such as these. A music student planning a nutrition class and teaching an English class speaks a great deal as to how much volunteerism is needed here. I can’t wait to spend more time in Ugarteche in the upcoming weeks, and I am confident that this experience will not only help my confidence while speaking to a large group, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to practice Spanish and to be reminded as to how lucky I am to have the life that I do.

Unfortunately, my camera hasn’t made it to Ugarteche, but if I decide to bring it sometime, I will definitely share pictures!

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Life on the Other Side of the Mountains

Time October 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello, friends and family! I just returned last Tuesday from Santiago de Chile, where I made new friends, experienced culture shock, and felt the slightest bit of homesickness for the first time during my study abroad experience. Monday was feriado (holiday) here in Argentina, so I decided to spend 4 days in Chile.  A bass studio from Santiago came to Mendoza a couple of weekends ago to do an “exchange” with our studio in Mendoza, and I was able to get to know several of the Chilean bass students. Before they left, I had five people, including the Chilean bass professor, offer for me to stay in their homes whenever I wanted to visit Chile. Although I had only met these kids three days earlier, I decided to trust them, and to take their offer for a free homestay during my vacation to Santiago. I stayed with Javier, one of the students, and his family (parents, 22-year old sister and 17-year old brother). The weekend was such an enriching experience! I was able to practice my Spanish a LOT, because the family didn’t know hardly any English, and I had the opportunity to see not only all of Santiago but also meet many other music students in Chile, and attend orchestra rehearsals of the National Youth Orchestra of Chile.

A few of the highlights from my trip included touring Pablo Neruda’s Santiago home (it was huge, and really gorgeous!), visiting the museum of fine arts, museum of Latin American art, and a museum of Chilean history, which included an exhibit on the Pinochet dictatorship and Chilean colonial life. I also went inside two huge churches/cathedrals, and visited several parks, plazas, and ferias (outdoor markets selling used goods or hand-made crafts) I saw both theaters where the professional orchestras play, and I visited the conservatory where the other bass students go to school. On Friday, we ran into a large protest on one of the main streets in Santiago. They were protesting the national holiday, “Day of the Races,” which is supposed to celebrate Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, but is now a very controversial holiday due to the extermination of native peoples in the years that followed Christopher Columbus’s journey. We decided to skip that area of the city, because Javier said that the police and/or protestors often use tear gas to control the situation/make a point. Instead, we went to this fantastic little ice cream place, where I tried rose-flavored ice cream (it literally tasted like I was eating a flower…) and “miel del ulmo”, which is apparently honey from some kind of tree in Chile.

It was so nice to have someone who was familiar with the city to navigate the subway and bus system for me! It was also a relief to have someone that spoke “Chilean,” because let me tell you what, the Chileans speak an entirely different Spanish from that of Argentina or the “universal” Spanish that I learned growing up in school. It was extremely difficult to understand anyone in Santiago, because not only did they speak twice as fast as the Mendocinos, but also because they have their own slang words for everything, and seemingly-made-up conjugations of verbs. The other big culture shock was the money conversion! 500 Chilean pesos is roughly equal to USD $1, so meals cost several thousands of pesos. The math to convert the money as well as to give the correct change was time consuming, especially with such high numbers in Spanish! I was a little rusty with my numbers before going to Chile, but I was reminded of them very quickly with all of the computation. The Chilean pesos are very bright and colorful, similar to Monopoly money. It’s also interesting that the smaller bills (1,000, 2,000, 5,000) are literally smaller in size that the bigger bills (10,000, 20,000) and made of a different texture.

Santiago/Chile is much more similar to the United States than Mendoza/Argentina, mostly due to their economy. Chile has many of the same imports as the U.S., which makes products made/available in the U.S. easily accessible in Chile, unlike in Argentina, where there are strict rules on imports and many more products are made domestically. People were driving new cars of all brands; Apple products were much more common, and one day, Javier’s family bought U.S.-imported ice cream. All of the similar products at the stores, the same cars on the streets, and living with a family very similar to my own made me a little homesick, but that feeling of missing home didn’t last long, and I was soon very anxious to get back to Mendoza again, where there are a lot less people and congestion, the air is a little fresher, and the way of life is much more laid back.

Going through customs at the border by myself was a terrifying experience, but everything went very smoothly and I thankfully did not have any problems. First, a border officer came onto the bus and instructed all of us to take everything with us and line up outside of the bus. Once we were lined up, we were taken to a small room (with everyone still in a single-file line) with skinny metal tables. In a way, I felt like some sort of prisoner. Two border-patrol dogs came up to each person individually to smell us, I assume for drugs or bombs. I think the border patrol officers were either really bored or super suspicious, because they kept instructing the dogs to smell us over and over again. I had the homemade peanut butter cookies in my backpack (see previous post) to bring to Javier’s family, and one of the dogs nudged my bag a few times, and kept returning to my side, which made me extremely nervous. I obviously didn’t have any drugs or bombs on me, but I am pretty sure that the dog was hungry and could smell my cookies! After we stood in between the metal tables with border patrol officers all around us, they began to scan our bags. If there was anything suspicious in a bag, the officer would hold it up and ask whose bag it was. The owner of the bag would raise their hand and be escorted out of line by another officer for questioning or to open the bag for further inspection.  The officer asked me to open my backpack, but after she saw that all I had was music and cookies, she quickly became uninterested.

Although the experience was filled with anxiety, I am really happy that I decided to do it alone. Now, I feel even more confident in myself to travel, whether it be alone or with others, to any destination.

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Old Experiences, New Processes

Time October 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past week, I experienced two every-day experiences for the first time in Argentina: baking chocolate chip cookies with my host mother, and paying a visit to the doctor. The former was a great bonding experience and realization of cultural differences (check out the finish product below!), the latter was something that I was hoping that I would not have to experience during my study abroad adventure (I have pictures of this too, but I will spare you guys this time!)! I had been so careful to pack every medication that I thought I might need, to take major precautions every time I started to feel sick, and to avoid other sick people. My fatal mistake was deciding to sit outside on the patio one evening after class. The weather was perfect, and I was wearing capris. The next morning, my leg was quite itchy, but I shrugged it off, assuming that it was finally mosquito season here and that I needed to be a little more careful as to where I sat outside next time. By the evening, my leg was bothering me more noticeably, but I had on jeans, and I just assumed it was a bad mosquito bite.

When I got home that evening, it was after midnight when I finally pulled up my jean to have a look at the bothersome bite. I was lucky I was sitting down, because if I weren’t, I probably would have fallen down after seeing my leg, swollen and red with a softball-size ring that extended across the better portion of my calf.  The inside was dark, with two deep puncture marks close to the center. I had been bitten, without a doubt, by a spider. I waited until morning to see if it would get any better with Benadryl alone. By mid-morning, my leg was burning to the point that it was extremely painful to walk. I decided to stop fighting it and go to the doctor, because I had plans to leave for Santiago de Chile the next morning.

