Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Traveling Tips: Things I Wish I Knew

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Hello all,

I’m currently writing from Chicago, Illinois as I have returned home after my absolutely wonderful semester abroad. After my Michaelmas term at Oxford ended, I spent two weeks traveling around Europe with my friends. Prior to studying abroad, most of my traveling was with my family. It is an entirely different experience to travel with peers. There are many important decisions to make and rather than simply following my parents, it was on me to determine the best course of action. Prior to my semester abroad through IFSA-Butler, I would have considered myself a novice traveler. However during my study abroad experience, I saw eight different countries, navigated the public transportation system of foreign nations, and learned to communicate despite language barriers. I honestly learned just as much while traveling as I did during the academic term. The following are some tips that I noted during my adventures:

  1. Know the measurements of your suitcase. Even if your suitcase is always allowed as a carry-on for various American airlines, it may be too large for certain European airlines. Either take a picture of the original tag of the bag or look up the exact suitcase online and write down its exact measurements. Additionally, while traveling it is really important to fully understand the luggage requirements of the specific airline. Sometimes the flight may be cheaper but they may charge for carry-on luggage and with the extra charger, that flight may become more expensive than the second cheapest option. Another important thing to consider is that it is often cheaper to purchase baggage online rather than at the airport, so if you expect to pay for your bag try and pay for it earlier rather than later.
  2. Bring locks. Locks are really useful if you plan on staying in hostels because many of them have lockers available. I brought a lock for my suitcase (that is TSA approved of course) and one for my backpack. One of the biggest tips I received was to be wary of pickpockets so whenever I traveled I kept everything locked. Then when I arrived at our hostel, I would take the lock off the suitcase, put the suitcase inside, and then use the lock for the locker.
  3. Carry a filtered water bottle. First, look up whether your country’s tap water is safe for drinking. If I determined that tap water was safe, I would fill up my Brita-filtered waterbottle. This was not only convenient for having water on hand, it ended up being a cost-saving measure. I found that many restaurants would only provide bottled water and they will subsequently charge to your bill.
  4. Don’t overuse the currency exchange. It is important to remember that every time you exchange currency, you are losing money. I found that in the beginning I was overestimating how much cash I would need at each location. It is really helpful to get a credit card that does not have international transaction fees. I figured this out prior to leaving the U.S. and found it incredibly valuable. With this kind of credit card, I learned that I really did not need too much cash. By the end of my trip I was only taking out a little bit of cash and reserved it for things I knew I couldn’t pay for with card such as cabs and small food stands.
  5. Protect your passport. While I advise against carrying your passport everywhere, I also advise against leaving it in anywhere that might not be secure. If the hostel I was staying at had a locked locker, I felt comfortable leaving my passport. Otherwise I kept it within an zipped inside pocket in my jacket. It is definitely the most important thing you have and by far the most difficult thing to replace. A good rule of thumb is that at any point in the day, any day of the week you should be able to say where your passport is currently located.
  6. Google Maps is great for public transportation. Using public transportation is such a great way to save money. Furthermore, it is much easier than I ever anticipated. Google Maps worked in every city I was in and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Additionally, I found that in places such as train stations and bus stations it is relatively easy to find someone who speaks English and they can tell you exactly what kinds of tickets to purchase. Google Maps not only tells you which bus or train to take, it also tells you the time it will arrive and when the next one is coming. Furthermore, you can download a city to your saved “offline” locations and then you can use Google Maps without any wifi or data.

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Tom Takes the Tube: A Short Stay in London

Time February 4th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

*Written in London Heathrow Airport, edited in my hotel room in Sharjah*

For my first transatlantic flight, I can easily say it will only get more difficult. Both flights I had multiple seats to myself which made sleeping on the plane possible. My biggest fear before arriving in London was taking The Underground by myself with my luggage. After receiving directions and my Oyster Card, it could not have gone smoother! Read More »

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Hotsprings, Hiking, and Hangliding (and wine): One Heck of a Good Time in Mendoza

Time July 14th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Guys: traveling is so so cool.  I know this is not a new observation, and I’m sure that as humans we have been exploring and pushing the boundaries of our known worlds at least as long as recorded history.  But I’m finally discovering this feeling for myself, and it’s wonderful.  The bug is real (the travel bug that is), and after my most recent trip I’m already planning on how I’m going to scrounge up the funds for another adventure.  Maybe I’ll just become a wandering minstrel…

On this travel note, last weekend, I went to Mendoza with two of my best friends here: Ali and Morris.  They’re the best.  However, the timing wasn’t, considering the trip was planned for the weekend before all of my parciales (FINAL EXAMS), so my trip was going to eat into some pretty important study time.  But, since we were taking Omnibuses to get there, this meant had a 15 hour drive to hit the books.  

