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Reverse Culture Shock

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

On my most recent adventure in Bariloche, I talked quite a bit with the other people staying in our hostel. And like many interactions between travelers, it’s easy to find yourselves swapping experiences, going on about how traveling changes you, how your friends and family react to your experiences once you come home. In the moment, I didn’t realize how valuable those conversations would be as I transitioned to living back in the states. But now that I’ve been back for over a week now, I couldn’t be more grateful for those pep-talks.

My expectations before I left to study abroad were relatively far off, nervous for things that turned out to be a breeze, (remember when I was afraid that most people in my program would be Spanish-speaking pros? Yeah, we were all mostly in the same boat) and completely unaware of what would turn out to be the considerable difficulties, like sometimes feeling alone in a city of 3 million people.

Coming home has been a similar process of feeling simultaneously comfortable and frustrated. I feared that I would return home and everything would suddenly be invalidated; that my life in Argentina would be separate from my life in the U.S. and the links between those lives would suddenly dwindle like the silk of a spider web brushed away by a hostile hand. And to a certain extent that’s true. Luckily, those conversations in Bariloche prepared me for that. I’m fresh out of my experience and want to share everything I saw, heard, ate, smelled, did, lived for the past 5 months of my life, and quite frankly, not everyone is as eager to listen as I would have thought. But, thankfully, my brother was also studying abroad this semester in Chile, and we were able to go on and on about our experiences to one another, comparing everything from our goodbyes with our host families to the items we brought back from our respective countries. That has helped the transition immensely.

It is sometimes frustrating to be incapable of capturing the essence of Buenos Aires and Argentina when faced with reductive, generalizing questions like “Are they religious?” or “How was the meat?” These questions don’t even scratch the surface of the complex, chaotic, marvelous, rich culture of my new home. But when I’m asked an open-ended question like “What are you going to miss the most?” or “Do you have any good stories?” the wheels in my head start turning and I’m instantly transported back. Suddenly I’m walking back on Sante Fe, I can smell the strong smell of fish from the shop on the corner of my block, hear the classic 152 bus that I took so many times roaring past, see the carnations poking out of the flower stands on the street. I realize now that my experience can never be invalidated because it is mine. And no one can change that.

I’m incredibly grateful to live in a beautiful part of the world, with the ocean minutes away from my house. And I definitely soaked in all of that beauty as soon as I returned home, going for little hikes and long walks on the beach. But I missed being out of my comfort zone, challenged to expand my vocabulary and improve my grammar every single day, exploring new parts of the city and country, overwhelmed with constant newness. At home, everything is familiar. Everything. So I decided that it’s best not to stay home for too long. After all, “the core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.” I decided to head down to Florida, partially to escape the winter in New York, mostly to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who always cook up some great adventures. I’ve gone through beekeeping 101 (complete with ridiculous bee suit), gone searching for chameleons, and learned a bit about the art of brewing beer.

There are of course a number of cultural adjustments that will take some time to get used to. Take punctuality for example. I went on a group hike with my parents the day after I got back, and it was scheduled to start at 10 am. At 10:01, I kid you not, the leader of the hike hadn’t arrived yet, and the concern and panic that the group articulated was almost laughable. We’re not in Argentina anymore, I thought to myself. And the men. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not miss being cat called in the street, but I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the type of chivalry (I suppose that’s the best word for it) I’d experienced in Argentina. Even if I were getting on a bus with a group and I didn’t know the direction to tell the bus driver, the guys would always let me and the other girls get on first. I would rarely walk into a room behind a male. Now, here in the states, whenever a man walks in front of me to go through a door, it just feels strange, almost rude. And this is coming from someone who considers herself a feminist! There are plenty of other “reverse cultural shocks.” Produce sections at grocery stores are so abundant to the point of absurdity. You actually pick up your pizza here, instead of cutting it with a knife and fork. I am now a minor again, and cannot even buy a bottle of wine from the liquor store, nonetheless a beer at 8 am if I wanted to. I find myself trying to throw in Spanish phrases in my everyday speech (things like ya fue and poco a poco come to my mind before any English equivalent now), catching myself before I sound like a strange, pretentious fool.

So, where do I go from here? I keep learning, keep watching movies and TV in Spanish, keep growing, keep pushing myself outside of my comfort zone (that’s where I’ve ironically become most comfortable) and keep gaining Life Profit.

