I know this week has been somewhat of a rough week. After listening to Portuguese and speaking English for a week in Brasil, coming back to Argentina and speaking and understanding Spanish was pretty difficult. It’s hard to believe that just one week away can make so much of a difference.
I’ve never realized the truth to the phrase “Use it or lose it” until now. At least now I know that my Spanish must be constant; in order to have any hope of being good, I have to use the language every single day. Even when I return to the US, I need to find ways to keep speaking and listening each day – and that starts here, while I’m in Buenos Aires.
...continue reading "Dear Janelle,"
Dear Buenos Aires,
I like to say that I’ve always been a pretty self-sufficient kid, researching decisions before I made them and working since I was 14 years old. But traveling and being abroad alone gives “self-sufficiency” a whole new meaning, and it is oftentimes uncomfortable.
When I first arrived here, I had to stay in a hostel the night before meeting up with my SIT group. I had booked everything in advance online, including a shuttle that would take me from the airport to my hostel – or so I thought. Everything was going relatively well after my marathon trip from NYC to BA, and the shuttle even came to the airport relatively on-time. However, when I got into the shuttle van, I realized I couldn’t talk to the driver.
...continue reading "Dear Buenos Aires"
To the Cafés of Argentina:
I wouldn’t even think of buying coffee just a few years ago, no matter where I was in the world. About two years ago, slowly but surely, I became addicted to coffee – but I don’t mean physically addicted; I am addicted to the world of coffee. I like knowing where coffee beans come from, learning the nuances among different preparations, and looking for the variety of tastes and smells in each cup. My favorite part of the coffee experience, however, is taking time to enjoy it.
...continue reading "To the Cafés of Argentina:"
Prepare yourself. You are going to be asked, “Do you feel homesick?” about a million times while you’re gone. It can be a tricky question to answer, especially in your first week abroad. You’re meeting new people, trying new foods, living a different lifestyle – but by no means do you forget where you came from.
I try to avoid the “homesickness discussion” because it involves telling people – who many times don’t care – about my feelings. Sometimes I feel ashamed of being homesick because I realize that nurturing the homesickness means missing out on fun activities in a new country. Other times I use it as fuel to do something fun, and that reminds me of the endless possibilities that come with a new place to live.
...continue reading "Dear Traveler"
Hello again my fellow American,
This week was incredibly weird. My study abroad crew traveled to Paraguay to tackle the third unit of our development class, and I was shocked at what being an American means in Paraguay.
This week I spoke with Paraguayan citizens, learned from Paraguayan professors, and visited memorial sites such as Los Archivos del Terror (The Archives of Terror) and El Museo de las Memorias (The Museum of Memories). I learned that from 1954 to 1989, Paraguay was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship. For 35 years, General Alfredo Stroessner acted as “president” during which time his policies intentionally left the people of Paraguay destitute and disappeared countless others. He ruled the country in a “state of siege” so as to control the communist thought and other “dangers” in the country. In reality, the “communist thought” in Paraguay was not a threat serious enough to warrant his government’s grossly cruel actions.
...continue reading "Hello again fellow American"
Dear fellow American,
You may be told to travel, in order to make the most of your life while you’re still young and have the ‘time’ to do so.
You may be told to study a language, so that you can improve your chances of landing a well-paying job in the future.
You may be part of a study abroad program, with the purpose of gaining a worldly perspective and improving the language you’re studying.
However, though you may travel, though you may speak the language well enough, you will never cease being American. Although your identity can prove to be helpful or hurtful in different situations, this fundamental part of yourself will surely prove to feel uncomfortable at times.
...continue reading "Dear fellow American,"
My primary motivation for study abroad was to understand how life differed from what I considered normal. In many ways more than one, Buenos Aires contrasts my lifestyle back in DC and here are a few ways in which it does:
1) In DC, I often find myself speed walking it to place to place, even when I am not in a rush. I have this sense of hurry that is attached to all that I do. In Buenos Aires, a part of the adjustment process was learning how to slow down. Yes, time is a limited resource, but I did not see it being enjoyed when you use it in a context of constantly having to be preoccupied or busy. Buenos Aires has been teaching how to relax and as cheesy as it sounds, how to take each moment at a time rather than needing to rush through it all.
2) A second major difference I have noticed between life in DC and life in Buenos Aires is in the classroom realm. I learn about Latin American politics in courses at GW and while they have provided me immense context to what I further expand upon here, it is an ultimately new experience to hear Latin American history through the perspective of a person from here and also more generally in the region itself. For example, one of my professors' family had to move out Argentina during the Dirty War because they were at the risk of being considered political dissidents in the eyes of the state and would have been harmed soon after. Studying abroad really does expand beyond the "single story" we often are taught by and provides many new perspectives we may miss otherwise to this story.
3) My program is structured in a way where all the students live in home stays. Without a gathering spot like the library or a dorm room, it proves to be difficult to make plans and meet up often times. While that does not mean it is impossible to be done, it does mean that in a lot of my adventuring, I have to take that initiative and head out on my own. This is a lot different from my life in DC, because I always am dependent on having company to make an experience. So when it is harder to gain that company because we are spread out through the city and spontaneous adventuring proves hard to execute, I am learning to deeply value my independence, which has been a quality I take for granted a lot.
4) Of course, a major contrast is the language barrier. Having learned French only throughout most of my life, it was difficult to get by in the beginning. But as soon as classes started, I picked up Spanish very quickly. I was so shy to try out what I had been learning in the start, but now I just go for it. If I mess up, I mess up. I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to learn and improve here, it makes me grateful. Learning language back in the States lacks only one component, which is the opportunity to practice the language everyday after leaving the classroom. I have that opportunity here, and I am happy to say that I am making the most out of it.