(Plus, now that I’ve finished all of my parciales, I would like to report that they went SWIMMINGLY.  This note is for you, parents)

Yet despite the small cloud of academic worry that hung over us, we entered the weekend with high hopes, and we were not disappointed.  Not in the slightest.  Mendoza was, though not as visually striking as Patagonia or Salta, the best place I have traveled to in Argentina.  I was in heaven.  

Mendoza is gorgeous, a mix between the Sierra Nevadas and Napa Valley with a hearty dose of the Andes Mountains thrown in.  The weather was absolutely perfect; mid-sixties without even a hint of anything less than sunshine.  Is it even winter here?  We hiked all around her foothills while breaking every rule that I’ve ever learned as a hiker (we didn’t bring enough water, we didn’t tell anyone where we were, we went slightly off-trail, and we had no real destination or plan on getting home).  We also paragliding off the summit of Cerro Arco, and spent an afternoon perusing the many parks, fountains, and a few of the art museums that the city had to offer.  

Mendoza is delicious; I had probably the one of the top 5 desserts in my life (a chocotorta, in a splendid restaurant called El Mercadito), as well as some delicious wines, salsas, and liquors.  One day, we did the popular bike-wine tour; we took a bus out to wine country, rented some bikes, and spent the day tasting some of Mendoza’s best offerings.  We went to big wineries (LaGarde), small wineries (Carmelo Patti), organic wineries (Pulmary), and places with everything in between (A La Antigua).  

Mendoza is tranqui.  For a large (9.5 million people live in the city and the surrounding area) place, Mendoza doesn’t appear overly bustling in massive.  People smile more than they do in Buenos Aires, and the city pretty much shuts down every afternoon for a siesta.  It was a winning combination of the exciting buzz of a metro area with the comforting feel of a smaller town.  We also took a day trip to the Cacheuta Hot Springs with some British friends who we met at our hostel, and it was a day of fantastic food, peaceful soaking, and striking views.  I couldn’t have asked for a better last day in Mendoza.  I couldn’t asked for a better trip to send off my time in Argentina.  

If you want more of Mendoza, you can check out some pics below.  They’ll tell you more than my words could.

Also, on a separate note, I couldn’t really have asked for a better hostel than Hostel Mora, the hostel that happily housed us in Mendoza.  (Cue shameless plug here).  Hostel Mora served us breakfast to-order every morning (fo’ freee), which included EGGS (something that they never serve for breakfast here, and I had been missing), dulce crepes, fresh fruit, and a variety of pastries.  But, in addition to that, I adored the folks we that we met and spent time with at the hostel.  There were Alex and Becca, an American couple who were traveling the world after Alex sold his startup company.  Nick and Charlotte were a British couple who had been traveling in southern South America and were freaks about soccer.  Remy was an Australian girl my age who had be traveling for the better part of the last 5 months on her own, and had just spent a few weeks in Brazil at the World Cup.  And, of course, best for last were Oli and Dan, a pair of best friends from London who were on a gap year in South American and became our best friends in Mendoza.  They were a hilarious one-two punch who are low-key social media celebs.  Between shenanigans in the hostel, a dinner adventure, and quality times with a waterproof camera at the hot springs, we certainly made some great memories together.  I hope that I can visit them in London one day. In my experience, hostel dwellers are by and large pretty cool, but these ones were the best that I’d met so far.  It made me want to travel more.  

Now, I’m back in Buenos Aires.  I survived my examenes finales, have fanatically supported the USMNT with random gaggles of Americans throughout the city, and am starting to get sad about leaving.  As of now, I have 5 days left in Buenos Aires.  What the hell.  Also, my summer job just fell through due to restructuring in the company I would’ve  been working for, so after this stint as a blogger ends I’ll be officially unemployed.  Looks like Craigslist is about to become my best friend. 

Keep it real, stay classy, and take care.  I’ll write again soon.