 

Besos,

Andrea

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The Last Hurrah

Time December 7th, 2015 in Argentina, College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

What better way to bring my time abroad to an end than by squeezing in as many adventures as possible? With exactly two weeks left in Argentina, I set out for the desert landscapes of northwest Argentina on a quick and painless 24-hour bus ride. No, but actually, it was pretty painless. I went with a group of about 30 other international students, which means that everything was already planned for us and we just needed to show up. When I imagined going with a group of other international students, I imagined that most of them would be from the U.S., and I wasn’t exactly thrilled about that. I have been trying to fully immerse myself and keep practicing my Spanish, so I’ve limited my time with other people from the states. But, to my pleasant surprise, my assumption had been completely wrong. There were only two other girls from the U.S. and the rest of the students were from Mexico (the majority), Columbia, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the list goes on…which means not only did I get to meet a bunch of amazing people from all over the world, but I also got to practice my Spanish quite a bit. And luckily, 24-hour bus rides are quite conducive to language practice. One of my favorite bus games we played involved translating Taylor Swift songs to Spanish on the spot. Shake it off, or “Sacudelo” had my stomach throbbing from laughing so hard. The bus ride was also extremely pleasant since you’re constantly surrounded by changing landscapes of brilliantly colored mountains and valleys. The pictures really speak for themselves.

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Once we finally arrived in Jujuy, we got to visit several spots like Tres Cruces, a breathtaking lookout, La Garganta del Diablo, or “devil’s throat” which at first confused me because La Garganta del Diablo is the name of that gigantic section of the waterfalls in Iguazu. As it turns out, the devil has two throats. We joked that the one in Iguazu is when he’s had a lot to drink, and the one in Jujuy is when he’s parched, since it’s the desert. We were able to climb up through a rocky path of La Garganta del Diablo until we reached a lookout with a stunning view. I was kicking myself because I hadn’t charged my iphone and couldn’t take any pictures. Our next stop was an impressive natural stone amphitheater where we stopped to relax and enjoy some music; people were singing, playing the guitar, playing the pan flute…it was a moment of serenity.

Next, we headed to our hostel in the city of Salta where we enjoyed an asado complete with empanadas, large hunks of juicy steak, chorizo, salad, bread, everything you crave after a hard day’s work of sightseeing. The next day we got up at the crack of dawn and headed back on our beloved bus to check out the Cerro de los 7 Colores, the most vibrant mountain you’ll ever come across. Also we got to meet a llama, which was the icing on the cake.

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After that it was back on the bus through the winding landscapes, our bus climbing up to incredible altitudes as we headed for our next destination. Our bus broke down and we were trapped on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, hot from the desert heat, and fighting off altitude sickness. But we made the best of the situation by taking some group photos with a scenic background, and in no time we were back on track. We made it to the salt flats, a vast expansion of land with long and narrow slices cut into the ground with crystal blue water and salt so thick that it looks like snow. It felt like we were in an alternate universe. Afterwards, we visited a fair in a local pueblo and all of us bought soft, beautiful alpaca sweaters to keep us warm for the long journey home.

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I had one day in Buenos Aires before setting out for the next and final adventure: Patagonia. Not only would I be going in the completely opposite direction (south), but I also would be traveling not with a group, but with just one friend, Leila, and thankfully taking an airplane instead of a bus. Traveling just the two of us meant that we had the ultimate freedom to change our plans whenever we wanted, which was convenient because we really didn’t have any plans. We met a ton of interesting people in the hostels we stayed at and basically just took their suggestions for what we should do each day. In Bariloche, we woke up to the most unreal view of mountains and crystal blue lake water. We caught buses to climb up mountains, picnicked on top of several, went to local breweries, tasted the best trout I’ve ever had, and cooked and shared meals with our new hostel friends. On Thanksgiving night, a few guys from the states prepared a beautiful traditional (sort of; they substituted beef for turkey since we were in Argentina after all) meal complete with mashed potatoes, asparagus, cornbread, and of course, wine.

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We made our way up to San Martin de Los Andes, a quaint city about four hours north by bus. The first day, we took a trip to check out a volcano and some of the most turquoise water I’ve ever seen in my life. We even sunbathed on a beach whose sand was made up of volcanic rock and enjoyed a lunch prepared by some of the local indigenous Mapuche people. The next day, we traveled from San Martin de los Andes to Villa la Angostura via la Ruta de los Siete Lagos, the Seven Lakes Road. We stopped at each of the lakes, each of them more beautiful than the last, and took the opportunity to sunbathe in paradise. We decided to go back to Bariloche because we loved it so much, and spent an extra day there climbing mountains and—you guessed it—sunbathing some more. We were able to catch the most incredible sunset from our hostel before heading to the airport to go back to Buenos Aires.