The doctor’s office was extremely easy, compared to what I had imagined. I only had to wait about 30 minutes before a doctor was available to see me. Although the doctor didn’t speak any English, and it was a little difficult to explain to him how the bite had worsened over the last few hours, it didn’t take a lot of speaking after I showed him my leg for him to know that I needed antibiotics for the infected spider bite. I headed out with a prescription in-hand to the university pharmacy, where they gave me the prescribed antibiotics for free! The entire process took less than two hours, and it didn’t cost me a dime. My fear of getting sick and having to go to the doctor here is not completely gone, but I now realize that it’s not as big of a deal as I expected it to be with health insurance, making appointments, figuring out medications in Spanish, etc.

Baking cookies, on the other hand, was a really great experience, and it was even more enriching that I was able to share the evening with my host mom. I taught her how to make oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, a recipe that I had found on the Internet. I already had the peanut butter from home (it’s very difficult to come across anything remotely close to the peanut butter we have in the States), and just needed the chocolate chips. I ended up having to go to TWO supermarkets before I finally found ONE lone bag of chocolate chips, half of the size of the bags we have in the U.S. and costing USD $6. But I swallowed the bullet and bought the ridiculously overpriced chocolate chips, and the cookies turned out great! I hadn’t considered it before, but we baked using the metric system weights, rather than the English system volumes. It was a new experience for me to have to weigh the peanut butter, flour, sugar, etc. rather than have measuring cups to measure everything out. On the other hand, it was a new experience for my host mom to accept the fact that I did not want to use rising flour, and that cookies should remain relatively flat instead of inflate like cakes. She also tried really hard to burn the cookies, saying that they were still raw inside because they were soft in the center (even though the edges were dark brown), but I was able to salvage most of them when she wasn’t looking! I thought the cookies turned out really well, and it was so nice to have real chocolate again (they don’t eat much chocolate here in Argentina)! My host sister, on the contrary, told me that she thought they were “okay” but they had “too much chocolate.”

Luckily, the person/family that I was actually making them for loved them, and they disappeared within 24 hours.

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To Test, or Not To Test?

Time October 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have exactly two months left in South America before my flight leaves from Buenos Aires back to reality. I have only a couple of weeks of classes left (which is a little ridiculous, considering some of the classes have only met twice so far…). Final exams are fast approaching! Taking tests in Argentina has been a challenge, not necessarily due to the material or even the language barrier (although the language barrier doesn’t help any!), but due to the fact that I never have an idea of what to expect.

Unlike the United States, where there are “homework assignments”, which are done outside of class, “quizzes”, which are typically worth more than homework assignments and only test over one subject, and “tests”, which are typically more important, and have the possibility of covering a variety of topics, there is much more gray area with the words used in the Argentinean school system. For example “tarea,” which I have been taught means “homework,” is an assignment that may or may not be completed outside of class. An in-class activity is called a tarea, as well as work that needs to be completed before the next class. A “parcial,” which I was told meant a mid-term exam, can be given at any point throughout the semester (I have a parcial in one of my classes two weeks before the final exam). And then, things get really tricky.

There are assignments called “trabajo prácticos”, which, after taking one towards the beginning of the semester, I was under the impression that it was similar to U.S. “quizzes,” an evaluation over one topic, completed in-class. When my professor told me last week that we would be having a “trabajo práctico teórico” the following class, I spent several hours outside of class preparing. When I got to class and the professor started handing out the trabajo práctico teóricos, many of the students started looking through their notes for the answers.  Although I hadn’t expected it, I was so relieved when the girl sitting next to me said that we could use our notes on the assignment. Then, many of the students began grouping together and talking about the questions/answers….during the trabajo práctico! And the professors didn’t say anything! After working on the assignment for an hour and a half, I realized I was not going to finish by the time the class ended. I then thought that it was a good thing that I had studied, because otherwise, I would have had even less done by the end of class. I quickly hurried through the last couple of questions in order to have SOME kind of a response for every question. At the end of the class, my professor said to “bring them back next time completed. Confused, and mildly frustrated that not only did I not have to study the material, but that I would have to re-complete the last few questions that I hurried to finish at the end, I took the trabajo práctico teórico home to rewrite.

When I arrived the next class period, I assumed we would turn the assignment in, as a take-home, open-book test/homework assignment. Not so fast. We went through each of the answers AS A CLASS, in order to change the answers to the correct ones and to understand all of the material. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great review of the material, but it was not what I was expecting, considering we had taken a trabajo práctico in the same class just a few weeks before, and it was a closed book, individual, in-class evaluation. After verifying that everyone in the class had the right answers, we turned them in. Which also didn’t make sense to me, because everyone at that point had the same answers and the material would be much more beneficial if we had it with us to study.

This is just one example of my confusions with the Argentine school system. Even though I feel that I have adapted to the Argentine way of life, there are still reminders, such as this one, that there are cultural differences that are sometimes difficult for me to understand. I am a little anxious for what the final exams will look like, but I am interested to see how the semester/my classes wrap up (I have a feeling it will be quite different from what I am used to!)

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From Tourist to Civilian: Merging into la Vida Mendocina

Time October 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today is Day #73 in Argentina. Which means I have 73 days left before I have to return to reality that is the United States. I can’t believe how FAST the time has passed. I was so worried before I left for Argentina that I would feel like I was across the world forever, but now that the program is halfway over and it feels like I just got here, I realize that when I return, it is going to feel like I never left the U.S! This realization is bittersweet: I wish I felt like I had more time here because I love Mendoza so much, but at the same time, if it felt longer, it would probably mean that I wasn’t having as good of a time. Time is flying by because I am loving every minute of study abroad, and I couldn’t be happier or more thankful for that. Recently, I have finally felt like I am blending into the Mendocino society, thanks to small achievements/events that seem insignificant until you add them all up:

-I have stopped carrying my city map EVERY time I walk out of the door.

-I leave my Spanish-English dictionary at home now. (this was huge for me, because it was basically my security blanket for the first month and a half!)

-I had my first music performance in Argentina last week during “La Semana de Las Artes”, or “The Week of the Arts.” (See picture below of our bass trio at the performance)

-I was invited to a classmate’s house for dinner.

-I got my student visa yesterday! I am legally no longer a “tourist.”

-I volunteered at a charity event. It was called “Pintaniño,” and it gave kids the opportunity to paint for free, and donate school supplies to poverty-stricken areas of Mendoza. There was also a raffle for 22 new bikes. (see pictures below)

-People ask me for directions almost daily now.

-I have stopped recording my classes in order to go back and listen to them again to understand the Spanish.

