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Coming to terms with my last weeks of Study Abroad

Time June 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

It’s now past mid-June and many of my friends who studied abroad this semester have already returned home or are traveling following their programs throughout the world. In fact, my boyfriend is heading back to the US from Japan as I write this. It is hard to imagine I too will be returning in just a couple weeks. Seeing them go home, one by one, has been a potent reminder for me to take advantage of every last opportunity I have to spend time with my host family, the friends I have made here, see the places I’ve hoped to see and return to the places I enjoyed. I’ve made it a point to go out more with the other students, knowing we’ll disperse in all different directions once back in the US. I traveled to Potrerillos with one of them, went to the top floor of the municipality building to get a bird’s eye view of Mendoza, took a cooking class with IFSA Butler, finished up my list of presents for family and friends and we put together our own bridal shower for one of the students who will be getting married soon after her return to the US – checking off all the things we’ve been putting off all semester. It’s been lovely, but also bittersweet. I enjoy each memory, but with the sad reminder that this may be my last time visiting x restaurant, spending hours in x plaza or getting the whole group together for an afternoon. I’ve also been trying the last types of Argentine food I never got around to – lomo and choripan for example. Tomorrow, I will be heading to Ugarteche for the third and last time with my host mom, possibly our last outing together as well.

You may wonder: this is the last few weeks, so how do you have time for this? Honestly, it’s been difficult. I’ve been quite busy with exams, essays, presentations, classes and just typical homework. It may be a lot less work than I get in the US, but it can be tough to balance when you are trying to fit in as many last memories as you can while still in your host city (or last minute trips like some of the other students!). That compounded with it being winter here (which means less motivation and energy for me and less likeliness people want to go out), means taking advantage of your final opportunities is that much more difficult. It’s been a happy busy though. Mostly. I do have to admit that Argentina’s lack of organization, communication and planning ahead that bleeds into so much of its culture and daily life continues to challenge me. In most ways, I have come to accept it and handle it well, but it is sooooo difficult when it comes to academics. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Northeast so I’m pretty used to things being timely, set to strict schedules and more predictable (and don’t like when things are the opposite)… or maybe it’s my personality, but I do not like uncertainty when it comes to major assignments, final exams and final grades. I know it is part of the culture and overplanning and inflexibility is not good either. It has probably been a good challenge for me, but at this point, I am trying to make sense of my unpredictable schedule, working hard and hoping for the best. Hopefully, I will come out of this with good results to reflect my hard work and having learned how to better navigate uncertainty, unpredictability and mixed messages.

Some photos I took in Potrerillos with some beautiful and varied landscapes and cute little street dogs!

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Thoughts after Bariloche

Time May 26th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

The other day, I got back from my last major trip of my study abroad program, San Carlos de Bariloche. It came at an interesting moment in my time here. Just a few weeks ago, I was feeling a little down, unable to put my finger on why. I haven’t felt homesick and everything was going fine. I guess I was just having a lull where everyday was feeling more or less the same, I had a little more work than I wanted and while I wasn’t homesick, things were happening at home and at my home university that I was missing out on. Other study abroad and university friends were preparing for summer break and to go home to family and I still had over two months a head of me. Another IFSA student reminded me of the “S” or “W” curve (depending on who you talk to) that describes the highs and lows during a semester abroad (and by extension, life in general!). I was halfway through my program and felt like I could predict everything that was left, unsure how much highs were even left for me. I shook off my lull to prepare for probably my final adventure outside of Mendoza, Bariloche.

I was already a little disappointed that I came to Argentina and couldn’t see Patagonia (since it’s been getting colder, more and more of the trails and excursions are closed so I didn’t think it would make sense paying to fly down there). *Important point: If you are coming in US Fall semester, the months get warmer so it makes sense to wait for nicer weather or even after your program to travel down there…if you come in US Spring Semester, try your best to go earlier in the semester when it’s still warm and you’re not running out of breaks!* Still wanting to see more of Argentina’s beautiful Patagonia landscape, a friend with IFSA in Buenos Aires and I decided to meet in Bariloche, a beautiful city just North of Patagonia with an abundance of lakes, mountains, forests, excursions, tours and ways to get to know a very different part of Argentina than our host cities. My disappointment on missing Patagonia definitely ended once I arrived (but of course I would like to see it someday!).