Dylan

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Hungry in Hungary

Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past week has been what the Brits call “Reading Week”.  Basically it’s a week-long period where you are supposed to catch up on work.  I’ve been doing that, but I also took advantage of 5 of the 10 days I had off to travel to Amsterdam and Berlin.  Not having internet access for the past few days has led me to post this quite late.  October 24-26 I went to Budapest with a couple friends.  Hands down it has been my favorite trip so far, which was unexpected for me.  Budapest was a very random trip for us.  Whenever we searched places to go in Europe, Budapest always showed up as the most underrated city.

And I have to say it was beyond amazing!  I have never been in such a grand city.  According to Brigid, who is a history major, most Easter European cities were very concerned with the architecture and grandeur of there city.  They didn’t want to be labeled as “backward” compared to the Western European cities.  I would hands down recommend traveling to Budapest to anyone studying abroad or anyone interested in getting a taste of eastern Europe.

We stayed in a hostel called Pal’s hostel.  This wasn’t a regular hostel, it was more like a chain of apartments right next to St. Stephen’s Basilica. So we ended up staying in a 4 person apartment footsteps away from the basilica.

Besides our great location, another amazing thing was the currency in Hungary.  They are on the forint, which has an exchange rate of 1forint = .0046 dollar.  This was great as it was a nice break from the extremely expensive London, however taking out 25,000 forint at the airport was a bit odd.

I’ll leave you with this video to explain the rest:

My favorite things in Budapest:

1. chimney cakes–almost like funnel cakes, but better

2. St. Stephen’s Basilica–the grandest Catholic church I’ve ever been inside.  Makes Notre Dame look bad.

3.  The hop on hop off bus is a great way to get to all the cities main attractions.

4.  Ruin pubs–claustraphobic, but unique atmosphere of a chain of pubs surrounded by a courtyard in the middle

5. The drinking culture– people sit outside on the steps of the basilica and on the Budda Castle walls to enjoy the view while enjoying a drink

6.  The gelato– Very good and comes in the shape of a flower

xx, Francesca

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Some Tips about Hostels

Time December 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’d never stayed in a hostel before study abroad, and the thought of staying in one made me a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect. After 5 months of traveling around South America, I think I get it now. It’s not necessarily sketchy just because you’re sharing a room with strangers—you might make friends. You might not even end up sharing a room with anyone. The bathrooms, on the other hand, very easily could be sketchy, so brace yourself and put on your adventure boots (or at least some shower slippers.) Keep these handy tips in mind and you’ll do fine.

 

1. READ THE RATINGS.

Tripadvisor and Hostelworld both offer traveler reviews—use them. Don’t just read the good ones—read the worst reviews to get an idea of what you might have to expect. And don’t necessarily trust a place if it has one good review, and only one review. The more ratings, the more accurate the overall rating will be.

 

Common sense.

 

2. If you can, bring a towel. Most places will let you rent a towel, but to save yourself a bit of cash and the weirdness of using a towel that lots of other people have used, make room for one of your own. (Bonus tip: if you’re taking a bus to the city in which your hostel is located, that towel can be used as an emergency pillow!)

 

3. Cook at the hostel, save yourself a fortune. I ate out a lot when I was in Valparaiso just because, hello, seafood, but it really is so much cheaper (and fun!) to cook at the hostel. That said, be aware you won’t necessarily have all the supplies you’d like to have. Simple things like salad, pizza, pasta, and rice are your best bet but can still be tasty and healthy. I’ve done some delicious lentils (just soak them a day in advanced.) For more ideas, you can check out this site for hostel recipes! (Or just do a Google search.)

 

4. Ask about storage, especially if you’re arriving before check-in.

 

5. Don’t sleep in—take advantage of breakfast when it’s offered! (Especially because you already paid for it.)

 

6. The staff will usually know English pretty well…impress them with your Spanish and make friends! I am ASTOUNDED by the number of travelers (especially Australians for some reason) who wash up in these hostels without knowing a lick of Spanish. I’m not quite sure how they survive in South America, to be honest. Either way, people like them make the people that work in hostels super grateful for people who do speak Spanish, and they’re more likely to be patient with you if you need to store your stuff a little longer or something like that.