-I gave my first presentation in a class with no other international students. (okay, so it was a group presentation, but I still participated!)

-I actually like drinking mate now instead of just pretending to like it. (Argentine tea-like drink that is very bitter and shared between family/friends)

-The mystery meat at asados is not so frightening anymore—most of it is actually pretty good!

-Eating dinner at 9pm is early.

-I haven’t gotten lost on the micro in over a month. (and I have taken it plenty! See picture below)

-I remember (most) of my classmates’ names, and I am comfortable making small talk before class starts.

-I CAN UNDERSTAND MY HOST DAD. (still not all the time, but he actually IS speaking Spanish after all!)

I am sure that this is not the complete list, but it gives you an idea of my journey from being a complete outsider to now actually feeling like I fit into some parts of society here in Mendoza. I am hoping for another INCREDIBLE 73 days!

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Picture 1 of 8

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Mountains, Salt, Llamas, and Peñas (cont.)

Time October 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Here is the remainder of my adventure to Salta and Jujuy! Sorry for the delay!

Day 4: Slept in! After lunch, we went to the Museo of Antropología (museum of anthropology) and saw some really old stuff, including flutes made by the Incans around 2500 B.C. There was also a lot of Incan pottery and hunting tools. After the museum, we caught a cab to go outside of the city to a huge artisan market. We had planned to spend an hour, maybe a couple of hours, at the market and then go to another museum. Four and a half hours later, we had only seen half of the market, and we decided to call it a day. This evening, we went to a peña, which is a restaurant/bar where Argentine folk music originated.  The one we went to was a little touristy, with scheduled shows and dancers, but nonetheless the music was still authentic and we had a great time. It was a special evening for me because I tried LLAMA empanadas! Aside from being quite a bit chewier than beef, I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference, but I was still pretty excited to have had the opportunity to try llama.

Day 5: Woke up at the crack of dawn (again) for tour #2! This tour took us first to Purmamarca, a small town in the province of Jujuy, right under the famous “Cerro de los Siete Colores” (Hill of the Seven Colors). The view was amazing, the mountains were enormous, and the town was adorable. After lunch, we headed farther north for another 2 hours to the Salinas Grandes (salt flats). It was really interesting to learn how the salt flats were created (sorry, too long to try to explain in the blog!), and how they change color according to the season (at this time of the year, the salt desert turns from a bright white to a brown color due to dust and debris in combination with the rain/lack thereof). It was SO windy on the salt flats, I have never felt such a strong possibility of being blown away before! After we enjoyed the views and took some pictures, we headed back to Salta. On our way back, we saw several guanacos! It was really neat to see “wild llamas” hanging out in the mountains. Although we were exhausted from the 14-hour day in the van, we managed to work up enough energy to go out to a more authentic peña, as it was our last night in Salta. Unfortunately, Tuesday night was not a great choice, because there were only a couple of musicians that showed up to play, but we still enjoyed a nice evening out with the hostel owner’s son.

Day 6: Our last day in Salta! Before lunch, we went to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, which was extremely powerful. Here, we learned all about the sacrificing ceremonies of the Incans, and we viewed two mummies of sacrificed Incan children. Although the idea of sacrificing children made for a somber afternoon, it was incredible to learn about the Incan culture and see primary artifacts from hundreds of years ago. After lunch, we had just enough time to get all of our things ready to go and grab a taxi to the bus terminal. It was time to go “home” to Mendoza! On the bus ride home we had a “gourmet dinner” of stuffed chicken and wine (see below), and we watched a beautiful sunset in the province of Tucumán, a little south of Salta.

Our trip went surprisingly smooth, without any travel delays or “road bumps” along the way. Although planning for the trip was a bit stressful since neither of us had ever planned a trip by ourselves, let alone in a foreign country and in a foreign language, I was really proud of our trip planning when everything worked out so perfectly! Traveling to Salta was pretty much just a vacation for us (although we did learn a lot about the Incan and gaucho culture), but I have so much more confidence in myself now, and I know that if I have the will to do something during my remaining months in Argentina, I can figure out how to make it happen.

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Mountains, Salt, Llamas, and Peñas

Time September 30th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past week, all of the IFSA kids took a week off from school for a “pretend” Spring Break to get to know a new part of Argentina and/or South America. I say “pretend,” because I still had classes last week, however it was exam week for the Argentine students, so many of the other IFSA kids didn’t have class. To my understanding, the Argentine students take their final exams several months after finishing the material. In other words, the exams held last week were the final exams for last semester’s classes. I can’t imagine having to study for exams for two months after finishing the class, and learning the new semester’s material at the same time, but luckily, I shouldn’t ever have to do that! It wasn’t too difficult to decide to skip two classes in order to go to a new place for a few days, but it was very difficult to decide where to go! A good number of IFSA kids chose to head northeast to Iguazú Falls, and then on to Paraguay, Uruguay, or Buenos Aires. Others chose to go to Bolivia, while others explored Peru or Chile. After much research and consideration, another IFSA student and I decided to explore the provinces of Salta and Jujuy in the north of Argentina, and let me tell you: IT WAS INCREDIBLE!

Day 1: Hopped on a double decker bus for a short 20-hour ride alongside the Andes. I know, the thought of sitting in a bus for 20 hours straight sounds miserable, but it was actually the most comfortable, fastest 20 hours of travelling that I have ever experienced! We had “cama” (bed) seats, which reclined almost 180 degrees. We had great service, we were given a ton of food, and we watched some great movies.

Day 2: Arrived in Salta early Saturday morning. After dropping our luggage off at the hostel, we headed out to do a little research on tour companies. We went to several companies, compared prices and excursion locations, and tentatively planned out the rest of our time in Salta. After lunch, we went to the Cerro San Bernardo, which is a small mountain that sits right next to the city. There are thousands (literally) of stairs that you can take to the top, or there are gondolas that take you to the same place for USD $5. Since it was in the 90’s, sunny, and I was still getting over some kind of respiratory illness, we decided for the latter. The views of Salta from the top of Cerro San Bernardo were breathtaking. After, we went shopping for a little while, and had a relaxing night (we were pretty exhausted from the bus ride/lack of sleep due to anticipation and excitement!).