The size of Buenos Aires is hard to fully grasp, but here is what I like to do the most in this enormous town:
1) Cafes on cafes - The coffee culture here is incomparable, and that is something I truly love about Buenos Aires. The lack of to-go coffee places makes for some amazing cafes where you can sit down and have a nice cup of espresso with an assortment of pastries. Havanna is a cafe chain here that I enjoy, and their coffee and alfajores are on point.
2) Weekend fairs - There are numerous fairs that happen throughout the city on Saturday and Sunday: Recoleta, San Telmo, Palermo, and La Boca to name a few. Booths are set up selling artwork, jewelry, and more. I make a day out of it, especially if I am moving past my own neighborhood of Recoleta. The street food sold amidst the fair is delicious, and you can find beautiful items for cheap prices if you take the time to.
3) Sunsets on parks and plazas - Buenos Aires has many parks and plazas. Grabbing a blanket and sipping on some mate as the sun sets in Plaza San Martin brings so much peace to me. During the weekends, everyone does the same. You can see teenagers strumming on their guitars or old couples walking by you hand in hand. It is the perfect way to relax after a hectic day or week.
4) Restaurant searching - More often than not, my friends and I here set a time for dinner on the weekends. That is usually how far the planning goes, because we walk into the first restaurant that looks promising. This definitely could go poorly, but it actually has made for some fun adventures. It acts as a way of us getting to know our surroundings that much more, and we have found some amazing places to eat that we now return to when time permits. For example, we once ran into this cheap taco place called La Fábrica del Taco. Their 30 peso tacos were delicious, and it was so lively in there -- making for a perfect night.
5) Ice cream - I cannot even begin to describe how delicious the ice cream is here. Late night or evening walks to ice cream shops like Freddo or Volta is by far one of my most favorite things to do. Indulging in the best dulce de leche ice cream is a solid cure for homesickness or to just finish off a lovely day. The McFlurrys here are also heavenly. The Milka McFlurry is essentially dulce de leche ice cream with Milka chocolate chunks and chocolate syrup drizzled on. Exploring the many ice cream places Buenos Aires has to offer is an activity on its own.
More often that not, it seems that the ‘study’ aspect of studying abroad is considered more secondary to the true experience of immersing yourself in a culture you are unfamiliar with. But, the courses I have been taking through my program have been a beautiful complement to my time in Buenos Aires.
To start off with, I have not taken Spanish prior to coming here. I only have a background in French, which helps tremendously in learning Spanish. Because I am at a beginner level, I have Spanish from Monday to Thursday with two different professors. From the beginning, they only spoke to us in Spanish, which was overwhelming but now I am so glad that they do. It forces me to pay more attention to the vocabulary I learn from class or from my host family and to then connect the dots together to understand what they are saying. Being in Buenos Aires itself while doing this is nothing short of what I needed. I am able to leave the classroom and put the language to use daily, and I see myself picking it up faster and faster each day.
I absolutely love the courses I am taking here. Latin America had always been a component in my previous classes -- never the focus. To be taking three classes that deal with issues areas within the region is what I have looked forward to all last year. One is called “Drugs and Violence in Latin American Literature and the Arts.” I came in with the misconception that it would focus largely on subjective violence -- in essence, people killing people or other acts of physical violence. But, the professor focuses more largely on systemic violence or what causes this subjective violence we see on TV to happen. The other two courses I am taking are centered around Argentina, one dealing with its environment and one with its history. All three of these courses overlap and remain more interesting than the next. There are often field trips to museums or such for these classes, which adds to the experience even more. I am able to really delve into what has been a interest of mine for a while, and being able to discuss what I learn with my host family adds a new perspective each time.
Learning about Latin American in the U.S. compared to learning about it within the region itself has been vastly different and eye opening. Being in Buenos Aires itself gives you further context to the history and politics and literature I learn about in class at IES, which makes for a more deeper understanding. While in the U.S., you can learn about all of these subject areas but the context and the views of the people from the region itself can go missing from time to time. But, what I have learned at GWU has definitely given a solid background for me to expand my interest and knowledge to greater heights.
Buenos Aires has been beautiful thus far. The city can be best described as eclectic. The study abroad center is located centrally on what is called the “widest avenue in the world” and so is close to a lot of the places I hope to explore. The architecture here has a heavy European influence, which makes for the best of walks.
I live in a home stay with my host mom, her daughter, her daughter’s husband, and her three grandchildren. It is a rather big household, but I am loving every moment of it -- growing up as an only child makes me appreciate this more and more. My host mom spoke to me in English the first week in Buenos Aires, but has now been speaking in Spanish mainly so I can gain a better grasp of the language.
I love city life tremendously; I enjoy stepping outside the apartment complex door and being surrounded by this great energy. Buenos Aires has more than I could ask for. The coffee culture here is incredible, but there are not that many to-go coffee places. Even if I am living in such a big city, time still goes slow here. People are not in this rush, so sitting down in a cafe or what have you by yourself or with your friend and having a pleasant conversation over coffee is commonplace even in the busiest of days. It helps in appreciating each day more than the last.
As my days here grow and grow, I am diving deeper into the country’s history through coursework and exploring. Before coming, I read up on Argentina as much as I could. But being here helps in making what textbooks and articles taught me into a larger reality. My program organized a city tour for the students, and on it, we visited Plaza de Mayo. During the 1970s, Argentina experienced what is known as the Dirty War. Thousands of people “disappeared” or were abducted and killed, because they were considered to be political dissidents by the military dictatorship at the time. The mothers of the “disappeared” took to the Plaza de Mayo demanding the whereabouts of their children. Standing there overwhelmed me to say the least, but it provided this deeper sense of understanding for Argentina and its people.
I have a lot more to learn, and I cannot wait for this city has to bring in the future.