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My last few days were a whirlwind. It’s impossible to wrap your head around leaving a place that once was so strange, so frustrating, so chaotic, but somewhere along the way became home. I’ll go into more of that philosophic jargon once I write my last blog post after being back home in the states for a while, but what I will say now is this: I’m so pleased with the way I mapped out my time abroad. I spend the first few months exclusively in Buenos Aires, and really got to know the city, the culture, and all of its quirks. In the remaining time, I got to spend time in Iguazu, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy, Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, and Villa la Angostura. Of course there are still so many places in Argentina and specifically Patagonia that I would love to have visited, but I’ll be back, I’m sure of that. Until then, a new chapter starts.

 

Hasta pronto,

Un beso grande,

Andrea

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The Rents Take on Buenos Aires

Time November 24th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In all honesty, I thought this blog post would start differently, way differently. After months of contemplating life and my future (typical), I thought I would be announcing that I would be staying here in Buenos Aires for another semester. But, as the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. After emailing my academic advisors advisors at Emory and realizing I wouldn’t be able to get any more credits here, I realized that taking a semester off would be a feasible and frugal decision.  Everything was falling into place. My host mom even told me that I could live with her again for another semester if I wanted to (have I mentioned that she is the sweetest?!) At that time, my parents would be coming in a few days and I told Nelly that I would talk things over with them and finally have a solid decision. But alas, my parents weren’t as on board with the whole “locura” as I thought they would be. Which in the end is alright because I really do miss Emory and my community there. It was a decision between two life choices that would both make me happy, and I completely understand and respect my parents’ perspective. So fear not friends, I’m coming home.

All that aside, I was able to share an amazing week with my parents here. On Monday, I picked them up from the airport in the evening. They had flown in from Santiago, Chile, where my brother is also studying abroad right now (we are an adventurous bunch), and had visited him first for the weekend. Which by the way really worked in my favor because the whole time, my parents couldn’t stop comparing Buenos Aires to Santiago and gawking over how much more beautiful my city is (sorry, bro). Throughout their visit, I really got to fall in love with this city again. Taking my parents around to my favorite spots and seeing how impressed they were with the architecture, the food, the culture, virtually everything, made me reflect upon and appreciate my experience that much more. Through my parents, I was also able to reflect upon how much I’ve grown while being here.
In my mom, I saw my cautious, intimidated self from the first few weeks. When our cab from the airport pulled up to their hotel, for example, a kid around 10 years old came up to the cab and tried to sell us something. It being night and not being used to this, my mom got startled and said they were staying in a “sketchy area.” They were staying in Palermo Hollywood. Probably the least sketchy place in Buenos Aires. I’ve become so accustomed to things that would have normally made me think twice, like crossing 4 way streets with no traffic signals, talking to “strangers” on the street, or brushing off cat calls. Granted, all small things, but things that have made me more sure of myself, more confident, more aware of my surroundings.
In my dad, I saw my confused, yet perseverant self from the beginning of my study abroad experience. My dad understands and speaks a little bit of Italian, which means that he can understand a bit of Spanish as well. I didn’t really realize this until Nelly invited my parents over for dinner (again, I need to emphasize here not only what a sweetheart she is, but also how well she cooks). My dad could generally follow the conversations, and would try to respond, usually in a mix of Spanglish or Italian. While it’s easy to laugh and just say “come on, Dad. Let me just translate for you,” I admire him for making the effort. Sitting at the dinner table, I was transported back to those first few weeks at the dinner table with Nelly, having to ask her to repeat herself way too many times, not having the vocabulary to express myself, and feeling lost and defeated more often than not. Now, our conversations range anywhere from comparing the funeral industry in Argentina and the U.S. to what I’m thinking about doing with the rest of my life (again, typical).
So, after all my reflective-meta rambling, what exactly did my parents and I do? A better question would be what didn’t we do. Tuesday I spent the whole day in class and they went on an 8 hour bike tour of the city that they loved. That night we had dinner with Nelly and her son. Wednesday I took them to one of my absolute favorite spots, El Rosedal, the most gigantic rose garden I’ve ever seen.