Day 3: Woke up at the crack of dawn (okay, not that early, but early for vacation!) to catch the tour van waiting for us outside of our hostel. Today, we saw some AMAZING landscapes, views, etc. Our first stop was La Cuesta del Obispo, which left me without words. We were close to 11,500 feet above sea level, and it was a beautiful day. The clouds were swirling around below us, and the view was overwhelmingly magical. We got back in the van and headed for my personal favorite location of the day: El Parque Nacional de los Cordones (type of cactus)! Some of the cordones were incredibly tall, as you can see in the pictures below. Surprisingly, the cordones grow extremely slowly: the maximum growth per year is 3cm. It was amazing to see SO many cacti in one place, and the mountains around the park added a nice touch to the view. Then, we were on the road again to check out the small village of Payogasta, where you can find the highest registered bodega (winery/vineyard) in the world. We had a quick lunch and a short lesson on how to make wine, and finally headed for our ultimate destination: Cachi. Cachi is a small, antique town in the Chalcaquí vallies of Salta province. There wasn’t much to do in Cachi because we were there during siesta, so the museum and artisan fairs were closed, but we enjoyed some great ice cream, warm weather, and a beautiful atmosphere in Cachi’s small central plaza before making the 3 hour trek back to Salta capital.

The first half of our trip was over, and my impression of Salta was that it was impeccable. Due to the length of this post thus far, and the likelihood of you all getting bored reading so much, I think I will stop here for today. I also want to be sure that I can load a good number of my pictures so I can share with you the beauties of which I have been trying to describe (although, as per usual, the pictures just don’t compare to seeing it in person!).

To Be Continued…

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The Weekend of Food

Time September 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend was filled with something that Argentines do best: eating! On Saturday, we had our “cooking class” excursion with IFSA-Butler. We went to a bodega (winery/vineyard) in the department of Maipu and we learned how to make several traditional Argentine dishes.  We made two types of homemade bread, rice with hard noodles, four different types of salad, beef and onion empanadas (it is similar to a pizza pocket, but it tastes a lot better!), oven-baked potato slices with spices, steak fillets topped with a veggie and garlic sauce, tortas fritas con azúcar (similar to a funnel cake or other fried dough with sugar) and dulce de leche crepes (dulce de leche is similar to caramel, and it is the equivalent of peanut butter here in Argentina: they eat it with almost everything!) After we finished cooking, we had quite the feast…Needless to say, I didn’t eat again for over 24 hours! (See below for pictures!)

For Sunday’s lunch, my family had ANOTHER asado (similar to a bbq, but with more meat). We have had an asado every week for the last three weeks! Our family asado consisted of salad, bread, and four rounds of filled platters with all different kinds of beef. I am pretty sure that I have already eaten an entire cow since I have been in Argentina. I typically only eat beef four or five times a year at home in the States, so this beef marathon that is studying abroad in Argentina is quite the change for my diet! The asado also included not one, not two, but THREE desserts! My family rarely eats dessert with any meal, but when they do, they go all-out! There was some type of apple and raisin pie, a chocolate cake layered with dulce de leche icing, and alfajores (popular Argentine cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche and sometimes covered in chocolate and/or coconut). The asado is not just an event for eating, though. Asado is heavily based around spending time with family and/or friends, and enjoying each other’s company. My extended family was over all day yesterday, as they typically come over in the morning and stay until dark on asado days. It’s really nice to see the extended family so often, rather than just on holidays, as my real family typically does in the US. Saying this, I think it is a little easier to make happen here in Argentina, because there is typically absolutely NOTHING to do on Sundays, whereas in the U.S. several people still have to go to work, or go to sports events, or catch up on homework/laundry/cleaning etc.

Next week is our ‘Spring Break’ (I put it in scare quotes because I technically still have class, but several of the IFSA-Butler students do not, so those of us who have classes are skipping them to travel with the others!) and I am going to Salta, in the Northwest of Argentina. I am incredibly excited, because apart from the national parks and gorgeous natural beauties in that region of the country, the Salta area is also where much of Argentine folk music originated, so I hope to be able to experience some of that while we are there as well!

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Things I Have Learned in Argentina

Time September 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Now that I have been living in Argentina for almost two months, many of my friends and family are beginning to ask me what I have learned from my experiences here. Rather than bore everyone with the topics that are discussed in my classes (although I find them interesting, I am confident that many of you will not), I have compiled a list of things that I have learned, for better or for worse, through personal experiences during my time here in Mendoza. Yes, I admit, some of these happenings are incredibly awkward or more-than-slightly embarrassing, but I figure I will sacrifice my ego for your pleasure, and perhaps save those of you future Mendoza study abroad students from the humiliation that I have experienced. All of the facts below are guaranteed true until further notice.

 

Things I Have Learned in Argentina:

-If a bank says “24 hours” on its doors, it means it could be open for any of the 24 hours of the day, but not necessarily all 24 (and certainly not during the times that you need to withdraw money the most!).

-Wine is obligatory with asado. Even for my 8-year-old host sister (okay, maybe not obligatory, but she likes to take part every once in a while).

-If an Argentine student that lives close to you tells you that you can take any and every micro (bus) from the university to your house, don’t try out his advice at 9:15pm when you are by yourself and your host family is expecting you home for dinner at 9:45. Otherwise, you could end up going for a 1.5-hour bus tour through the department of Godoy Cruz, just south of the city of Mendoza.

-If you are waiting at a micro (bus) stop, and a bus that looks similar to the micros, but without a number, comes driving down the street, do not hail it. Otherwise, you will end up staring, from the front of the bus, at a private-service bus full of laughing people, and a bus driver that is trying to stop laughing long enough to tell you to get off. (I swear I am not the only idiot, a few of my IFSA friends were with me too!)

-There is no such thing as a concert without an encore.

-There is hardly such a thing as a concert with only one encore.

-If you have a difficult name to pronounce (last name, especially) in Spanish, the Argentine students will give you a new name for the semester, like Sarita Gómez, and insist that you use it when you are registering for events, or introducing yourself. If you don’t, it won’t really matter, because they will introduce you as your newly-created name anyway, and you will be stuck with whatever they come up with.

-Your ‘class schedule’ should really be called a ‘class possibility,’ for these are all of the days and times in which you may have class. If the professor decides that he/she has better things to do, however, then you will most likely find an empty classroom during your ‘scheduled class time,’ as well as an empty email inbox. If you happen to have class the following week, no mention will be made of the previous ‘scheduled class time.’

-I have “the strangest computer” that my host sister has ever seen. “Why in the world does it have an apple on the front?! That’s sooo weird.”

-Textbooks and original music parts do not exist here. Only photocopies. And photocopies of photocopies. Even if you haven’t quite figured out the legalities of this fact, you have to learn not to ask too many questions, or you will get blank stares and/or confused responses.

-Argentines use the word “on” (on the table, party on, etc.) and the word “time” (time to sleep, time to party, time to eat), but never do they use the words “on” and “time” in the same sentence. (okay, I lied, they use them both in ONE sentence only, but it is not grammatically correct, as there is a preposition without a prepositional phrase: time to party on.)

-Wine is cheaper than water at restaurants, because there are more vineyards in the desert than there are water sources.

