Las Cataradas de Iguazu

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Okay, I’ve been a terrible blogger. The past couple of weeks have been hectic, and I haven’t had much time to write any updates on my study abroad adventures. My parents came to visit me, and I had an amazing time showing them around Argentina. Here we are modeling under the portraits of Argentina’s own Juan and Eva Perón at a museum we visited to learn about Evita’s life and legacy.

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After my parents returned to the states, it was all presentations and exams for a few weeks. But last weekend, with my midterms (mostly) behind me, I finally got a chance to take a break and escape to one of the world’s natural wonders, nestled between the border of Argentina and Brazil: Iguazu Falls.

1. Traveling to Iguazu 

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All of my friends from IFSA-Butler visited Iguazu as part of a trip organized by PALS, one of the groups that serves international students here in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the same day that PALS returned from Iguazu, I had to give a hefty presentation in a seminar I’m taking on Argentine literature, so I had to forego the opportunity to join in on the fun and book my own plane ticket. At first, I was nervous about traveling alone, and worried that I would spend the whole weekend taking in the sites alone. Fortunately, these worries quickly evaporated once I arrived in Puerto Iguazu.

2. Living La Vida Hostel 

For the first time, I got the classic twenty-something travel experience staying at Hostel Iguazu Falls in the sleepy tourist town of Puerto Iguazu. Upon arriving, I checked into the shared female dormitory and settled into my bunk bed. I soon met Filippa, a Swedish student currently working in Bolivia who was also taking a quick trip to Puerto Iguazu for the weekend to see the falls. We were both traveling alone, so we decided to spend the trip together. We bought groceries at the local market and cooked our dinner, a hearty pasta feast, in the shared outdoor kitchen. While we cooked, we chatted with some med students from Mexico and also met some travelers from Japan and China. It may sound kind of cheesy, but it was heart warming to see wanderers from all over the world eating, sharing a laugh, or struggling through a conversation in their common second language together. I think I might have enjoyed the time in the hostel as much as I later enjoyed the trip’s main attractions.

Our first night in Puerto Iguazu, Filippa and I took a quick walk into town to see the Hito de las tres fronteras, or the water border between Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. In this image, Paraguay is to the left and Brazil is to the right.

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3. La Gran Aventura 

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The next morning, Filippa and I boarded a bus that would take us to the gates of the national park. The first thing we did after arriving was the famed “Gran aventura.” After riding in a giant jeep for 20 minutes through the jungle, we boarded a boat and set off down the river to get our first glimpse of the falls. The boat took us right under the falls, so of course, we were soaked. I couldn’t stop laughing as the cataradas sprayed us with cool water. Filippa took some pictures with her waterproof camera, and I’ll share them once I have them!

4. Las Cataradas Up Close

After that, we took a break and ate the sandwiches that we packed at some picnic tables in the center of the park. Then we went on one of the hiking trails to get a closer look at the falls. As fun as the boat ride was, the view was even more impressive from above. We even saw some rainbows!

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My absolute favorite part of the day was when we took a train up to la garganta de diablo (the Devil’s Throat). Once we reached the lookout, we were greeted by a panoramic view of the falls. The water was falling so forcefully that we couldn’t see the ground. It was just mist, everywhere.

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Overall, getting to experience Iguazu–and especially getting to meet so many cool people through my hostel experience–was the perfect way to refresh before heading into finals and my last weeks (sad) in Buenos Aires. As I wrap up the semester and venture outside of Argentina, I’ll be sure to update my blog more regularly!!!

Teatro

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If you know me from the United States, you know that I have a deep and abiding passion for theater. Whether it’s a musical or straight play, community production or Broadway stage, I think there’s something weirdly wonderful about being in a space that is at once a public gathering place and a private, intimate world. Given my love for theater and my belief that it provides an excellent (and entertaining!) lens into the lives of others, I have tried to take advantage of all the theater that Buenos Aires has to offer…and pick up some Spanish and Argentine culture along the way.