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What a Wonderful World

Time November 3rd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I finally got out of the city for the first time since that ultimate tournament in Montevideo all the way back in August (seems like just yesterday, oh how time flies!) Last weekend, faced with the always-harsh realization that my time here is limited, two of my favorite people here in BsAs and I made the somewhat rash decision to hop on a flight and explore one of the natural wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. It’s one of those must-do activities in Argentina that you read about in travel guides months before arriving in the Southern Hemisphere. And like most recommended touristy trips, it’s usually pretty overrated, right? Wrong. From the moment we watched the sun rise over the lush green landscape from the window of the plane, I knew we were in for an unforgettable adventure. While BsAs has its fair share of gorgeous green spaces, the inescapable sound of traffic is a constant reminder that you are indeed still in the city. I was itching to get out into the salvaje, the wild.

After pulling an all-nighter and making it onto our 5:30 am flight, we landed in Iguazu around 7 am, checked into our hostel, and made it to the park by mid-morning. We explored the upper circuit first, viewing the falls from above, mesmerized by the millions of gallons of water cascading over the landscape every second. But of course, that was nothing compared to the lower circuit, where you see the falls from a completely different perspective, up close and personal. Feeling the powerful spray of the falls and having to arch your neck up as far as possible to take in the whole scene was absolutely stunning. You feel so small, so insignificant, yet so powerful and moved by the falls’ energy all at the same time.

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After wandering down what felt like an enchanted path of wildflowers and more breathtaking views, we got on a boat that takes you even more up close and personal with the falls. “Primero entran a tus ojos, y despues a tu piel,” the boat driver told us. “First, the falls enter through your eyes, and later through your skin.” The boat first brings you close—but still a safe distance away—to take pictures, and then after warning you to put away all of your valuables, you go straight under the falls and are able to feel the inconceivable intensity of the water. Shrieking and howling with laughter, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Weary from sleep deprivation, yet still energized from the days events, we returned to the hostel and feasted with some new friends we met from Italy and Germany and rested up for Day 2.

The next day we returned to the park and embarked on another, albeit more tranquilo journey called Sendero Macuco, about a 2 mile trail off the beaten path that leads to a single waterfall that cascades down into a swimming hole. We spent the whole afternoon there basking in the sun, throwing around frisbees, swimming, and picnic-ing, and fighting off coatis (little creatures that look like a mix of a raccoon and an anteater) and monkeys from stealing our food. We had to keep reminding ourselves that no, we did not die and go to heaven; this paradise actually exists.

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After sunset, we had the incredible opportunity to go on a full moon tour of perhaps the most impressive parts of the falls, La Garganta del Diablo, lit up by nothing but the light of the moon. Funny how everything works out so well without even planning it—that tour only runs for 5 nights out of every month, and we just happened to book the trip on the first night of the full moon. Unfortunately, our iphones were not advanced enough to capture the magnificence of what we experienced…all the pictures just came out black :( But I’ve got enough mental pictures to last a lifetime. After a champagne toast to top off an unforgettable weekend, we pulled another all-nighter before getting on board our 7 am flight back to Buenos Aires, cranky yet completely content. And of course, after taking a short nap, we got up at noon to play ultimate, because who needs sleep, right?

Our trip to Iguazu gave me the travel bug, bad. This past weekend, I visited a pueblito outside of BsAs called Pilar and went kayaking on the Rio de la Plata. This weekend will be my last weekend in BsAs (still in denial about it) and then I’ll be traveling during my last month here, so stay tuned for many more adventures!

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Besitos,

Andrea

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Better Late than Never

Time October 20th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

First of all, this post is way overdue. I actually sat down and wrote it over a week ago, but am only posting it now, but better late than never, right?

I just got back from an incredible experience at my internship, so I thought I’ll start from there and see where my thoughts will inevitably drift. I’ve started working with Cascos Verdes, an NGO that works for the inclusion of people with intelectual disabilities in both the social and world and workforce through environmental education. That’s a mouthful, I know, so let me break it down: Basically, Cascos has 2 programs, an educational program where participants are given the opportunity to take integrated classes on environmental studies in local universities, and a professional training program where participants are then trained to to give presentations about environmental protection at various schools, universities, businesses, offices, etc. This morning, I got to see those educational ambassadors in action. We traveled to an office building (complete with desks strewn with photos of Che Guevara and mate, of course) and I got to watch two groups who had completed 2 years of training give presentations about recycling. It was truly inspiring to watch all of their faces light up as the office workers listened attentively and engaged in the activity. I heard a bunch of workers conceding, “no lo sabia”  (I didn’t know that), which proves that those 2 years of training not only gave the environmental ambassadors enough confidence to speak in front of a group of over 50 people (more confidence than I would have), but it also gave them tools to share the knowledge they obtained in an effective, engaging way. Cascos Verdes is doing important work and I’m so proud to be a part of their team.