-You will never hear an apology when a professor cancels class, when a friend meets you half an hour later than planned, or when your host siblings wake you up every morning at 6am because they are fighting/screaming right outside of your room, but if for some reason there is not bread on the table for EVERY SINGLE MEAL, you will think that your host mom is about to get down on her knees, start to sob uncontrollably, and beg for your forgiveness for the duration of the meal.

-According to the Argentines, every dish is lacking salt. Even if they added half of the salt container into the dish while cooking it, once it is put on your plate, it is lacking salt.

-Mayonnaise is the condiment of choice. For everything.

-Weathermen here are as good as the weathermen in Virginia. And by that I mean, I could go outside and predict the weather for next week more accurately than they could with all of their fancy instruments and atmospheric knowledge.

-Mendoza is one of the greatest places on Earth, and I think I want to live here forever.

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“Bass Love”: South American Style

Time September 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend six days in the province of San Juan, just north of Mendoza, to attend an international double bass convention. The week was incredible! Not only did I have the chance to work with world-renown bass players from Italy and France, but I also had the opportunity to meet several of the bass professors/performers from all over Argentina and much of South America. There were about 60 bassists in attendance, and it was a week full of learning, practicing, and getting to know other people that share my passion for the bass (or, as we often refer to these types of meetings in the U.S., “bass love”).

I have been to international bass conventions in the United States, but this one was distinct, presumably due to cultural differences. Firstly, there were as many tango classes/pieces/performances as there were classical pieces. It was a blast to become a little more familiar with this genre of music, and to meet some of the people that have helped tango to prosper in Argentina. One maestro in particular gave me tango pieces that he had written (for free!). The biggest cultural difference between this convention and that of the United States was the schedule. In the U.S., the bass conventions are thoroughly planned out, with booklets containing the hours, durations, and locations of each class. In San Juan, there was no ‘schedule’. The professors would find a quiet spot somewhere and give classes until it was time to eat, or time to go to sleep. I sat in some classes for five and six hours without a break! It was really fantastic to see how much the professors cared about teaching the bass, because none of the invited faculty was compensated for his time or travel.

Although all of the music events during the week were productive and exciting, the most enriching experience of the week happened during the eating/recreational hours. The convention was held at a resort in Ullúm, about 20km from the city of San Juan. The resort had a large, main building with a restaurant and spaces for classes, and we stayed in smaller cabins around the main building. I was in a cabin with five other bass students from the studio at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, and I can’t begin to describe how much fun I had getting to know the other bass players from my university. We cooked together, played bass together, laughed together until the early morning hours, and enjoyed each other’s company. It was so nice to live with other people close to my age again, and to feel like I belonged as an integrated part of the studio here. One night, we had an asado (big grill-out, basically a ‘meat marathon’) with our bass professor, the other bass students/alumni from the studio (there were about 15 of us total), and a few of the other professors. Everyone was so excited to share the asado with me, and I had all types of meat being passed to me from every direction.

Another valuable outcome of my time in San Juan was being forced to use Spanish almost 24/7. Living with five other students was such a wonderful thing for my Spanish; they were extremely helpful in that they would correct my grammar and pronunciation, as well as teach me more of the ‘informal’ language that is used between university students, rather than the formal Spain Spanish that I have been taught in the classroom back home. There were interpreters for the classes with the French and Italian bass professors (who gave the classes in English), but there were a couple of times that the interpreters did not come to the class, and I found myself helping to interpret (very poorly, of course, but nonetheless attempting). I also had an interview with a “TV person.” I have no idea who he was or why he wanted an interview with me, but when he heard that I was from the United States, he insisted on doing an interview. At the beginning of the convention, the governor of San Juan met us in the city plaza to welcome all of the students, and when someone told him I was from the U.S., there were at least 8 TV cameras in my face snapping pictures faster than I could blink! It was then when I realized how big of a deal this event was to the city of San Juan, for such a small Latin American city to be able to successfully host an event with people coming from all over the world.

Lastly, there was a very special moment at the conclusion of the convention, and I have no doubt that I will remember it forever. Coinciding with the classes and concerts all week, the convention also included a bass solo competition. This competition was the very first bass competition ever held in Latin America. What made this event so extraordinary was that the winner was an alumnus of the Mendoza bass studio at UNCuyo. As his name was announced into the microphone, he started walking over to the podium to accept his new, inclusively San Juan-made bass, and tears began to flow. As I looked over to my colleagues, they too had tears in their eyes. The sense of pride in the bass studio that evening was overwhelming, and it was clear just how much it meant to them to have their city, their university, their professor, and their colleague represented in such an immense way (as far as the bass world is concerned, anyway). That evening, all of the students and alumni from Mendoza celebrated the win over pizza and wine with our professor. While eating, each student shared what it meant to him to have the winner of the first-ever bass competition in Latin America be one of his own. It was really special to be able share this evening of pure excitement and joy with my new colleagues.

Below, I have included several pictures of the resort, the beautiful view of the mountains, and the Mendoza bass studio with some of the invited professors. I have also included a picture of our asado (although it is kind of hard to see because it was dark) and our closing meal with everyone that attended the convention.

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A Small Step and a Giant Leap

Time September 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

The only word I have to describe these past two weeks: WOW. My life quickly changed from having nothing to do and knowing almost no one to having everything to do (at once) and meeting countless new faces. The first two weeks of classes were quite different to what I am used to in the United States. More than half of my classes were cancelled the first week for various reasons: sick professors, zonda winds, no-show professors, and no-show students. Classroom numbers were changed without prior notice, too (I learned this the hard way…no need to elaborate!). Finally, this past week seemed as though everything was settling down into a somewhat ‘normal’ routine. I don’t have nearly as many things to do as I would if I were at Shenandoah right now, but the things that I do have here take up much more time. For example, I am taking less than half of the number of classes here that I took last semester, but since the music classes here are annual and this is their Spring semester, I am having to learn a semester’s worth of previous material in order to understand what we are talking about now.

Another time consumer is the language barrier. Everyone has always told me that music is an international language. Perhaps the music part is, but the terminology needed in order to play music with others and/or learn about music in a classroom is far from international, and I haven’t learned much music terminology in my Spanish classes in the US.