 

7. Keep your chin up and call it part of the adventure! If you’re afraid of a dirty bathroom rug or slimy kitchen sponge, just suck it up and pay the extra money for a hotel. Your stay in Hostel La Dudosa ( = sketchy) might not be the most luxurious—I mean, come on, it’s a hostel—but it might be one of the most fun if you do it up right.

 

If you want to see some of the places I stayed during my stint in South America, you can check out my Tripadvisor account . Of course, these are by no means the only places available to you. It all depends on when you go and how many people you’re going with.

 

So get Googling, and good luck!

 

Previous posts:

1. Antes de que me voy  (Before I Leave)

2.  Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation

3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”  

4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires

5. Looking Good, Mendoza!  

6. A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro 

7. Trip to Las Termas

8. Daily life in Mendoza

9. Habia una vez en los Andes… 

10. Night of the Soccer Game 

11. Road Trip! 

12. My Mate for Life 

13. Ringo vs. Chuck Norris 

14. Pros and Cons 

15. CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, VIVA CHILE!

16. Philosophical Moments in Neuquen

17. Cordoba and Oktoberfest

 

Coming soon!

The Student’s Life
Trabajo Voluntario
Rafting in San Rafael

Chile Part II
The return to BA

Mar del Plata

Reverse culture shock

Goals – accomplishments and compromises

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Time November 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Embarrassing…only half this post went up and I’m not sure why. So here it is again, but different because of course…I didn’t save the original!

Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.

Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.

Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’s no post on Saturdays and Sundays and this past Monday was a bank holiday so again the post service wasn’t open. I finally received my card though, and all is well. But a little word of advice: maybe don’t bring your card with you when you go out and also have some kind of contingency plan with your bank so that there’s a faster way for you to regain access to your money!

Luckily, this little hiccup did not stop me from having an amazing time in Budapest! It was really one of the best trips of my life and I am already trying to find a way to return.

Alleyway in Budapest. St. Stephen’s Basilica is in the background covered by the smog/haze that seemed to coat the city.

View of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament building from the bridge leading to Margaret Island.

Hungarian lace and linen at the little market we ran into on the streets of Budapest.

Me standing on the Chain Bridge that leads over the Danube to the Budapest Castle, it was absolutely beautiful!

Stall at the market where the delicious Transylvanian Chimney Cakes were being roasted over a coal burning fire. These were so good and unique tasting that we went back the next day for more!

And of course we had fun at our hostel when they organized an open mic night and some of the guys sang part of a song…over and over again! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmcj1Ilqysc&feature=share[/youtube]

Since I didn’t have much money, I had a nice excuse to have a weekend exploring Galway, something I should have done long ago. I went to the fresh market Galway has on Saturdays downtown, and on Sunday walked to Salthill, a suburb right on the beach outside of Galway.

We got some delicious hot and fresh donuts from one of the stalls at the fresh market! Seriously it was so fresh and hot that it got squished from being in the bag for only a minute or so.

Fresh carrots and onions from one of the vegetable stands at the market.

One of downtown Galway’s main roads on an early Sunday afternoon.

Galway Bay, on the walk to Salthill

View of Salthill from the diving platform…where we saw several people swimming in the freezing cold water, some of them not even wearing wet suits!

The little explorations of Galway came at just the right time, though. After having so much fun in Budapest I was feeling the excitement of Ireland starting to wind down after being here for 2 months (especially since school was starting to get a little more serious with midterms and essays and presentations due and that was what I had to look forward to on my return from Hungary), I was just feeling a little tired of Galway. But exploring the city and the surrounding areas got me excited about Ireland again. Sometimes you just need to change up your routine a little to shake off any bad feelings.

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Pre-Studying

Time March 12th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

16:44- Café Tolón, Palermo Alto, CABA, Buenos Aires, Argnentina

This is going to be a recap of all of my adventures from the last couple of weeks, so I’m gonna try to organize it by adventure so I can keep my thoughts a little organized too. I think I’m going to start writing a little bit every other day as fun stuff happens, just because I feel like nobody really wants to read the giant posts (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t…) jajaja Así que, empiezo:

Colonia del Sacramento, Colonia, Uruguay:

The last place I left off was right before our IFSA-funded trip across the Rio de la Plata to a little town in Uruguay called Colonia.  We hadn’t even been in the country two weeks before we were hopping the border.  As if it wasn’t cool enough that I’m living in one of the biggest/coolest cities in the world.  But this trip was the perfect counterbalance to the slightly overwhelming transition from small-town, Arkansas (where I’m from/spent most of my break) to the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Colonia is a slow-paced small town on the Rio de la Plata that caters to tourism and a safe, relaxed lifestyle.  The hotel room I shared with two other IFSA girls was possibly the best of all of ours, not to say they weren’t all amazing.  But we had two personal balconies overlooking the street and the bar next door, a beautifully tiled bathroom complete with bedét, and three beds.  LeeAnn (another girl from Tulane) and I played rock-paper-scissors for who got to sleep alone in the queen-sized bed, and the other two each had a twin-sized bed.  I won! :) Not to say we spent that much time actually sleeping in them… The majority of the trip was planned out by IFSA with a city tour, a beach trip, lots of delicious free meals, and, the highlight, the trip to Mario’s ‘plantation.’ Mario is the director of IFSA here (I think?  I’m not exactly sure of his job title, but I know he’s in charge of big stuff. jaja)

But we had all been hearing about this infamous trip to Mario’s house in Uruguay since we got to Argentina.  I had heard a little about it from my host mom, and between a couple friends, we had a picture of its magnificence all painted out in our heads.  And, as it turns out, The Casa de los Limoneros, as it’s called, did very well at living up to our expectations.  The place was designed by Mario’s partner who is an architect, and it doubles as a hostel. It was absolutely amazing; I don’t think I can do it justice by describing it, so I’m definitely attaching pictures.  But we had lunch there (more like a feast) of a traditional asado, with chorizo (sausage) and delectable steaks and pork and I’m not even sure of some of the things we ate.  But it was all absolutely delicious.  Then after lunch, once we were all full to the brim, we changed into our swimsuits to hang out by the pool.  jajaj so that probably doesn’t give you the best mental picuture, but it was still basically paradise, at least for me because I wasn’t there to impress any of my American IFSA friends. :)  Just as we were starting to feel a little less full, Mario and his friends/(possibly family?) brought out the tortas (desserts). Dios Mio. I thought the meal was amazing, but the desserts just reaffirmed the excellence of the whole day.  jaja ok maybe a little dramatic, but still, they were delicious: one, a bread pudding that was more flan-like was absolutely to die for.  I told Mario’s partner that in New Orleans we make bread pudding with rum, and lots of it; he thought it was a grand idea! :) also, there was dulce de leche out the wazoo, tons of fresh fruit, and a torta de apples.  Have I mentioned yet that dulce de leche is everywhere on everything?  We were joking that it probably wouldn’t be bad on a steak… maybe pushing it, but why not? jajaja

the pool! Colonia, Uruguay

Punta del Este, Uruguay:

Our tip in Colonia was from Wednesday to Friday funded by IFSA, but a lot of us decided to take a bus to another city past Montevideo, about 4 hours away, called Punta del Este (literally Point of the East) for the rest of the weekend.  After three days in Colonia, I was ready to see a little more action;  to put it in perspective as to the crowds the two cities were catering to, Colonia has only one boliche (dance club) that isn’t consistently open, whereas Punta del Este has tons to choose from that are full of Argentinos and other young travelers.  So, we enjoyed our relaxing in Colonia but were definitely ready to see more people our age.

My friend Brittany and I took a later bus form Colonia and ended up getting to Punta del Este around 11pm, to be welcomed with a parade!  I’m not exactly sure what the holiday/event was, aside from the arrival of the americanas (jajaja chiste!), but it was so awesome to see so soon after missing Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Even so, it was more of how I picture Carnaval in Brazil, with women wearing pasted on jewelry-clothes and covered in glitter as the dance down the street.  Luckily nobody ever sleeps and places never close anywhere in the Cono del Sur (obviously an exaggeration, but, maybe almost true), so we went to dinner at midnight and watched the parade from a table outside at a little fast-food cafe.  The one downside about Punta del Este was that most of the prices were more equivalent to what you would pay in the states, like most of the restaurants would be around $15USD for dinner, which seemed outrageous when we had gotten used to almost always less than $10USD for anything.  But we were able to find a delicious little empanada place down the street from our hostel that had empanadas for only $25uruguayos, which translates to a little over a dollar a pop.  Aside from the mini-carnaval, we also were there during a surf competition, which was pretty cool.  We spent most of Saturday on the beach, but it was so full of people, it was kind of hard to tell what was going on with the competition.  But the better side of the competition being in town was the people it brought.  jaja There was a group of surfers staying in our hostel too, so we obviously made friends with them.  We all went out around 2am (because that’s when things are just getting started) and danced at a few different boliches.  I love to dance, so that obviously was a lot of fun,  but the best part, I think, was after we left and we all went to the beach to walk around and put our toes in the water.  It was just surreal: am I really “studying” abroad right now?  But now, after struggling with registering for classes that start this week, I’m a little bit closer to the studying part.

