The Argentine Classroom
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.
While universities differ, there are some things common across universities. One huge difference is studying methods. In Argentina, a lot of assignments are group work, something that often annoys Americans. However, it seems to work really well and since students generally take the same classes together in the same facultad/carrera for all four years, they get pretty close and know each other well. Even my host mom said she worked with the same three girls in all her classes through her entire college career. The fact that we have 10-15 minute breaks even in 90 minute classes allows for even more bonding time between students. It’s funny because the Americans don’t often leave during these recreos because having class straight without breaks is normal for us. But it is a great opportunity to learn about the other students. Another difference is that professors don’t normally have you buy the hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks you have to back in the states (I am very thankful for this here!). Instead, you or the professor makes photocopies of the specific texts you have to read in each unit. You pick these up at the university photocopy room and pay a small price (per unit, I’ve spent about USD $4-5). Much better right? If you want to save even that money, some professors email you electronic copies of all the readings as well. In general, there is much less work assigned, but somehow I ended up in a class that assigns way more reading than the classes other students in my program are getting. Nevertheless, it’s improving my Spanish reading and writing abilities and the professor and friendly students make all the work more than worth it! Something I have had to come to accept is that universities here function much like everything here; lacking in structure, communication and prior planning. Again, this is not a bad thing! It’s part of Argentine culture and I think I could learn from a life of less structure, timeliness and efficiency. Still, there is a high chance that professors will simply never respond to your emails, not have office hours (this is because many hold multiple jobs to sustain themselves), you will not know the dates of your midterms or finals until a few weeks in advance (making my trip planning a little frustrating) but there is also enough flexibility that turning in an assignment late or taking a midterm early or late is not a huge problem.
A few days ago I had my first midterm and went in worried not knowing what to expect. It ended up being a single sheet of paper, double sided with multiple choice questions worth 5 points each and short answer questions worth 10-15 points each. Obviously having everything count for so much was a little nerve-wracking (and is unfortunately common for exams here), but honestly I feel if you work hard and prepare yourself, exams, presentations and written assignments should not be stressed over too much. Sure it will take you much longer to get through a 50 page reading in Spanish than it would in English and sure you may need to look up words in every other sentence, but you have to remind yourself with every new word, you’re improving your abilities in the language. For me, it felt pretty good leaving an exam completely written in Spanish in a class fully taught in Spanish, feeling confident I did well. This was a major worry for me when I chose a program where you mostly take classes among local students rather than other exchange students. However, I can say now that if you do the work and talk with your professor when you have worries and need extra help, it is likely you will do well and get a lot out of it. Rather than the As-Fs in the US grading system, here you are assigned 0-10, with 10 being a perfect score. I have another midterm coming up soon and will know my results for this one probably by the end of the week, so let’s hope I’m closer to the 10 than the 0 range!