1. El violinista en el tejado 

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When I told a member of the IFSA staff that I was excited to see as many shows as possible in Buenos Aires, he quickly offered me a piece of advice: “Don’t go to any of those commercial productions on Ave. Corrientes.”

Perhaps it wasn’t the most authentic decision, then, to make the first stop on my theater tour at El Nacional Sancor Seguros. In my defense, I have always had a special place in my heart for musical theater, and when I saw that there were cheap tickets available for the Argentine adaption of one of the most beloved musicals of all time–Fiddler on the Roof–I couldn’t resist a chance to check it out.

Because El violinista en el tejado is an adaption of an American musical I know well, the most interesting part of attending the production was seeing how the show translated both linguistically and culturally. The role of Tevye was played by Raúl Lavié, a famous Argentine tango singer with a booming voice. The Spanish language lyrics were remarkably true to the original. The look and feel was the same–I suppose the themes of evolving cultural identity and religious marginalization resonate well in a pluralistic and fast-paced city like Buenos Aires. The production added some interesting touches, like having a contemporary woman wander through the set at the beginning and end of the show to encourage the audience to think about our modern day connection to tradition.

Overall, I enjoyed the production immensely, as much as one must enjoy any production of Fiddler on the Roof, and felt like it was a little surreal to get to see such a classic in Spanish and on an Argentine stage.

2. Petróleo

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To atone for my sin of attending a commercialized American musical in Argentina, I next went on an IFSA outing that swung in the total opposite direction. Petróleo is an experimental, absurdist work that we saw in the fairly intimate Teatro Sarmiento. It was put on by an all-women troupe called Piel de Lava. The catch? All the characters were men. And not just any men, but gruff, working-class men working on an oil well in the middle of nowhere, in Patagonia.

The (very loose) plot of the show is that these four characters, with their three coworkers as the only other souls around them for miles, begin to construct their own private world in which they feel comfortable slowly shedding their hyper-masculine facades. Or, at least that’s what I gathered from watching the actions and gestures of the actresses. The Spanish in Petróleo was deeply difficult, spoken in low hushed tones and inflected with all kinds of lunfardo, or working class slang that made it nearly impossible for a non-native speaker to follow. Fortunately, the visuals helped compensate for my lack of aural comprehension. When one of the characters took his penis out and put it on the table in front of him, I was pretty sure I knew what the show was about.

Despite my difficulties comprehending the dialogue, I enjoyed the well-crafted performance put on by the actresses and the chance to encounter a type of theater I haven’t spent too much time with in the U.S. Getting to talk with IFSA’s director about the perspective the show offered on gender and class in Argentina made the experience even more worthwhile.

3. Cronología de las bestias

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I went to see Cronología de las bestias as an assignment for my theater-themed Spanish class at IFSA. The show was a somewhat traditional but riveting straight play that took place in the tiny Timbre 4 theater–a happy medium, perhaps, between the commercial fare on Corrientes and the experimental work I saw at Teatro Sarmiento.

The doors to the theater closed promptly at showtime, but the audience was collected in a small waiting room with black walls until it was actually curtains up. Minutes before the play began, we were led into the house. The stage was dressed to look like a typical apartment. Dogs barked outside, characters milled around on the staircase, and then the action began. It was immersive in the way many of my favorite plays are, sucking the audience in with the mysterious reappearance of a once vanished man and then slowly weaving the story together one tense exchange after another. Along the way there was some funky symbolism involving a bunch of bright green knit sweaters (pictured on the flyer above).

Unlike with Petróleo, I could understand 90% of what the characters in this play said. Still, the plot was so complex and layered that even my Spanish professor wasn’t fully sure what was going on until the end, and she had to explain the twist ending to us once we left the theater. Although I wasn’t initially sure how all the pieces fit together, I immensely enjoyed the puzzle the actors laid out for us in this show.