Between attempting to learn a semester’s worth of previous information on my own (without last semester’s materials, might I add!), at the same time as learning new information in class, and trying to learn all of the music terminology in Spanish, my “Análisis y Morfología Musical” class is especially challenging. On the first day of class, the professor looked at me as though I was absolutely crazy to even attempt to start this class at semester, especially with my lack of fluency in Spanish. It was clear to me that she did not want me in the class. After learning that IFSA-Butler only has tutors available for language and literature classes, the IFSA office suggested that I maybe choose a different course. At this point, I began to wonder myself if I should choose something else. My host mom agreed as well after telling her about the first few classes. For those of you who know me, you know that I have always been somewhat stubborn, and I tend to do the opposite of what people tell me. More importantly, this is a class that I need to take to graduate, and I didn’t want to wait until my senior year to take it. With these factors combined, I decided to bite the bullet and take the class. Since then, the professor has been surprisingly helpful and understanding of my situation, and the other students in the class have offered their help to me in countless ways. Last week, we had our first “trabajo práctico” which is similar to a quiz or small exam in the States. I have included a picture of the exam below, which was handed back yesterday. I have never been so excited to see the word “aprobado” (passed) on an assignment! Although I still have a lot of material to learn before I see “aprobado” on my transcript, this seemingly small success was a huge realization that I can be successful at anything, if I am willing to put forth the effort.

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My Life as a Mendocina: In Pictures!

Time August 20th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is hard to believe, but I left the U.S. almost a month ago to come to Mendoza! Although there have been (expected) frustrations with the school system (more to come in a different blog post!), I have truly loved every day in Mendoza thus far. I have decided to make this post exclusively about the photos that I have taken, so that you can see my ‘typical’ life in Mendoza. Because I am far from being technologically savvy, the descriptions are first, and I have posted all of the pictures at the end.

Photo 1: Mi casa. Luckily for me, I found out today that my family wants to keep me after the trial month for the remainder of the program! So unless unforeseen events take place, this will be my home until December.

Photo 2: Another picture of my house, with the view of our ‘front yard.’

Photo 3: The facultad (college/department) of Arts and Design at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, where I am planning to take all of my classes. The School of Music is new, and it is the white building on the left. The building in the middle is mostly theater and the building on the far right is for fine arts. Okay, I know what you are thinking, and I agree with you. This is probably one of the ugliest (fine, THE ugliest) university campus that I have seen. BUT the wonderful people and good facilities make up for the lack of landscaping around the buildings. And you can’t argue with the view of the Andes on the horizon! (see photo 4)

Photo 4: My view of the foot of the Andes before I enter the School of Music

Photo 5: My view of our ‘back yard’ out of my room window at home.

Photo 6: The building of Science and Technology, where our IFSA-Butler Spanish classes are held. It may be difficult to see from through the fence, but the walkways between sections of the building are tubular and the architecture is unique: One student in our IFSA-Butler class couldn’t have described it better when he asked if we also felt as though we were having class in a gerbil cage.

Photo 7: My IFSA-Butler Spanish class/classroom.

Photo 8: The micro (bus). One of the most complicated systems of public transportation that I have ever experienced. Nonetheless, this is how I get almost everywhere, if I don’t have the time to walk (although sometimes the bus takes longer than walking!). The most important lesson about the micro, that I learned just last week: when you want to get off at the next stop, if there aren’t other people also waiting at the stop to get on, you must press the red button on the railing to the right. Otherwise, the bus will pass the stop and take you elsewhere against your will.

Photo 9: More pictures of Parque San Martín. I know I have already posted park pictures, but I generally spend a good portion of my day walking in the park (to and from classes, and conversing/exercising with friends), so I decided to share a few more views of the park’s beauty.

Photo 10: Club de Regatas in Parque San Martín. I walk/run around the lake in front of this clubhouse often.

Photo 11: What Mendocinas do best: “productive laziness.” Walking, conversing, passing the time with friends and/or family. Here, I am with another IFSA student enjoying the beautiful 70-degree weather and not worrying about day-to-day living.

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More to come soon about classes and my 4-day ‘holiday’ weekend!

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Música de Argentina

Time August 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

           Please note: If you are not a music major/fairly interested in music, this post is probably not worth reading. I apologize in  advance for any disappointments associated with the theme of this blog post.

          Although the principle reason for choosing to study abroad was to improve my Spanish, it cannot be forgotten that my degree is in music. Thus far, the music events that I have had the opportunity to attend have been well worth the countless misunderstandings and feelings of cluelessness during conversations with the locals. After spending three weeks here, my impression of Mendoza’s arts programs is that they are alive and well.

Music at the university: Last week, I was finally able to go and meet with the bass professor at La Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, where I plan to take lessons as well as (hopefully) chamber music, orchestra, popular music of Argentina, popular music of Latin America, and various music theory classes. I probably won’t actually end up taking all of these classes, but IFSA gives us a two-week “shopping period” where we can try out classes before we register, so I plan to at least try all of the said classes. I had mixed feelings after my initial meeting with the bass professor. I was so excited to hear that there were 25 other bass students at the university (all of whom I believe are performance majors, but don’t quote me on that just yet!)!  TWENTY-FIVE. That is double the size of the bass studio at Shenandoah (granted, SU is much smaller, but still…It’s a lot more than I was expecting!). The professor seemed really personable and he appeared (or pretended?) to be excited to have me join the studio for the semester and to teach me about the music and the bass methods that are used in Argentina. I know what you are thinking: so if there are 25 bass players and a seemingly-great bass professor, what was the downside to this meeting? There are 25 bass players, and the school has THREE instruments (of good quality, at least!) to be shared by any of the students that don’t own a bass (this includes me, since I decided to leave my bass at home due to the risks and ridiculous expenses of bringing it along). Not only are there three instruments, but there is only one ‘bass’ room, which is also used for lessons with the professor for almost five hours a day. The worst realization of this meeting: The building is only unlocked from 8am to 9pm, MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY. As in, I cannot practice at all during the weekends. After coming from a conservatory with which I had access to my instrument 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this was the biggest dose of culture shock with which I was faced since I arrived. Although I am going to have to learn to practice more productively and away from my instrument, I know that at the end of the day, it is good for me to not be able to practice on the weekends. This way, I will have the time to meet more locals and spend time with my host family on the weekends, rather than locked in a practice room by myself. I also realized later that the sharing of the room is not so much of a problem, because if someone is already practicing, the front desk employees will find another instrument’s room for you to practice in (so naturally, I was given the key to the violin room, because that was the room in which no one was practicing. Okay, just kidding, I didn’t actually get put in the violin room. Bad music jokes, I know…) We are beginning classes this week, and I am excited to meet some of the other music students and compare the music classes here to what I am used to back home. Every time I have gone to practice at the music building, it feels just like I am back at Shenandoah: there are always kids sitting outside, playing guitar and singing, or hanging up posters for some concert or performance, etc. After spending the first two weeks not practicing, and living in a different world with a language that I can hardly speak/understand, it was such a powerful feeling the first time that I went to practice bass in Mendoza. I finally felt, even if just for the hour, like I belonged in this place, and I loved being able to express myself with a language with which I was a little more familiar than Spanish.

