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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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