  

Mini-adventures, here and there:

Taking a step back, I forgot to mention the trip to a milonga (a tango dance club) that we had the night before leaving for Colonia.  Another IFSA-funded dinner/event, I went with the group for my concentration in human rights that I’m doing here through IFSA.  We had pizza and got to take a class on the basics of tango!  It was so cool to learn a little bit about it, and absolutely mesmerizing to watch the two instructors dance it.  It’s just such a sexy and serious dance, but at the same time they made it look effortless and smooth.  I hope to find somewhere nearby to take some dance classes in tango, salsa, merengue, etc.  I took a couple of classes when I was in Costa Rica a few years ago, and it’s one of the best ways to meet people and, obviously, it’s so fun!

Random things I didn’t expect: ~there are tons of McDonald’s here!  And some of them are 24hrs, some deliver, some have a whole separate room for the McCafe, because they’re all about cafés here (there are literally like 15 on every block) ~they spend a lot of money on clothes.  The shopping is awesome (I’ve seen Armani suits, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Lacoste, Nike, Swarovski jewelry stores, Zara’s everywhere, and tons of little boutiques), but a lot of the stuff costs a lot more than what I would normally pay in the states.  Even so, there’s so much cute stuff!  Also, millions of shoe stores, and the average pair of shoes is over $50USD (and that’s right now when everything is on sale: changing from summer to fall/winter) ~At the mall near my house, there’s a TGIFriday’s…odd? ~There are a lot of Starbucks and the prices are around the same. ~The streets are nicer here than in New Orleans. ~People are beautiful.  I’m 5’11” and blonde, so I obviously stand out, but less than I expected, and kind of for different reasons.  The majority of the women are very thin, and they’re obsessed with Pilates, which I love too. jaja But there are a lot of taller people here too, and some blondes, but most aren’t naturally blonde, so I guess I still stand out.  Men dress well, too, so it’s always nice in the mornings on my way to IFSA class to see all of the modelesque men in business casual attire.  I don’t know what it is here, maybe something in the bottled bubbly water, but they somehow have figured out the perfect mix of european features and culture to make an absolutely beautiful and fascinating city.  ~semi-strange thing: they like never drink the tap water, even though it’s perfectly clean and drinkable.  Water in restaurants is always bottled (a lot of times in glass) and you have to ask for it to not be bubbly.  I haven’t decided yet if I like the bubbly water, but it’s kind of fun because it’s more exciting than normal water.

On another random topic, this past Wednesday: #1 I saw a lady carrying a ferret on the street… normal? #2: I saw my first paro, or strike, which was a pretty big group of teachers and supporters, I believe, who were marching because they don’t get paid enough in the schools.  They actually stopped traffic on one of the larger streets, and Brittany and I were eating lunch in a cafe watching it pass.  #3: I was walking home around 7:30/8:00 pm and, though it’s completely normal for here, it still took me by surprise that most of the restaurants I passed were just opening and getting ready for the dinner crowd, but I don’t think I saw one person out eating dinner.  Dinner time is 9pm or later, and they stick to it!  jajaja  Actually I had dinner last night (a Saturday) at an Indian restaurant around 11:30/12:00, and when we left around 1:00am, we weren’t the last people there.  I don’t know if I like it better, or if it’s just different, but it is kind of nice to have so much more of the day to do stuff without having to worry about being home for dinner at 7.  #4: The lights went out in my whole apartment building, and several around us.  It was right around dinner time (so 9pm-ish), and my host mom was preparing the food and then all the lights went out.  We lit candles and it wasn’t a problem, but the strange part was that it was only a few buildings.  The ones across from us still had light.  My host mom was explaining to me how the electricity is supplied to the buildings on three different circuits, I think, but it was still just kind of confusing.  jajaja But she called the electric company after about an hour, and literally less than a minute after she got of the phone the lights were back on; she said that the company had no idea the lights had gone out.  jajaja