In other work-related news, I just finished my first midterm–a take home essay test, which may sound easy, but was possibly the most challenging academic task of my young life. Not only is the class entirely in Spanish (obviously), but it’s also entirely theoretical, something that I’m not used to in my Sociology classes back at Emory. So you can get an idea of the struggle, here’s a rough translation of one of the questions: “Analyze how the new mechanisms of control were implemented in schools dealing with the modern organizational crisis and what potential impacts they could have on the subjectivity of academic agents.” So yeah, that happened. And I’m glad it’s over. In terms of my other classes, they’re quite easy, which unfortunately inevitably means they’re pretty boring. At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I miss taking classes at Emory, and picking out my classes for next semester has made me feel like a kid in a candy store (Sociology of Environmental Justice & Literature of Activism, I’m coming for you!)

As you probably have already gathered, I spend a significant amount of my time playing frisbee and dancing bachata until the wee hours of the morning (there’s something truly gratifying about leaving a bachata club at 7 am when the sun has already risen). But I’m in Argentina after all, so I felt obligated to switch up the bachata routine and head to a milonga the other night to check out the tango scene. Is it impressive and sophisticated and sensual? Yes. Is it as fun as bachata? In my humble opinion, nope.

Other fun cultural things I’ve done include:

  • Attending a 4 hour long opera at the remarkable Teatro Colon–we saw Don Carlos, an opera about a love triangle involving the rulers of Spain in the 16th century. I definitely recommend it, even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, the music alone is worth making the commitment to sit in a cramped seat for several hours (as long as you take a siesta beforehand, of course)
  • Graffiti tour–a 3 hour expedition of some of the most interesting street art in Buenos Aires, which came with a ton of information about the city’s political climate
  • El cuartito! A famous pizza place that was founded in 1934 with photos of tango singer Carlos Gardel and futbol jerseys all over the walls
  • Cafe Tortoni–a touristy “must do.” Founded in 1858, the oldest coffee shop in the city. Their chocolate con churros are to die for!

A note on language: while I’ve definitely improved, it’s still such a challenge. There are so many vocabulary words I just don’t know, and complex conjugations that still don’t flow as naturally as I would like. Still, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and determined to improve every day. And not for nothing, I just wrote a 10 page paper in Spanish about sociological theory. Wanna guess how I celebrated? Yup, I danced bachata.

Saludos!

Andrea :)

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Almost-Mid-Semester Crisis

Time September 16th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today marks 2 months that I’ve been abroad here in BA, and as with all time-crunched anniversaries, it’s only natural to become reflective….and completely freak out. Two months down means I only have three left. Have I been spending my time wisely? Have I been aprovechando (taking advantage) of as much as I can? In my time of crisis (and I fully realize what a privileged crisis this is), I can’t help but compare my own experience to that of my peers. I know there are other IFSA students who have been traveling a bunch–from skiing in Bariloche, to wine tasting in Mendoza, to visiting the waterfalls at Iguazu, to exploring pueblos in the northeast near outside of Salta, to whale watching in the south…have I been doing enough? Amidst my whirlwind of thoughts, I found reassurance in an unexpected encounter.

Last week, I spent a chilly afternoon reading for my Sociology of Education class in one of my favorite spots, El Ateneo, an old theater transformed into a bookstore, I think I’ve mentioned it before. Surrounded by such a wealth of knowledge in an awe-inspiring setting makes studying a special experience. As I sat sipping my coffee and munching on some medialunas, I struck up a conversation with a man from Madrid who was traveling around Argentina. I asked him what he had done so far and where he had been in BA. He told me, “The way I like to travel, the best way to get to know a place, is not necessarily by trying to fit in as many places or activities as possible, but instead to do exactly this, to just sit in beautiful places like this and strike up conversations and get to know people, to eat the food, experience the culture, to live like a local but with a tourist’s mentality….” I don’t know that he will ever know how refreshing it was for me to hear those words. I realized that I’d been living here with that same mentality without knowing how to put it into words. In that moment, I remembered my older brother’s words of encouragement he gave me before I left home: “This is one of the only times in your life when all you will be expected to do is be a sponge–to soak in as much as possible” (he studied abroad in Spain for a year back when he was in college). I think I’ve been a pretty good sponge so far. Reflecting on my time here thus far, what I’m going to remember and cherish most is not necessarily what I’ve done or seen, but how I’ve been touched by my experiences.

