First Impressions of Mendoza
I have been in Mendoza now for about two weeks, and so far I think that I have made a good choice about where to study abroad. As I expected, though, my transition from the US to Mendoza has definitely had its ups and downs. During orientation, the director of my program told us that our days (especially towards the beginning of the semester) would be rollercoasters because of the choque cultural (culture shock); for example, we could be happy in the morning, upset at lunch, homesick in the afternoon and happy again by evening. This rollercoaster aspect of culture shock is definitely true. In an effort to show both the amazing and the hard-to-get-used-to parts of this adventure, I’m going to split this post into two parts.
Things I like about Mendoza:
First, my host family is wonderful. From the moment I met my host mom at the airport, I felt comfortable and safe. Transitioning from your own family to a host family, though, is still very weird. For the first few days especially, I felt awkward and like I had to ask permission for everything. However, I have learned that my family gives me some freedom (more than what I’ve heard from some of the other students in my program). Because I have a thirteen-year-old host brother and an eleven-year-old host sister, everyone in the house pretty much does their own thing – just like a busy household in the United States. The one downside of this is the lack of time to connect with my family. During orientation, I was told to expect a family dinner every night with a long sobremesa (period of conversation after dinner). My family, though, hardly eats dinner together and even if we have started dinner together, the kids are gone as soon as they’ve finished their food. At first, I was a little disappointed/confused about this because I felt like I was missing time to connect with everyone. But I have found some time to connect with my host mom during quieter times before bed or while I eat dinner.
Another thing that I like about Mendoza is the location of my house. It is about 30 minutes walking or 10 minutes on the micro (bus) to the city center. It also only about 10 minutes on the micro to the university where I will be taking classes. Fortunately, I also live close to two other girls from my program (the other girl from Macalester on my program lives next door – our host moms are sisters!). We often coordinate going to our program’s office or to school together. Especially when we get home after dark, it is nice to know that I have someone to walk or taxi home with.
I also love the nature in Mendoza. My house is close to a large park with a lake where I have taken to running. And the university where I plan to take classes is surrounded by mountains. Over the most recent long weekend, I was even able to take two day trips – one to Maipú (wine country about 30 minutes away by micro) for a bike tour of bodegas (wineries) and another to Potrerillos (about 1.5 hours away by bus) to marvel at the Andes mountains and a beautiful lake.
Things that are hard/different about Mendoza:
For the semester before I left the United States, I was a vegetarian. About a month before coming to Mendoza, I started introducing meat back into my diet. Although the transition to eating meat again was not that difficult, it is difficult to eat lots of heavy meat dishes every day. And although my family serves salad with most meals and has fruit readily available, I have found myself missing vegetables and other dishes that I am accustomed to eating at home. For example, a big bowl of rice and beans or a huge salad. Also dinner here is at 10pm (!!) which feels so late (hopefully I get used to this soon).
Another difficult thing about my transition to Mendoza has been the nightlife culture and the expectation to go out on the weekends. Like I mentioned before, a normal dinner time isn’t until after 9pm, so nightlife doesn’t truly start until at least midnight. And many young mendocinans stay out until 6 or 7am. Although the culture here is not to get sloppy drunk (“It’s a marathon not a sprint” – our program director), a typical night out might include getting a few drinks at a bar on Aristides (a popular street for nightlife with lots of restaurants and bars) and then going to a boliche, which is a club mainly for dancing. Anyone who knows me well knows that nightlife in general is not my thing. So far, I have had two really late nights getting home around 3am and 5am respectively, but that behavior is most definitely not sustainable for me.
Finally, adjusting to the education system here in Mendoza has been a bit difficult. The university that I will be attending has various facultades (like departments) within which there are various carreras (like majors). All of the facultades operate as their own entity because all Argentines stick with one major throughout their entire four or five years at college. This proves a little difficult as an exchange student taking classes in two different facultades, especially when the schedules for the classes only come out at the earliest a week before classes begin. Definitely very different than my home university where the schedule comes out more than a semester in advance.
All in all, my first two weeks in Mendoza have been a whirlwind, a mixture of awesome and difficult. Hopefully the awesome starts outweighing the difficult soon, but until then I look forward to running more often in the park, starting classes with other Argentines, and eating more alfajores.
Like they say in Argentina, ¡Chau! Look out for more updates in the coming weeks!