Music in the community: I have had the opportunity to go to two music concerts since I have arrived in Mendoza, and they were both incredible. Last weekend, a few IFSA students and I went to guitarist Esteban Morgado’s tango quartet concert, which was one of the coolest concerts I have ever attended! Almost all of the quartet members performed at least one piece alone, and the bass player used electronics in his solo to represent the whales in Patagonia. The quartet played several pop songs with a ‘tango’ twist, as well as authentic tango music by composers like Astor Piazzolla. We definitely got our money’s worth out of this concert: It cost a mere $5USD to attend, and the quartet played for 3 hours, nonstop! I was also really impressed with the turnout: it was very close to being sold out, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic (I think we gave at least 4 or 5 standing ovations). The only part of this concert that was a bit of a bummer was that the Mendoza Philharmonic Symphony was playing a program at the same time, a couple of blocks away. Although I missed them playing Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, I decided that the tango concert was something that would be much harder to find in the U.S. Last night, I was able to go to the Mendoza Philharmonic concert and listen to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, which was a lot of fun! The tickets for last night’s concert were $7 and it was complete with 2.5 hours of music, an encore and two standing ovations. Although the orchestra in Mendoza is no Berlin Philharmonic, it is very clear that the musicians here really love what they do, and that the culture still strongly supports classical music.

Arts in the community: Music isn’t the only department of arts that is flourishing in Mendoza. There are theater performances all over the city, all of the time, and there are several art museums that are constantly inaugurating new exhibits. I have attended an acting improvisation show, as well as a scripted play of a compilation of famous poets’ poems from all over the world. Both shows were pretty difficult to understand due to the nature of the program, but nonetheless it was still an enriching cultural experience and it was fun to see so many supporters of the arts. I plan to check out the art museums soon (I tried going once, but the museum closed right as I arrived due to political elections this weekend), and I am excited to continue to explore the music and arts in the community during these next four months!

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Paradise in the Desert

Time August 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Several people have been asking me what the weather is like here, so I have decided to dedicate this post to the nature/atmosphere of Mendoza.

Weather: Argentina’s coldest month is July, so we are experiencing the worst of the winter months right now. Although they do get snow (it snowed in the city the week before we arrived), it is quite rare unless you find yourself in the mountains. Mendoza has a desert climate, which makes for frosty, bitter cold mornings (okay, compared to Kansas, or even Virginia, it is not that bitter cold, but it seems cold after coming from humid summer weather in the U.S.!) and warm, beautiful afternoons. When I say warm and beautiful, imagine every day with very little wind, temperatures in the mid 60’s, with sunshine and a bright blue sky. This is how the weather has been every single day since we have arrived (except for the day that I took a lot of pictures and it was a little cloudy, but I swear, clouds are rare!). It is truly magical to have such great weather every day! I think the weather may partially explain why everyone I have met from Mendoza has been in good spirits: happy, friendly, and willing to help in any way they can.

Juxtaposition of water and desert: Unless you noticed the cacti outside of the houses and in the mountains, you would never know that Mendoza was actually a desert. Water is never far away! Firstly, the Huarpe people, or indigenous people of the Cuyo region (where Mendoza is located), created an extensive irrigation system in the city of Mendoza, which allows the water from the melting snow in the Andes to be brought down to the city to water the trees and other organisms. These ditches, called “acequias” run along both sides of every street in Mendoza. (Fun fact: the acequias are sometimes referred to as “Gringo Traps” because foreigners often fall in. Don’t worry, Mom, they are only about 3 feet deep, and when there isn’t running water, there are often rats and trash in the bottom to cushion your fall.) There are plenty of other signs of water in the desert city as well. Fountains are plentiful, especially in parks and plazas, and a large man-made lake is located in San Martín Park. The lake is drained every year for an annual cleaning, so it is currently empty, but it will be filled again in the middle of September (not before the annual “lake rave” though. It seems that everything here is turned into a dance party one way or another!).

Parque San Martín: This park is pretty spectacular. It consists of 971 acres (to give you an idea, Central Park in NYC is 840 acres) and it covers roughly 1/3 of the city of Mendoza. General San Martín Park is completely man-made (i.e. every tree was planted with the idea of creating a park). The architect decided to name the roads in the park after what type of tree lined the sides of the road, which provides diversity throughout the park, but consistency within each given area (see pictures below). The park is home to a zoo, several athletic clubs, a large picnic area, and an amphitheater, just to name a few. My university campus is also located within the park, which provides a beautiful daily walk and makes living in Mendoza feel less like living in a city.

With such beautiful weather every day (even in the winter!), plentiful water sources, and the huge park, it is easy to understand why the city of Mendoza feels like an oasis in the middle of the desert/mountains.

If you have a suggestion for the theme of my next blog post, be sure to comment on the blog and let me know! :)

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Week 1: La Semana Loca

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One week ago today, I was sleeping comfortably in my own bed. Since that time, I have traveled approximately 6403.86 miles by plane, stopped in 3 different cities, and met over 50 people, without seeing a single familiar face. In a matter of hours, I also changed time zones, changed seasons from the middle of summer to the middle of winter, completely changed my diet, stopped exercising regularly, and varied my sleeping habits. All of these factors combined, it is easy to understand why I woke up feeling pretty terrible this morning. I am looking forward to finally settling in and re-establishing a routine in which my body can understand!

Buenos Aires was a great experience, but I cannot be happier that I chose to study in Mendoza rather than the capital city. Buenos Aires is SUCH a big city, and with consideration to where I was raised, I was pretty overwhelmed. Nonetheless, we saw some beautiful churches, as well as some distinct neighborhoods, including San Telmo and La Boca, the neighborhoods in which tango originated. Another highlight was visiting the Casa Rosada (pink house), where the president works, and the cemetery of Evita Perón, a very influential figure in Argentina in the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

We also had several orientation classes with our Mendoza resident director, José. I have been so impressed with the organization and thoroughness of the IFSA staff during this first week. It is as though every part of every day has been well thought out and flawlessly executed (just for the record, I am not writing this blog to endorse IFSA in any way; I am just extremely grateful of all of the work that has gone into the planning of our transition from home to a foreign country, and the eagerness of the staff to help us in every way possible.).

Thursday night was a whirlwind of emotions. As I stepped on the plane to fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, it finally hit me that I was about to meet my new ‘family’ in which I would (hopefully) live for the next 5 months. I say “hopefully” in parenthesis, because the first month is a trial period. After the first month, if either the student or the family is not happy with their new living arrangement, then the student has the right to change families, and the family has the right to kick the student out of the house.