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As I draft this post, I’m sitting on a bench, pen and notebook in hand, in a plaza surrounded by people enjoying the radiant afternoon. The woman sitting next to me asks me for the time, and we end up talking for a while, sharing stories. That’s usually how it begins, with a simple question. With the man from Madrid, “could I borrow your pen?” turned into over an hour-long conversation. When I stumbled over a word, he was kind enough to encourage me, “You realize that we have been talking for over an hour, and that was the first mistake you’ve made.” Virtually everyone I have met has been equally encouraging, and elated that you’re making an effort to get to know their language and culture. Alba, the woman sharing the bench with me, is waiting for her daughter, son-in-law, and her two-year-old daughter to arrive. “This is Sociology,” she tells me with a serene smile, after asking me what I’m studying and apologizing for interrupting my writing. She’s absolutely right. What better way to study social behavior in another culture than to participate in it oneself? Once her family arrives, she introduces me to them as “her new friend.” It’s moments like these that I will cherish most. This is me soaking it in.

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A few nights ago, in the same plaza I sit in now, my frisbee friends and I threw around a disc at 2 in the morning. Tonight, I’ll go to my weekly bachata class, keeping in mind what happened last week after class: dancing in the streets with incredible friends and continuing to dance until sunrise the night before my 9 am class. Tomorrow, I’ll catch someone at the end of a prayer doing the sign of the cross on the bus, and I’ll pass around a cup of mate with my classmates to try to stay awake. I’ll pass by gray-haired men playing chess and cards in the park on my walk home. I’ll hear the raspy voice of the neighborhood clown who gathers all the kids on the playground together for a show. I’ll stand up in a jam-packed pizzeria scarfing down the mountain of bread and cheese that porteños consider to be pizza, while of course not using my hands, but a knife and fork. I’ll watch Esperanza Mía, our favorite soap opera, with my host mom, Nelly. I’ll live like a local with a tourist’s mentality, soaking in every changing landscape I see and every mala palabra I hear.

There came a time during my Almost-Mid-Semester Crisis where I strongly considered staying here for another semester. There is still so much to experience, so many people to meet, so much more castellano to learn. “All I have to do in life is be happy,” I thought to myself. “Why not stay, rent an apartment, take online classes, and keep soaking this all in?” While the idea still excites me, I know Argentina isn’t going anywhere, and that I can (and most likely will) return after graduation. All I know for sure is that I’ve got three more glorious months in this city, and I’m going to keep aprovechando.

Chau, un beso, un abrazo,

Andrea :)

 

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UPPPPPP

Time August 26th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

There I was, lying in the grass in Montevideo, Uruguay with a group of South Americans, passing around mate, watching an Ultimate Frisbee game. It was one of those moments where you ask yourself “What is my life?!” So what turn of events led to that moment? Let me rewind and explain.

Last year at Emory, I joined our women’s Ultimate Frisbee team (one of the best decisions of my college career thus far, along with studying abroad). Our main competitive season is in the spring, so I knew that once I came to Argentina, I wanted to find a team to play with in order to improve my skills so that once I come back to Emory in January, I won’t be rusty. Also, in case you didn’t know, it’s the best sport in the world and so much fun. It’s based on the principle “Spirit of the Game,” which basically is a mixture of sportsmanship, mutual respect, and love of the game. There are no referees or officials, so it’s up to each player to be honest and communicate together to resolve disputes. Ultimate players have a ridiculous, easygoing, fun-loving-yet-still-competitive attitude that can’t be beat. The only problem for me was that no one in Argentina seemed to know what the sport was. The stereotype of Argentines being fanatics about soccer and nothing else seemed to become more and more true the more and more I asked about Ultimate. Discouraged, I did what all Millennials do in times of crisis: turn to the Internet for help. Immediately after posting on a Facebook group, I was flooded with over a dozen messages and invitations to play with several teams here in BA. I’m so grateful to have found “Disidentes,” a team of 20-somethings from Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Germany, and more. After playing with them for just one week, they told me about a tournament in Uruguay that they would be going to for the 3-day weekend, and invited me to join. My response? Porque no?! It turned out to be an incredible weekend of Ultimate, and I got to know so many people from all over the world.