That’s my review of the Argentine theater scene for now! Hopefully I will get to see more shows in the next two months and write a Teatro Part II post. In the meantime, I’ve also been hanging at the regular old movie theater to check out some Argentine cinema!

Movie

Patagonia

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It’s been awhile since I last posted. I had my first round of midterms recently, and preparing to take a poli-sci exam in your second language can be fairly time-consuming. Besides hitting the books, however, I’ve also done a lot of traveling in the past two weeks and have gotten to see some seriously gorgeous parts of Argentina. There’s a lot of ground to cover in this post (literally, I took an 857 mile bus ride last weekend), but if there’s one point I want to emphasize in this latest chapter of my study abroad updates, it’s this: I MET A BUNCH OF PENGUINS ON SATURDAY.

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Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s a more detailed account of my travels to Tigre and Patagonia.

1. Tigre

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Tigre is a waterside city located within the province of Buenos Aires, just a short train ride away from the city proper. I visited the town two weekends ago with some friends from IFSA. The excursion was led by BAIS, one of the many organizations that serve international students living in the city. We hopped on a collectivo together and then a train, and within an hour we had escaped the concrete jungle and were standing on the banks of the Paraná Delta. The highlight of this day trip was getting to take a quick boat ride down the delta and snap some pictures of the riverbanks.

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In Tigre we also got to visit the Puerto de frutos, a collection of candy and souvenir vendors set up on a boardwalk where the city used to import fruits. The fair is super colorful and offered us a great chance to enjoy the fresh evening air before returning to the city.

2. Patagonia 

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Patagonia is a large and sparsely populated desert region in the south of Argentina. Its history is not pretty: many parts of Patagonia were once home to indigenous communities before the late 19th century “Conquest of the Desert,” during which European forces killed or enslaved the majority of the indigenous population. After this period Patagonia became a hub of salt and aluminum production, but these industries eventually declined. Today it is mostly made up of large estancias (ranches) and coastal cities that attract tourists to see the ocean.

We arrived in Puerto Madryn, one of those coastal cities, after a twenty hour bus ride. Although the ride was long, it was nice to see the skyscrapers of Buenos Aires slowly give way to the desert. For a second I felt like I could almost be on a road trip through Arizona; the countryside was so similar to what I am used to seeing in the Sonoran Desert.

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After arriving in Puerto Madryn we checked into our comfy hostel and walked around the city. The town was small enough to be walkable but big enough to be filled with charming cafes and shops. I loved it.

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The next day we went on a tour that brought us to Puerto Pirámides, a tourist town that sits on the Valdes Peninsula, just a little bit further down the coast. In the stretch of land between the two towns our tour guide pointed out lots of unique types of fauna. One of the other people on the tour was an Italian tourist who spoke English but not much Spanish, so we summarized what the tour guide was saying for him. It was kind of funny translating from my second language into someone else’s second language, like a game of linguistic telephone. The highlight of the tour was getting to go on a whale watching boat trip.

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Finally, we got to see the penguins, who deserve their own slide show.

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It was so great getting to get outside of Buenos Aires over the past two weeks and see more of Argentina. In the future, I can’t wait to explore more of this country and Latin America!

San Telmo

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San Telmo is a historic neighborhood nestled in the eastern corner of Buenos Aires. It was originally home to the elite of the city, including many of the nation’s founding fathers. After a yellow fever outbreak hit the neighborhood in the late 1800s, those with money moved out, and immigrants coming to Argentina from all over Europe moved in. In its modern day incarnation, San Telmo is an artsy zone that attracts a lot of visitors who come to see a little bit of Argentina’s history in the old colonial buildings.

I first ventured into San Telmo two weeks ago, when I decided on a whim to go see the famous San Telmo Street Fair. Every Sunday, painters, antique dealers, musicians, dancers, and other vendors line the cobbled streets around Plaza Dorrego to sell their wares to tourists and porteños alike. I didn’t buy anything, but I loved looking at the old buildings and walking through the old streets. I thought it was the prettiest part of Buenos Aires I had seen so far, so I took lots of pictures.

