Monday, May 23, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina, *Kathy Smundak

I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina from March to August 2010 (a semester). Instead of going to NYU’s Buenos Aires campus, I enrolled directly at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) by taking a leave of absence. I wanted to immerse myself in Argentine culture and take classes in Spanish which would’ve been impossible at NYU’s study abroad campus. I chose a semester long program because that was the length of time for which I could take a semester off and still graduate on time. I also chose the program because it only costs $400 dollars for foreign students (as opposed to $16,000 through NYU).

I didn’t prepare too extensively before leaving. I applied for the program in the fall of 2009, but honestly, given their system, you could easily arrive a couple of weeks before the semester starts and they would still take you. I found a furnished apartment online that I rented with a friend from high school. Class registration took place at UBA’s orientation.

I was determined to fall in love with Buenos Aires when I got there, but quickly discovered that my Spanish was not nearly as fluent as I had expected. It’s definitely a very different country than the US—it’s not just that dinner starts at 10:00 and that they really haven’t mastered the salad (I once had it served to me in a cup), there’s also a massive bus system to master, the scarcity of coins to keep in mind, as well as the fact that their sense of humor differs radically from the US one—sarcasm is not their forte.

Because I wasn’t there through a program, I didn’t have a built in group of friends. The Argentines at UBA were extremely friendly, and I made some friends through classes—other study abroad students, as well as Argentines.  My roommates were enrolled in a study abroad program at another Buenos Aires university, so I made friends with people in their program. Through them I also met a group of Argentines who hung out with study abroad students. They also introduced me to a big group of Middlebury students. I also posted on a CouchSurfing message board for a language exchange (Spanish/English) and met an awesome girl who was very friendly. We went out once, and it was one of my favorite nights in Argentina.

Not speaking the language fluently definitely made the experience difficult and alienating. It’s hard to make friends when your personality is abridged by a lack of fluency. I couldn’t make the jokes I usually would’ve been able to, we didn’t share the same cultural referents. At NYU, I was very lucky to have found my best friends within the first week. In Argentina, I was on my own for the first time.  Although my roommates were very friendly, and we got along really well, they were both guys (which made living arrangements much simpler) and I wasn’t used to not having close girl friends. In any case, the experience taught me self-reliance. I learned to go out on my own, to get out of my comfort zone. I became much more independent, and, I think, nicer, less judgmental. I gained a greater sense of perspective—gossip and grudges and the social judgments that are characteristic of one’s usual social circle just didn’t matter anymore. My classes were the most rewarding part of my study abroad experience.

The main building was a former cigarette factory; the walls were papered with political posters. Classes never started on time, professors smoked in class. One time a stray dog walked through the lecture. But, the professors were extremely educated, erudite, and funny, as were the students. I learned so much about South American literature. The study part was a huge success.

Buenos Aires is an eminently walkable city. The Palermo parks are beautiful, and there is an awesome bathroom museum in the city in a building that looks like a giant pineapple (roughly). The steak is incredible—go to Desnivel in Sal Telmo, and it will be the best meat you’ve ever eaten. Iguazu waterfalls are gorgeous, and Cordoba is a very fun city. The country is huge, so travel time is always extensive.

The nightlife is very active, and goes until dawn. If you are home at 4 am, you’re not trying. That said, be careful at night: probably 50% of the people I knew there had something stolen from their person.

Advice: get involved in something. I had way too much free time while I was abroad. Only in the last month did I get a job (no I did not have permission, but they did not check papers). I waitressed and bartended at a bar, and not having done so sooner was my biggest regret. It was also a great way to improve my Spanish and meet new people.Overall, it was a very enlightening experience, and I think if I'd stayed longer, I would've benefited even more.

1 comment:

  1. I really like your approach. This is the way you have to do it if you're really going to immerse yourself in a culture. I studied abroad in Salamanca and loved it. Never went inside. Thank goodness for reading sun glasses...