While people who play Ultimate are extremely welcoming, people here in general in BA are the same way. The other day, I found myself comparing my experience here to That 70s Show. You know the foreign kid, Fez, who no one can really understand and is the butt of most jokes, yet is also oddly loveable? That’s me here. I’m that foreign exchange student that still can’t communicate as well as I would like, but is still welcomed into the group with open arms. The same applies for my fellow students in my Sociology of Education class at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). Everyone is incredibly encouraging, reassuring, and helpful. Being a student in an unfamiliar university has put so much into perspective for me. At Emory, I can honestly say that I have never gone out of my way to help an international student in any of my classes. Not because I’m intending to be mean or unfriendly, but simply because first of all I am shy, and also taking on the task of helping to acclimate someone to a university, culture, and language is a tremendous task. But I’ve been treated with nothing but patience here. Just hearing someone say that my Spanish is great, or having my host mom tell me that I’ve really improved since I first got here means so much, I can’t even articulate how helpful it is for my confidence. Now that I’ve walked a mile in their shoes, I have no doubt that I will go out of my way to help out anyone who is not a native English speaker once I get back to Emory in the spring.

UBA in general is a fascinatingly different place than Emory or any other university I have been to in America. It’s a public university, and most professors essentially work for free, yet is one of the most prestigious universities in Latin America. The hallways are lined with bright, intense hand drawn posters representing dozens of political views (tensions are high right now since the presidential election takes place in October) and issues such as women’s rights (abortion is illegal, and you can go ahead and forget about the whole “culture of consent”). It’s perfectly normal for a class to be interrupted several times for students to come in and hand out pamphlets and speak about a particular cause they are supporting, protest they are organizing, etc. But those interruptions are more than welcome, because classes are 4 hours long—2 hours of lecture, and 2 hours of discussion in smaller groups. And each class is only once a week. A vast majority of the student body works full time, or at least part time, and may have to commute several hours for class, so it makes more sense that way. Many classes even take place from 7-11pm. Thus, the student body is also much different than what you would find at Emory. In my class, there are people in their 30s and 40s and even older; there are mothers and fathers (I’m probably closer in age to their kids than them); there is a philosophy professor and a social worker. This dynamic makes it particularly interesting to be studying the sociology of education while within an unfamiliar education system, and has only enriched my experience thus far.

When I’m not in class or at Frisbee tournaments in Uruguay, I’m exploring more and more of BA. I went to a sensational drum show called La Bomba del Tiempo that takes place every Monday night. I’ve wandered around MALBA (the museum of modern art) and dozens of plazas and parks. I’ve gone to several bars with live music, which is one of my favorite things to do here and also conveniently inexpensive. IFSA even organized a vegetarian lunch for those of us who don’t eat meat (or in my case, used to not eat meat). It was such a welcome change of pace from all of the meat, carbs, dairy, meat, carbs, dairy, and more meat and carbs and dairy that we eat all the time. Vegetables are a precious gem that I miss dearly. Also water fountains (there probably isn’t even a word here for water fountain) and real napkins (they’re more like oil blotting wax paper sheets). But, it all balances out because you get free cookies when you buy a coffee and you can buy a good bottle of wine for less than $5 American dollars, and who needs water anyway when you have wine, right?

 

Peace and love,

Andrea

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A Bday in BA

Time August 5th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The way our program works, we as students have the opportunity to take classes at several different universities here in BA. While most of my peers have been going to class for the past week or so, my particular program doesn’t happen to start until next week. Which basically means that I have had a lot of free time to do whatever I please (except for my daily 2 hour Castellano class). This abundance of free time was particularly welcome this past weekend, because yesterday (Monday) was my birthday!

This was actually my first birthday spent away from my family. Since I have a summer birthday, I’ve always been able to spend it with my family and childhood friends. And while I’m not one of those people who makes a big deal out of it being their birthday, it still felt strange to be thousands of miles away from those who love me most. Luckily, I had a weekend packed with activities to keep me living in the moment. The festivities started on Friday when a couple of my friends and I ventured to a bar with a patio decorated to make you feel as though you’re in the middle of a modern, urban rainforest. The vibes were spot on. We were able to practice our Spanish with some Venezuelans and Colombians that we met, and I was relieved by their patience with us. In fact, most people here have been more than accommodating and understanding with us, and often offer to speak with us in English. This especially happens in restaurants when we have no idea what is written on the menu. But we always politely insist, “No gracias, tenemos que practicar nuestra castellano.” That is, unless you’re trying to read an Armenian menu in Spanish. That is one of the rare exceptions when we accepted a menu in English with open arms. Sarkis is an Armenian restaurant that is so popular that you need to arrive 15 minutes before the restaurant opens at 8 o clock in order to ensure that you’ll get a table. To say the least, we definitely did not leave hungry. Who would have thought that the first time I tried Armenian food, it would be in Argentina?!