Having little experience booking and planning trips on our own, we figured out transportation, lodging and excursion plans individually ahead of time, collecting advice from host families, IFSA staff and other students. We traveled from our respective cities alone (this was new to me so I was a little nervous, but it turned out fine and I managed to solve the little issues I encountered along the way!). From there, we were on our own and since it’s low season, we were often traveling completely alone in forests, up mountains and across landscapes we were all but familiar with and with few signs to tell you you’re going the right way. We would even go hours without seeing a single other human, with unreliable cellphone service and a map that was quite lacking in detail. Many people we met were surprised these two “chicitas” of only 20 and 21 years of age were traveling in Argentina on our own, not even fluent in the language! That’s when I realized the breadth of what I was doing. Before college, I never traveled anywhere alone. Just a year ago, I couldn’t imagine traveling internationally alone. At the start of the program, I was nervous about walking around my host city alone. Somehow, now I was traveling across the country alone exploring new natural landscapes with only my friend at my side. And we were doing fine! I felt and I feel such a strong sense of joy that I’ve been able to grow in this way so quickly. It has been such a smooth transition in getting more comfortable and pushing my limits that had I not taken the time to reflect, I would not have noticed.. at least for a while. Read More »

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Getting involved in your study abroad community!

Time May 25th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

I talked about cultural events in Mendoza in my last post but I am by far not the most cinematic or artsy person. I do really enjoy community service however. Coming from a background of spending my free time doing community service at my university, I was excited to find that I didn’t even need to ask what was offered here; IFSA already has relationships with certain organizations here in Mendoza and while you can look for community service on your own, you can also try out the opportunities they offer. From IFSA, we were invited to help out in an education facility for adults with special needs, reading books aloud in English to help extend the auditory book collection for students who are blind at one of the universities, a knitting club of sweet Mendocinas who create absolutely incredible blankets and clothes for children in nearby hospitals, teaching English class at a local institute and helping out in the warehouse and at other events of a food donation NGO here. It was a difficult decision, but I ultimately ended up choosing to work with the NGO, named El Banco de Alimentos and later joined the knitting group too. Despite translating to “The Food Bank,” El Banco de Alimentos is a highly sophisticated and intricately-designed organization. There are 16 of them across Argentina, all opening as a response to the 2001 economic crisis which worsened the already struggling food bank system. It was begun by a group of entrepreneurs using their business assets to help feed the hungry and poor. It has now expanded greatly, receiving donations from many sectors of society, working with grocery stores to lessen food waste, involving the community, feeding those most vulnerable to under- and malnutrition and educating other organization on food storage, handling and distribution. Read More »

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Mendoza, a city of culture

Time May 25th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

One thing I was looking forward to during study abroad aside from a new academic environment, was getting to know and even getting involved in the community. Mendoza may be a smaller city, but cultural events are not only important, but varied, frequent and often free or of little charge. Several areas in the city are known for screening movies weekly, often for free. You can find older and modern movies and movies from Argentina, the US and many other countries (of course with subtitles). Live plays happen all the time too so if you’re Spanish is good enough to follow them (mine is not) they are also a cool thing to check out. There are not only formal concerts like celebrations of classic rock and Argentina’s take on jazz and the blues as well as classical music events, but you can often happen upon informal mini concerts in the parks and plazas. Some even involve dancing. Personally, I really enjoy going to events that involve dancing. Not boliche-type dancing (I can’t dance at all) that happens late into the night at clubs, a young person’s typical pastime here, but actually watching the small dancing events put together by the city or other groups. Sure you’ll see much more tango in Buenos Aires, even in the streets, but I have been lucky enough to attend events involving the tango, mamba, samba, milonga and baile folklorico (which is more traditional). They all have different histories, dress and meanings and derive from around South America, but I can saying that I’ve been impressed by all that I’ve seen. Last week there was even an event in the one of the largest theatres in the city where you could watch a world famous traveling dance troupe. Tickets were only about $3.50 USD plus a donation of milk powder to the local food bank. Of course I was too late and the tickets sold out, but this just speaks to one of the great opportunities I’ve seen in the past few days. There’s a lot to discover if you look for it and luckily IFSA sends you updates of upcoming events too! As much as I like to watch dancing, I refuse to actually learn it it seems. However, if you are interested, not only can you take dancing classes at a local institute and possibly get some credits for it, depending on your university, but there are free dancing classes at the park too (as well as low-cost painting, photography, and other skill classes). Mendoza is a city that truly celebrates culture and has a wealth of events for those interested!

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Lessons outside the classroom!

Time May 1st, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

My last post discussed my experience studying in Argentine universities, but without a doubt, I am learning plenty outside of class!