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The San Telmo Street Fair was also filled with the sounds of tango. Tango was born in the streets and immigrant tenements of San Telmo, so it is still a huge part of the neighborhood culture there. As I learn more about the history of tango, it’s interesting to see parallels between its development and the development of American music and dance styles. Tango came from largely novice immigrant singers and dancers, like Tin Pan Alley, and started in often marginalized urban areas, like jazz or hip-hop, before spreading to become popular throughout the nation. Here’s a small taste of what tango looks and sounds like when performed on the streets of San Telmo today:

Since I loved San Telmo so much, I was excited a week later when I heard that PALS was giving a tour of the neighborhood and other nearby historic sites. PALS is an organization created by Argentine college kids to help out international students living in Buenos Aires and host fun cultural activities for us. This particular tour was hosted by three volunteers from the Universidad Católica de Argentina (Catholic University of Argentina). Our tour guides first showed us around the Plaza de Mayo, the seat of Argentina’s government where the Casa Rosada (Pink House, or president’s mansion) is located.

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Plaza de Mayo has seen its fair share of historic events over the years. Most famously, it was the site of massive protests by mothers whose children were “disappeared” by the brutal military dictatorship that reined in Argentina during the 1970s. The human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) got its name for these protests that it conducted in the plaza, in front of the president’s mansion. Today, Madres de Plaza de Mayo continues to be active in fighting for justice for victims of the military regime as well as for broader political reform in Argentina.

After we walked through Plaza de Mayo, the tour guides took us into San Telmo to see many of the famous cathedrals that were founded by Jesuits and other Catholic groups early in Argentina’s history. One of the churches by the Plaza de Mayo holds the tomb of San Martin, an Argentine general who led the fight for Argentina, Chile, and Peru’s independence from Spain. Another church we visited was instrumental in providing support to immigrants in San Telmo during the yellow fever epidemic.

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Although the sites of San Telmo were beautiful, my favorite part of the tour was getting to meet other international student from Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, France, Portugal, Brazil, and I’m sure a half-dozen other places I’m forgetting. Our one common language was Spanish, and it was kind of surreal to be using it to communicate with people from all over the world. I ended up mostly hanging out with the students from Brazil and Portugal. They wanted to see if I could understand Portuguese (I could not). After the tour we went to a bar together and then went out to eat.

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Buenos Aires is such a cosmopolitan place that I feel like I’m getting to learn not only about one culture, but about a million different cultures and communities that make up the city. The day after the San Telmo tour, I went with my friend Jyra to the Jardín Japones (Japanese Garden) in the Palermo neighborhood for a festival celebrating friendship between Argentina and Japan. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful time to soak in Buenos Aires…

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Hitting the Books (Plus some Politics)

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The Ateneo Grand Splendid, a theater turned bookstore that sits just a few blocks away from my neighborhood

The past several days have been like a supercharged syllabus week. Students in my study abroad program are able to try out classes at four different local universities, each of which has its own quirks and (sometimes convoluted) registration requirements. Sifting through such a vast course catalog, meeting with half a dozen advisers, and rushing to classes on the subte has made for a hectic introduction to Argentina’s academic culture, but here’s what I’ve learned so far as an exchange student at three very different Buenos Aires universities:

1. UTDT

At first I wasn’t going to try any classes at Di Tella. The school is perched in a quiet, semi-residential zone of the Belgrano neighborhood, a solid 50 minute bus ride away from my host family’s apartment in Recoleta. Still, remembering my academic adviser’s command to “try as many classes as possible,” I forced myself out of bed last Monday morning and hopped onto the collectivo.  As soon as I arrived at class and the professor began to introduce us to the course material, I was glad I made the hike. The Político y derecho (politics and law) class I signed up for focuses on the political behavior of courts around the world. At the end of the class I introduced myself to the professor and asked her if the course was suitable for an exchange student without much poli sci experience. She assured me it was and enthusiastically suggested that I might do my presentation on Donald Trump’s interactions with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trying a class at UTDT that first Monday was a good way to ease myself into Argentina’s academic culture. Di Tella is a posh private school that could blend in in the states (in fact, according to an informative Wikipedia article I read last week, the schools’ founders aspired to make it into an American-style institution of higher learning). The classes are small, the students are young and mostly well-off, and there’s even a little cafe that reminds me of Rice’s Coffeehouse. Still, there were a few big differences between Di Tella and your typical American liberal arts college. The students are separated out into specialized and fairly structured carreras (fields of study). There are no dorms or residential halls to be found, and sports programs and clubs don’t have much of a presence on campus either. In Argentina, your school is simply your school,  not an institution that stretches out into the various corners of your life.

2. USAL

The Universidad Del Salvador is also a private university, but it seems to draw a more diverse crowd than Di Tella. In the first course I tried there–a seminar on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges–I met two twenty-somethings studying at night to get their degree and a middle-aged doctor who was taking the class simply out of interest in literature. The three of them shared their advice about which classes to try out in the carrera and rode the subte with us once class was over.

The friendly students were probably my favorite part of USAL. One night, I arrived early to my first class at the Facultad de filosofía y letras (School of Philosophy and Letters) and decided to hang out in the cafeteria, where I met two girls who had just done a presentation on regional dialects in the U.S. and were excited to encounter a real-life-sort-of Texan who occasionally uses the word “y’all.” Before my Argentine theater class at the Facultad de Arte y Arquitectura (School of Art and Architecture), I chatted with two scenic design majors and told them in my broken Spanish about how my siblings also study theater. Overall, the people I encountered were more than willing to offer advice to the new and slightly confused exchange students.

Sidebar: The Abortion Debate in Argentina

The beginning of the semester was not the only thing on students’ minds at USAL and the other schools I visited. Last Wednesday, all eyes were glued on Argentina’s senate as they debated a bill to decriminalize abortion.

Argentina is a largely Catholic nation whose constitution grants preference to the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, however, the influence of the Church has begun to wane. The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, five years before the U.S. got around to it. Meanwhile, feminist movements have gained traction on the national political stage, especially due to the influence of Ni Una Menos (roughly “not one less woman”), a campaign against femicide and gender violence. In June, activists from these movements scored a victory when the House of Deputies narrowly voted in favor of an abortion bill that would legalize the procedure for up to 14 weeks. The Senate was the next hurdle for the bill, and the vote was going to be even closer.

On Wednesday, everywhere I went, I was surrounded by seas of people wearing green–green bandanas, the most iconic symbol of the Argentine pro-choice movement, as well as green scarves, green shirts, and even green lipstick, eyeshadow, and face paint. Even at USAL, a Catholic school, student support for the bill was visible. Those wearing blue bandanas–a sign of pro-life allegiance–were outnumbered in the city, but they ended up winning out in the Senate. My host sister and I watched the debates live once I got home from class, but as the votes came in she declared that the bill was about to lose and shut the videos off.

3. UBA

Roughly: “Fuck the International Monetary Fund,” “The patriarchy will fall,” “No to the International Monetary Fund – No to Paying the Debt,” “Legal Abortion now”

The Universidad de Buenos Aires is a massive institution unlike any in the United States. A public school, it is free and open to anyone who wants to enroll. Its facultades stretch out across the city and serve some 300,000 students every year, ranging from college kids like myself to more established adults like one of my classmates who came to school with her toddler at her side. Because UBA is public and free, it is truly a no frills institution: a bathroom I went to had one toilet paper roll on the wall for all its stalls, and the part time teachers are frequently on strike due to their low pay. There was a parro this past week, and two out of three of the classes I wanted to try had to be put on hold.