This past Thursday was full of awesome, too.  After my Castellano class at IFSA from 10-12, I walked around a bit and then finally stopped in this little bar/tavern/restaurant to have lunch.  For the equivalent of about $12USD, I had a beer, bife de chorizo (which basically means steak), salad, and fruit salad for dessert.  But this wasn’t any normal steak; it was like the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  Pre-Argentina I heard from basically everyone that the steak will be awesome because this is the beef capital of the world; and I didn’t doubt them, but my dad can make a mean steak.  But this was just in a class of it’s own.  There was this magical sauce on it and it was perfectly cooked and basically it was just awesome.  But then to make the day better, I met up with a friend to go to the Plaza de Mayo to see the Madres who always march around 3:30 there for their disappeared children.  But Thursday was also a national holiday, Women’s Day (what a great idea, no?!), so there was a lot more going on in the plaza having to do with women’s rights and the topic of abortion, which is illegal here.  It was really cool to see how proactive they are about things like this.  There were tons of news stations there and people just filming the event, too.  It was just unreal to be there and semi be a part of it.  But then to make the day even better, my friend and I walked to a palacio de something where you can go to the roof (or I’m assuming it’s ok, because we did…) and see the whole city.  It was breathtaking.  Also, we both realized how much of the city we haven’t seen.  It’s so huge!!! Dios mio.  Then, on our way home, we stopped in a really cute leather shoe store that was having a super sale, but sadly there wasn’t anything that exciting in my size because the place had already been picked over.  The last really cool thing to make my Thursday was the conversation I had at dinner with my host mom.  I told her that I had gone to the Plaza de Mayo to see the Madres, and she surprised me with her own account of the genocide.  She was in med school at UBA when the disappearances started.  She said she got pregnant with her first son and had to drop out of school, which she said more than likely saved both of their lives.  She had lots of friends that disappeared during that time.  It’s so scary to hear of that first-hand.  It was women just like her, that were in the University that were the ones who were getting abducted.  The government didn’t have to have reason; they would just take people if there was even a slight possibility that you were against the government, and being in the University was excuse enough.  People her son’s age are the ones who were taken when they were babies from their moms and adopted, often by government families.

Women's Day in Plaza de Mayo

Concentration: Human Rights

I had a meeting with my advisor for my concentration in human rights this past Friday at a cute little café in Palermo, and we discussed what internship I want to do for the semester.  We talked about the structure of a few, and instead of choosing what I originally thought I wanted to do working with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo or a social/political rights group, Luti (my advisor) made me fall in love with two different organizations, which are a bit of a 360 turn from the other two.  The other two are a lot more informal, but I think their form of work will be a lot more fulfilling for me and for what I’m studying.  My first choice is a group of Bolivian immigrants that work for immigration rights, I believe, and it’s largely composed of people of indigenous heritage or from the more rural areas of South America.  I’m really excited for this because I’m really interested in the indigenous populations of South America, and being in the super-europeanized city, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to see or participate in this sort of activity.  My second choice is a co-op that employs youth in la Boca, which is a super-touristy barrio, but also home to a very poor population.  The co-op employs kids/teens in making alfajoritos (mini-alfajores, the delicious treats I talked about in my video!) that they sell to tourists in the area.  This internship reminds me a lot of the type of work that I did through Manna Project International in Ecuador, where the actual work you’re doing doesn’t matter as much as the outcome and the overall point of it.  This seems like a great organization made to help these kids get off the streets and give them an opportunity for employment and, ultimately, help make their futures better.

Patio Gastronómico, Mar. 10, Avenida de Mayo:

 

Yesterday, a friend and I went to the Patio Gastronomia down next to the Plaza de Mayo.  It was a really cool event with tons of little tent/booths set up for a wide variety of countries with food and information about their countries.  There was so much food!  I ate a little fried something with chicken in it from the Brazil booth, a hotdog/sausage from the Germany booth, and some amazing cake thing from a booth for a country that I don’t think I know of in English (or at least I couldn’t figure out the translation from Spanish).  There were people dancing and they gave out awards (not sure exactly what for) but Perú, Japan, and Germany all won something and the people who went up to accept the awards were dressed in traditional clothing, which was so pretty!

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