For Semana Santa (Easter Weekend) last week, 5 of the other IFSA students and I took a rather uncommon trip. Rather than going somewhere more normal for study abroad long weekends like Chile, Iguazu Falls, Cordoba or Buenos Aires, we went to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) for a long weekend in the middle of the desert and far from civilization. When we planned the trip, we were excited for Ischigualasto Provincial Park with its unique sites and history. Little did we know going there meant driving far into the desert where tiny towns were few and far between. Our hospedaje ended up being in a town of only about 20 residents! What a huge contrast from our first days in Buenos Aires! This actually speaks to the incredible diversity you will see in Argentina; though I was in Mendoza that morning, a few hours on a bus brought me to towns with much less people, a much drier climate and a completely different way of life with different traditions, housing and beliefs. Driving the same distance or a little further in other directions could bring me to colder and wetter climates, more urbanized cities, more natural surroundings, a whole different array of plant and wildlife and pretty different versions of Argentine cultural staples. Read More »

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The Argentine Classroom

Time April 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Despite classes starting relatively late in my time here, I have undoubtedly learned plenty both in and outside the classroom. Class registration was last Monday and I finally decided on my schedule; the mandatory IFSA Spanish class, Advanced Spanish and Argentine Culture, another IFSA class, Regional Development (which I love), History of International Relations and Introduction to Sociology (something I’ve always wanted to take in the US) with an environmental focus. Together, I feel like these classes are not only providing me an exciting interdisciplinary semester, but are introducing me to new ideas about Argentina, human rights, international relations, interpersonal relations, a less Westernized view of world history and basically a new perspective on a lot of things I have learned or read about before. Without a doubt, Argentines have a very different worldview (which is pretty varied in itself) than what I have confronted in the US as well as in my home university. With a focus on international studies in college, I find these differences fascinating and it’s really opened the door to perspectives from a country often considered between “developed” and “developing.” In fact one of my History of International Relations classes ended up focusing on the United States’ involvement in global affairs and it was NOTHING like I ever hear in the US. While I agreed with a lot of it, there was also a lot I didn’t agree with or that made me question what I had been thinking my entire life. This led to some fruitful conversation between my Argentine and American classmates (in both Spanish and a little English they were practicing) after class since the Argentine students sought out our opinion. It’s moments like that that really excite me about being able to learn in a culture so different from my own. It’s also perspectives that I am thankful to hear as I continue my studies in international relations where intercultural dialogue and understanding are imperative to efficacy.

Since a lot of you may be wondering what it’s like going to class in Argentine universities, I think I finally have enough experience to share some of my observations. If you choose the Mendoza program, you can choose classes between Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, a giant, beautiful , public renowned college campus located in El Parque General San Martin and Universidad de Congreso, a much smaller private college located in the center of the city. In Argentina, public universities are usually more acclaimed and tuition is free. Most of the IFSA students here take classes in both and there are definitely classes to fit everyone’s interests and needs here. There are even dancing and music classes offered by a smaller offshoot of Universidad de Congreso. I recommend looking at their websites to get a genera idea of what classes are offered. Read More »

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Finally hit by “Everyday Life”

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Coming from a university where all students study abroad, perhaps I am not as surprised with some of the “unexpected” phases of living in another country most students go through. I was well aware that the initial few weeks of excitement eventually give way to a more patterned, less-exciting daily life. While it usually takes students about 2-3 weeks to get to this point, I think mine came in my 4th week when one day I woke up knowing exactly my weekly schedule (organized around my classes),  knowing how to get everywhere I needed to get and knowing fairly well what I needed to prepare for money-wise, food-wise and timing-wise. Of course, having more structure in my life is what I was craving the initial weeks of confusion and new experiences. I was often tired from running around the city all day, every day, getting used to speaking Spanish all the time, and adjusting to the lack of order in Argentina compared to my home of New England. It’s nice to finally be more organized and used to things and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with life slowing down a bit, at least for now. Looking back just a month ago, I am actually quite surprised how nervous I was about walking around the new city alone. Yesterday I passed a place I had passed once when I was lost and realized I was only actually 7 minutes from my house, yet I ended up taking a really long windy way home. I thought finding my way around would take maybe two months…it probably ended up taking a week and a half until I was pretty comfortable and confident getting around without a map or anyone to help. That is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments so far, given my tendency to just rely on my friends’ sense of direction everywhere I’ve gone over the years. Then again, Mendoza is organized in a very easily understood way(basically a grid in the center of town) but still it’s a start for me! Read More »

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A week’s worth of “firsts”

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | Comments Off on A week’s worth of “firsts” by

As expected with study abroad, I knew I was going to be put into a lot of new situations and try a lot of new things. In fact, it began that way; flying here less than a month ago was my first time flying to another country without a single person I know with me. There’s been plenty of “firsts” since I arrived, but the last week and half was particularly packed with new experiences.

