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,