The strikes are just one dimension of the politically charged atmosphere at UBA. The walls at the Facultad de ciencias sociales (School of Social Sciences) are lined with posters whose topics range from international politics to university policy. At the beginning of class, non-enrolled students walked in and asked the professors for a few minutes to hand out literature and talk to their peers about causes like getting more resources for pregnant and parenting students.

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“Inclusion is not a story, it is a political decision” 

The politicized nature of UBA and the frequent strikes have certainly earned the school its critics. But perhaps the most incredible thing about the university is that in addition to being a somewhat chaotic behemoth of an institution, it is also widely recognized both across the city and in international publications as the most prestigious university in Argentina and one of the most prestigious universities on the entire continent. The students and professors at UBA are serious both about their politics and their education.

In the next week, I’ll know more about what my final schedule will look like, but for now I’ve enjoyed getting a little slice of life at each of these Buenos Aires schools.

Note: The pictures from Di Tella and USAL were stolen from Google images, as I totally forgot to take my own in the aforementioned rush to classes. The pics of UBA are my own because who could forget to take pictures there? 

Agua con gas

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In the weeks leading up to my flight to Argentina, many people asked me how I felt about the fact that I would soon be living abroad. I think they expected me to say either “excited” or “nervous,” but I usually replied that I didn’t really feel anything in particular when I thought about going to Argentina, because spending five months immersed in a foreign culture was so far outside of anything I had ever done before that I just drew blanks when I tried to imagine it.

After a week in Buenos Aires, I still feel a lot like a tourist, and I still don’t know what to expect once classes start next week and “real life” kicks in a little more forcefully. But I am beginning to fill in some blanks and discover the little differences between American and Argentine culture that will shape my daily life for the next few months. Surprisingly, many of those differences have to do with beverages. So partially because of that, and partially in an attempt to make my blog hip with themed accounts of my time abroad, I’m dedicating this entire post to the beverages I’ve consumed in Argentina over the past week.

1. Café

If you know me from Rice, you know that I like to spend a decent amount of time in coffee shops. In my opinion, it’s much easier to do homework with a little bit of encouragement from a steaming mug of chai tea. Lucky for me, Buenos Aires has a vibrant cafe scene thanks to the strong Italian influences present in Argentine culture. This past week, I decided to use some of my free time to scope out future study spots and sample their menus.

Although I love cafes, I have never been much of a coffee drinker, and my standard order in the U.S. has always been the aforementioned chai latte. Once I realized that this type of drink was not too common in Argentina, I knew it was time to expand my horizons. I discovered that with a little bit of dulce de leche, a sweet Argentine staple food, a latte can taste delicious and help keep me awake during orientation lectures.

My other go-to in the U.S. has always been hot chocolate. Who doesn’t like a drink that keeps you warm and tastes like Christmas? Here, that drink goes by the name submarino, so-called because it’s made by submerging a chocolate bar in a glass of hot milk. I think I might actually like submarinos more than traditional hot coco. The melted bar gives the drink a rich taste and texture.

2. Vino

During our orientation, IFSA Butler introduced us to a group called Spanglish that does language exchanges between English and Spanish speakers in Buenos Aires. Last Thursday, Spanglish hosted an exchange + wine tasting at a packed spot called BrukBar. I had never tried wine before, but my taxi driver from last week sang the praises of Argentine vino to me, so I decided it was time for me to become cultured. Unlike the coffee, I did not end up liking the wine. I thought it tasted kind of like battery acid. Still, I enjoyed getting to practice my Spanish while sipping on my vino and experiencing a small sample of Argentine nightlife.

3. Agua con gas

Water was the last thing I expected to be different in my host culture, but Argentines do it very differently from Americans. If you ask for a water in a restaurant, they will likely bring you an agua con gas, or sparkling water. Unlike in American restaurants, both agua con gas and agua sin gas cost a few pesos, and if you ask for agua del grifo (from the tap) you might get some funny looks.

Pictured below is a typical snack to start the morning or afternoon in Argentina: a café (in this case a mocha), a medialuna (a popular kind of croissant), and of course, a little cup of agua con gas.