For our first weekend in Mendoza, IFSA took us on a weekend-long excursion to Cacheuta, a high altitude area known for its thermal springs. Prior to choosing Mendoza as my study abroad location, I was a bit nervous about this field trip in particular. When I was reading about the Mendoza program, I remember it said it was great for people who enjoy the outdoors more so than a big city. That is definitely true for me, but I like the outdoors for hiking, taking walks and taking photos; I had never tried or even considered anything as adventurous as rafting and horseback riding. Still, I went ahead and chose it.

Heading into the trip, I was still a bit nervous. First on the schedule was a hike through the mountains (something I love!) which ironically ended up being my least successful experience of the trip. While I normally hike much longer and can handle it pretty well, I was so out of shape and perhaps the high altitude was getting to me, that I had to stop and never got to the top. Still, I did get to sit in possibly one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever been – alone on a mountain with a lovely view, with only the chirps of birds to break the silence and the flitting of butterflies to distract me from an endless view of the mountains.  This lasted a lovely 40 or so minutes before some other students joined me on the way down.

After a delicious lunch, we headed to a rafting site. Since I can’t swim, I was a bit nervous but the life jackets and surprising shallowness of the river calmed any worries I had. Unfortunately, I did not want to risk getting my camera wet to take photos, but it was a great experience and was surprisingly easy to paddle and make our way down the river. Again, the views on both side of the river were lovely, further convincing me that I made the right choice by selecting a location where I could see much different landscapes than I can at home. I had a great time and would definitely do it again, given the chance.

The next day, it was time for horseback riding. This too was nothing like anything I had ever done. Lucky for me, they gave me the calmest, cutest and probably the slowest horse, named “Nino.” To my surprise, we were not riding the horses in a field or anything normal like that – we were riding them into the mountains of course!  While I did get a little scared the few times the horse started running, I enjoyed every minute! There is something majestic about riding a horse through mountains, streams and tiny waterfalls while never failing to see a beautiful view before, beside and behind you. Despite being so high up and putting my trust into another living being as it trotted, tripped a few times and distractedly walked off the path to eat once in a while, my first time riding a horse went really well and will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Argentina!

Aside from being a good program for those who love nature, Mendoza itself is world famous for its wine. Meanwhile, I actually had not even tried wine before coming here and just generally don’t drink. Nonetheless, this did not stop me for joining some of the other students in a tourist favorite around here – biking through the bodegas accompanied by wine tastings. For some reason, I thought the biking would only take place in the orchards…but actually it was bodega to bodega. Perhaps it’s somewhat normal, but biking through the streets, across streets and at one time along a highway was scary!!!! However, as with the other “firsts” I had just endured and enjoyed in the past week, I did not want to let fear of something new stop me. It was great being back on a bike after so long and I learned a lot not only about the wine industry and its history in Mendoza, but also olive and olive oil production. This was accompanied by tasting the best olive oil and olives I’ve ever had and some okay-wine (maybe it has to grow on me…). Overall, this had to be one of my favorite days in Argentina so far.

My most recent “first” was attending my first class at an Argentine university. As expected, it was pretty intimidating knowing all the other students could speak and understand Castellano fluently and without issue. Trying to focus is difficult enough in 4-hour classes in English, so it was pretty difficult in a 4-hour class in Argentina which started at 6pm at night (thanks to Siesta). I left feeling a little unsure how I would be able to manage Argentine classes, but some encouragement from a professor and some of my fellow students made me feel a little better. I am still in the process of choosing classes so hopefully by the next time I write, I will have a better idea of what exactly I am taking on this semester!

Overall, while these weeks have been fun and exciting, I have also proven to myself that it was worth not letting my doubts and worries get in the way. If I had worried too much about rafting, horseback riding, going to one of the wine capitals of the world, riding a bike through town or thought I could never handle an Argentine university class, I would have missed out on all these great experiences I’ve already had (and will hopefully have as I continue with classes). In fact, I may not have even chosen Mendoza at all over worries that now seem so small and unwarranted. I have no regrets and have already made some incredible memories in these few short weeks. I hope I will keep this in mind as I am undoubtedly faced with numerous more new situations over the next few months.