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Before all of that indulgence, earlier on in the day, I met up with a friend to check out the Museum of Fine Arts. As I waited at the bus stop, I realized that a few things:

  1. 1. It was an incredibly beautiful day, a little breezy with lots of sun (Buenos Aires’s winter seems to be much more mild than Atlanta’s, and about a trillion times more mild than New York’s snowy season).
  2. Everybody is on “Argentina time” here, meaning there’s rarely a sense of urgency. This applies not only to meeting up with friends (2 o’clock probably means closer to 3 o’clock) but also to cafes and restaurants—you can easily linger for hours without being given the check. We Americans have adapted quite well to this lifestyle, and I knew my friend would probably be late anyway.
  3. I had never been around that area before, so might as well explore, right?

So with those thoughts, I got out of line for the bus and started walking. That simple action was one of the best decisions I’ve made since being here. I’ve found that wandering, lingering, and exploring (especially while alone), is so empowering and almost always yields unexpected benefits. I found myself able to stroll through acres of picturesque parks that I would have barely been able to notice had I been sandwiched between other people using the bus. And of course, I got to the museum with plenty of time to spare before my friend showed up. And then we lingered some more. In the museum, in the nearby street fair, in a café, and at dinner. Life’s better when you linger.

Sunday, I went on a biking excursion with seven other girls from my program. Guided by some locals on yet another gorgeous day, we rode our bikes along the cobblestone streets of the suburbs of BA, and along the Rio del Plata. After walking through an ecological reserve, I had the chance to (finally!) try mate for the first time. Mate is one of the most culturally fascinating aspects of Argentina that I’ve experienced thus far. It’s a warm drink made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant, but you can’t just order it in any restaurant like tea or coffee. The cup is made from a hollowed out gourd, which is filled with mate leaves. The metal straw contains a built-in filter at the bottom to ensure that you only drink the liquid, and don’t get any bits of the leaves in your mouth. The gourd is passed around the circle, and each person must finish the whole cup. Then it is refilled with hot water and passed to the next person. I learned the hard way that you can’t say “gracias” when you’re offered the cup, because you only say “thank you” to indicate that you are finished; that you don’t want the cup to be passed to you again. This was especially difficult for me because I felt rude not saying thank you when something was offered to me! Anyway, it was delicious and gave me a nice caffeine buzz to finish off the rest of the biking excursion.

Monday was my birthday, and fortunately, another free day! I spent the day lingering (noticing a pattern here yet?) with some of my closest friends here, enjoying the always delectable café cuisine and soaking in the sun at a nearby park. It was all smooth sailing until about 9 pm, when Nelly asked me what time my friend was coming over. I told her probably around 11, and then we would go out to celebrate my birthday together. “A las once?!” (“At 11 o’clock?!”) She was surprisingly shocked, and como siempre, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then, suddenly, it all became clear. I remembered the night before at dinner she had mentioned something in passing about her wanting me to meet her friends. She had spoken fast, and it was one of those times where I just smiled and nodded, not totally grasping what she had said, but not wanting to go through the whole routine of asking her to speak slowly and repeat herself. Note to self: never smile and nod again. Always ask. Because she had actually been telling me that she wanted me to invite one of my friends over for dinner for my birthday! It now made sense that she was wondering where my friend was; we usually eat dinner around 9. Well, with a few frantic phone calls to my friend Leila’s host parents (her local cell phone ran out of money, naturally) she was over here in no time and it was a lovely celebration, complete with the most decadent dulce de leche, merangue, and strawberry dessert that Nelly made for me. I blew out my candle, made a wish, and then we lingered.

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And then we lingered some more.

 

Until next time,

Un abrazo,

Andrea

 

 

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Orientation’s GREAT

Time July 29th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

That’s the “witty” title that Emory came up with for that blissful time in our lives as freshmen. Those first few weeks of orientation at Emory, as with most other schools, camps, programs, etc., consisted of awkward “getting to know you” games, endless lectures, and a ton of silly questions like “Do I need to raise my hand if I need to go to the bathroom in class?” My apologies to all of those dedicated Orientation Leaders out there, but everyone knows that orientation is seldom “GREAT.” Read More »

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The Anticipation is Killing Me

Time July 16th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

This summer has been filled with beach days, barbecues, concerts, friends and family–ingredients for all great summers. And like all great summers, this one has flown by all too quickly. To be fair, it’s been cut a bit short. Usually I’m fortunate enough to spend my time at home all the way into the middle of August. This time, I won’t be returning to Emory University in the fall. Instead, I’m heading off a month early to meet the adventures that await me in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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