The two days that I have had with my new family have been awesome! My family consists of a mom and a dad, a 10-year-old brother and an 8-year-old sister. They have hosted several students in the past, and they have been so patient with my rusty Spanish and my cluelessness to the city. My room is twice the size of my room back home, and I have my own bathroom for the first time in my life! One wall of my room is made almost entirely of glass, and there is a door that opens to a small patio and grassy area with a lemon tree, filled with fruit. A small yard separates my house to my host mom’s sister’s house, where she lives with her two daughters, ages 21 and 24. One of the greatest surprises Thursday night was that the sister (my “aunt”) is also hosting an IFSA student! It is nice to have someone close with which to figure out the micro (bus), and to be able to go out without having to walk/take a taxi alone.

This weekend has been pretty quiet, and I have played a LOT of Uno with my little ‘sister’. We have also played a couple of other games, and watched some quality television (Disney channel, of course!). Although it sort of feels like I am babysitting at times, I have found that playing with her is a great way to practice my Spanish. She is brutally honest when my sentences don’t make any sense (haha), and she knows when I am just pretending to understand her (To my defense, that girl speaks a million miles an hour! Especially when she gets excited or upset…). Family dinner is constantly a struggle for me. Not only do we eat around 10pm (which is pretty close to my bedtime in the States!), but by dinner time, I am exhausted from trying to speak/understand Spanish all day. It is quite a game to try to figure out what my family talks about over dinner. They all speak at the same time, which adds more challenges. I hope in the next couple of weeks, it will become easier to understand what is going on around me! I have been relying a lot on body language and tone to figure out what is going on, but I hope to really comprehend what is being said.

Our Spanish class begins tomorrow (Monday) and I think that our other university classes start next week. I have been warned several times to be patient with class registration in Mendoza, and that the arts/music department is especially chaotic and disorganized. I could go on and on about this first week in Argentina, but I think I will save some for my next blog!  Saludos a todos!

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Buenos Aires: For the Visual Learners

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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La Casa Rosada, workplace of the Argentine president

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¡Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires!

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

After over 24 hours of traveling, I finally made it to Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina! My connecting flight from Kansas City to the group flight in Newark was cancelled, so I was rerouted to fly solo to Buenos Aires from Houston. Despite the last minute change, it turned out to be for the better: there were 7 other IFSA-Butler students on my flight, and the flight time was over an hour shorter! Of course, the shorter plane ride was too-good-to-be-true, because we ended up sitting in the stationary plane for over an hour after our scheduled departure time, due to a “peculiar message that was notifying the pilot of a technological glitch with the APU system.”  Perhaps I just haven’t traveled enough, but I have never heard such an enthusiastic applause from the passengers after touchdown in Buenos Aires this morning (almost an hour and a half later than expected, might I add!).

Unlike what I had expected, the staff at IFSA-Butler is giving us a couple of “transition days,” to get used to the Argentine accent, get over our jet lag, and meet the other IFSA students in the program before being thrown into our new lives with our Mendoza families. It sounds like we will be doing a lot of walking/sightseeing around Buenos Aires tomorrow and Thursday, before we make the two hour plane ride to Mendoza, where our host families will be waiting. I am excited to see Buenos Aires, but I am much more excited to meet my host family, and to finally see Mendoza, the city in which we have been planning to live for many months!

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An ‘Inception,’ of Sorts

Time July 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 3 Comments by

I was packed and ready to go. As I rested my head on the pillow, visions of the unfamiliar world in which I would experience the following day ran through my mind. Beautiful mountains, friendly people, copious tango music, and crazy traffic occupied my thoughts while I slept. Off in the distance, I could hear a bus honking its horn at the carefree pedestrians in the street. Oh, wait. That honking of the bus was actually my dog barking at the sun’s reflection through our living room window. My alarm had failed to go off before the sun came out! I had overslept! I realized in a panic that my flight to Buenos Aires was scheduled to leave in just over two hours. I grabbed my suitcases, awoke my brother (he had offered to take me to the airport), and ran out the door without looking back. As my brother drove me to the airport, I was able to catch my breath. This study abroad experience had certainly commenced in an unexpected way, but regardless of the rough start, I managed to forget about my hectic morning and to enjoy my last views of the Kansas prairie until I would return in December. My brother pulled up to the airport terminal and we said our good-byes. I quickly reached the line for security, and a wave of relief swept over me when I realized I would make my flight. The TSA officer at the first security checkpoint kindly asked to see my passport and boarding pass. I froze in terror as I recalled the image of my passport on top of the kitchen counter the previous night. What had I done!? In a matter of minutes, I had ruined this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! The utopian concept of study abroad in which I imagined quickly morphed into my biggest nightmare.

What did I do next? I woke up, overwhelmed with anxiety and horror! (You didn’t actually think that I overslept AND forgot my passport to study abroad, did you?)

This all-too-realistic nightmare is simply one example of the pressure, anxiety, and excitement involved in the process of preparing to study abroad. While it is true that most of what I am experiencing these days is pure excitement (I have less than a week left until I leave for orientation in Buenos Aires!), there are definitely other factors to consider when preparing to make such a drastic lifestyle change for an extended period of time. In the three weeks of summer that I have been able to spend at home, I have been busy with completing routine doctor’s appointments, making phone calls to insurance companies, making audition recordings for the School of Music in Mendoza, going on shopping trips for travel necessities, taking a summer class in order to have less requirements while abroad, working for a little extra spending cash while abroad, and trying to keep up on my Spanish communication skills through any means possible.  Not to mention that I am also attempting (and perhaps only partially succeeding) to find time to spend with friends and family, and to enjoy these last few days that I have at home in the Heartland.

I expect my experience in Mendoza to be quite different from my life at home (spoiler-alert, I know). I have lived in suburban Kansas since I was born (other than the past two years, of which I have attended school in a small town in the Shenandoah Valley). City life in Mendoza will absolutely be an adjustment to make from my familiar life in the States, but I am excited for a change in pace. I hope that my soon-to-be reality is not quite as disastrous as my passport-tragedy dream that I described earlier, but I am prepared to face frequent (but hopefully not too daunting!) challenges and mishaps associated with both travel and cultural immersion.

To wrap up my very first blog post (I am so excited to be able to share my experiences with you, by the way!), I would like to share a couple of pictures that I think represent, in numerous ways, my identity in the U.S:

This first picture of my little sister and I represents the importance of family and friends in my life, as she is both a family member and one of my best friends.

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The picture below is of the bass studio at Shenandoah University, my home institution. This photo represents my love for music (I am a music major, after all…).

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Finally, the last picture is with a leatherback turtle in Grand Riviere, Trinidad, and it represents not only my love for animals, but also my love for traveling and experiencing new cultures.

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By the end of my time in Argentina, I am sure that these aspects in which I identify myself will be broadened, along with my world perspective and appreciation of the wonderful opportunities that I have been given, including this chance to study in Mendoza.

If you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to ask! Feel free to add a comment to the blog post, or contact me directly at slahasky@aol.com. I can’t wait to share my journey with you as I begin my semester abroad in just a few short days!

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