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A Long Overdue Reflection

Time March 13th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

I have now been in Argentina for 11 days and it’s been quite a ride! The other program students who I did not even know 2 weeks ago, already feel like good friends, the city of Mendoza’s roads are slowly taking shape in my brain and I feel quite comfortable with my host family and their daily routine.

So I arrived in Buenos Aires with many other IFSA students yet only one seemed to be going to Mendoza with me. Turns out, the others were so hard to find because we have only 9 students in the group this year, along with 1 full year student! For me, 10 students has been great since we’ve all gotten pretty close and we will likely get a lot more personal attention and support this semester than if we were a group of 50 or more students. For some reason, I left my college feeling I have a pretty strong command of the language since I have taken Spanish for 8 years, but turns out, I still have much more to learn than just eroding my American accent! At first, I was intimidated knowing the other students were much more fluent than me and had actually taken serious, complex Spanish classes back in the US. I was constantly pausing and tripping over words which was frustrating (it’s way easier to conjugate on paper than in your head in real time!) . Sure we’re all in the same Spanish class since we’re a small group, but being expected to know more and surrounded by students who can already speak well will undoubtedly force me to catch up and learn quickly.

We spent our first days in Buenos Aires largely doing tours, adjusting to the Argentine accent (it’s not as hard to understand as people led me to believe thankfully), and trying typical Argentine dishes (Argentina’s beef definitely lives up to its fame!). Those few days flew by and by the end, I had seen La Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest highway in the world), Recoleta Cemetary (a huge cemetery where some of the most influential Argentines have been buried the past 2 centuries), El Ataneo (a theater converted to a bookstore), La Casa Rosada (the White House for Argentina) and so much more that I had only heard or read about before! It was truly an incredible and exciting few days.

Still, I think we were all pretty eager (and a bit nervous) to meet our host families. After a short plane ride, we arrived in the lovely city of Mendoza where we will primarily be living the next few months. I was lucky enough to get a fantastic host mom and brother, in a well-located part of town and even get to enjoy the cuteness that comes with having a pet guinea in the house. Mendoza itself is a great city, full of fantastic views, cute cafes, friendly people, walkable streets, a great park and nice plazas for relaxing or spending time with friends. The Andes mountains are not only amazing to see, but provide plenty of opportunity for hiking which I really love! Though Mendoza may not be the capital or even the second largest city, it has quite a lot of unique features. It happens to be the home to the Aconcagua (the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas), be the site where the largest dinosaur remains in the world were found and be the birthplace of one of Argentina’s most beloved comic writers, Quino (who created the popular series “Mafalda”). The timing of our program couldn’t be better as we were able to watch the parades and Fiesta de la Vendimia which occurs after the grape harvest (a very important crop in this region of the country). Watching the parades helped form my understanding of not only Argentine culture and the parts they take pride in, but also specifically Mendocino culture which is rich and complex itself. At the Fiesta, I watched some of the most beautiful dancing I’ve ever seen and could not help but feel incredibly thankful for the experience. Honestly, I wish more people would enroll in this program to get to see and learn about all of this!

While I am really enjoying myself, I have realized that this program appears to be perfect for my needs. With little experience with following maps or public transportation, Mendoza has allowed me to slowly practice and get better while the city is safe enough and organized enough that I don’t have to be too worried when I do get lost. There is also such little English spoken and such few other students, we are all forced to continually use Spanish and thus I’d say we have all already seen a fair amount of improvement! Overall, those and many other aspects of Mendoza give me confidence that is may be the ideal place for me to challenge myself, try new things and continually strive to improve many aspects of my life.

Our time since our arrival in Mendoza has been dedicated to orientations, the first of our Spanish classes, getting to the know the city and acclimating to a very different way of life. Classes will begin next week and hopefully that will give me more of the routine I have been craving, though following schedules is not always easy in Argentine society. I know it’s early on, but right now, I am entirely content with my choice to come to Mendoza and am excited to see what the next few months have in store!

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Who I am and how I got here!

Time February 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

With less than three days remaining before study abroad, it seems time to introduce myself! My name is Amanda, I am 20 years old and I am currently in my third year at Soka University of America (SUA). While my university is situated in Southern California, my home is actually about 3,000 miles away in Massachusetts, and I have been bouncing back and forth across the country since the summer of 2014. Sure, being away from home and family the majority of the past few years may have prepared me for study abroad to an extent, but somehow, this semester away in particular feels like it could be very, very different. Read More »

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