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So far, these little adjustments have mostly defined my time in Buenos Aires. Things here are different, of course, but not as different as I imagined they would be, at least not so far. And whenever I start to miss home, there’s always a little diner around the corner that my host sister introduced me to last night…

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The First Weekend in Buenos Aires

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On Friday night, I boarded my flight from Houston to Buenos Aires to begin a five month study abroad program. The past couple of days have been a whirlwind, and I’ve decided to keep this blog so that I can update my friends and family on all the ups and downs of learning to live like a porteña, or native of the port city Buenos Aires.

When I arrived in Argentina on Saturday morning, my brain was still a little mushy. I had spent the prior week sleeping in a church while I helped lead a service program at Rice, and the long overnight flight did not help me catch up on any of the sleep I missed during that time. After landing, I stumbled over to the customs line, where I happened to run into one of my freshman year Spanish professors. Thankfully, she was not around half an hour later, when I met my taxi driver. He fired a string of rapid questions at me, and when I could only mumble back a confused response, he asked me if I spoke Spanish. Considering where I was going to be living and studying for the next several months, I silently prayed that the answer was “yes.”

In the car, the taxi driver introduced me to tango music, a staple of Argentine culture. It has a vintage sound that made me think of big band or even Tin Pan Alley songs in the United States. The taxi driver also started to teach me some Argentine slang. While I listened I took pictures that I hoped would satisfy my parents.

BA Rotated

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Buenos Aires is an enormous city, home to over 3 million people. As I looked on at the tall, distinctly Latin American buildings that line the toll roads, I was a little taken aback by the thought that I was going to be spending an entire semester surrounded by these imposing structures.

Thankfully, much of my nervousness evaporated when I met my host family (and got the chance to take a nap). In Buenos Aires, I live with a woman named Irene, her 23 year old daughter Sofí, and an adorable perrito named Miel (“Honey” in English):

 

After dinner, Sofí took me out to show me around Recoleta, the bustling, historic neighborhood where my host family lives. Sofí is an artsy urbanite who works at a nearby museum. She showed me where to buy fares for the local transit system at a kiosko, a corner store stuffed with drinks and candies that looks a lot like the bodegas in New York. Sofí also took me to one of her favorite spots in the neighborhood, a patio bar surrounded by stores where local artists sell their wares. We sat and drank cocas and enjoyed the crisp winter weather.

After that, I finally got to meet up with other students from IFSA-Butler, the study abroad program that hosts us in Argentina. We all saw a music and dance performance at the Ciudad Cultural Konex with tickets bought by IFSA and then a few of us went out to eat at a Peruvian restaurant.

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The next morning I met up with IFSA students and staff again for a tour of the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a graveyard rich in Argentine history. Along with other Latin American nations, Argentina fought for its independence in the early 1800s, after Napoleon deposed the king of Spain and created the perfect opening for a revolution in his viceroyalities. After gaining its independence, Argentina went through several eras of alternating political rule by liberales (conservatives), radicales (moderates), populists, and military juntas (yes, Argentine political terminology is very counter-intuitive for Americans). Leaders from the independence era to the modern day are buried in Recoleta, just a short walk from where I live. One of the most famous grave sites in the cemetery is that of Eva Perón, the revered and, in some corners, controversial first lady whose mausoleum is the only one still decorated with flowers daily.

A lot of this weekend has been what I would describe as organized chaos. IFSA doesn’t give us much besides a schedule and a list of locations for various orientation events, so I’ve been learning to navigate the city on my own (well, with a little help from Google Maps, my host mom, and other IFSA students). Today, one of my proudest accomplishments was finally getting to use the subte to get to IFSA Butler’s office.

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When I stepped of the subte and entered the Plaza de la República, the heart of Buenos Aires, I knew I had chosen the right place to study abroad. I can’t wait to explore the city more in the coming weeks.

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