And I’m BACK

 

So it has been a week since I got back. So far, so good. I have not become extremely bored, my friends and family do not seem to have tired of my stories, I haven’t had too many difficulties communicating what I want to communicate, and according to them, I don’t seem to really have changed that much (don’t know whether or not this is a good thing).

I do miss speaking Spanish all the time, and I want to find people I can speak Spanish with…It’s a little hard in Hawaii, because there really aren’t that many Spanish speakers. I watched a Spanish TV show the other day, so that helped. It also helps that I’ve seen a variety of different people over the course of this week (that way I can tell the same stories and they don’t get old!), and that they have been curious about what I’ve been doing, about Argentina, etc. It’s been a year since I’ve seen most of my friends here, so we have a lot to catch up on! Some people at my church, for example, didn’t even realize I was in Argentina, because I go to school on the east coast, and they thought I’d just been over there this whole time.

In some ways it has been strange coming back, because home—Hawaii, my neighborhood, a lot of the people here—really hasn’t changed that much. In a lot of ways, it is exactly as I remember it. I guess that makes sense, because it didn’t really change that much the 19 years that I lived here. I suppose it seemed like I was away for a really long time for me, because I was experiencing a lot of new things, and changing a lot, but it really wasn’t that long in the big scheme of things, or in the history of a place. Also, from outside of the country, it seemed like the U.S. changed a lot. Trump was elected, for example. But as far as things go in a small town in Hawaii, this didn’t change anything, at least not on a physical, visible level.

I think it also helps that two of my closest friends from home were also studying abroad this semester. So to a certain extent, they more or less know what I’m going through. Also, the facebook group chat that we had amongst all of us Americans in the Spanish Studies Abroad program is still up and running, and all of them understand even more precisely how it feels to be back.

In one way, being home is entirely as I expected. I thought I would be really happy, once I got here, to be in Hawaii, to see my friends and family, and my dog. He’s scratching my keyboard right now, trying to get my attention. All of that was true. It is really really nice to see friends and family again, especially friends who I haven’t seen in over a year. And my dog is adorable.

I do miss my host family, though, and my friends over there. I’ve been thinking about them. Sometimes they show up in dreams. Sometimes Córdoba shows up in dreams. Been keeping up with some of them via whatsapp and social media. For now I’m just glad I got to know them, and that I can tell stories about them to my friends and family here. It’s a nice way to remember.

Over all, things have been pretty good. Of course, it has only been a week since I’ve been back. However, I think it helps that I have travelled out of the country before, and that I go to school on the other side of the U.S., which, in some ways, is like another culture. I’m going to see how it goes when I go back to school on the East Coast. That might be more of a culture shock, especially with the cold, and the schoolwork (in some ways it feels like I’ve been on vacation for seven months). So far, at least, here in Hawaii, I’ve been keeping myself entertained, enjoying time with friends and family, and preparing for Christmas and the upcoming semester.

One pleasant surprise that welcomed me home was the discovery of alfajores in Whole Foods! I first noticed that they were selling this type of Dutch cookie that I had come to love while visiting friends in the Netherlands (Stroopwaffel), and then I turned the corner and there were three types of alfajores! I was super excited but also thought, well shoot, why did I bring home all those alfajores if now they are selling them here? Still, it was a nice surprise.

Another pleasant surprise was bottled yerba mate. Maybe I just didn’t notice it before, but according to my brother, it has been around for a while. I nearly screamed when I saw it in the grocery store. WHAT? Is this what I think it is?  So this might be the biggest reverse culture shock experience that I have had. I come back to Hawaii and it is turning into Argentina!

(Also, Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad! Wrote this before Christmas day but am posting it on Christmas day. I went to church yesterday for a Christmas Eve service and read a prayer from Argentina in both Spanish and English, which was a nice way to share a little bit of what I’ve been up to with folks here. (Thanks to my pastor for the idea.))

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Imagining the Return Home

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The view of the Cordoba Bus Terminal–now a familiar sight! I walked past it to go to the university everyday, and also after this is where the buses arrive in Cordoba from almost all the trips I took outside of Cordoba. Going to miss it.

It has been five months since I have been in the United States and almost a year since I have been in Hawaii, where I will be returning in a few days.

I had a dream the other night about arriving, seeing my parents, my brother, my dog, the house…I have imagined it a number of times, in attempts to prepare myself, but in all probability, I don’t think it will occur as I have imagined.

I have more or less been living a constant adventure for the past seven months (I was in Europe visiting friends before coming to Argentina). I was in school, of course, but it was still an adventure the entire time, full of new experiences, new people, a new language, and a whole city to explore. On top of this, I also had a lot of time to travel during the year, and explore a whole new country.

What is it going to be like to return to a familiar place? To the place where I grew up? And will that place still feel familiar? It has been almost a year, after all, and I have been seeing facebook posts from friends that still live there about how it has been gentrifying, about how there are more tourists than ever…

In our class of Realidades Culturales, we had to write a reflection about reverse culture shock. About what it is going to be like to go back after this semester. The idea seemed a bit ridiculous at first, but I suppose it really is a thing that happens. Guess I’ll have to see if it happens to me.

Our professor gave us a handout of all the possible obstacles we might face, related to going back home after our semester abroad.

Several of them struck me as important to consider, several I had not really considered before, and several I thought are likely going to happen to me. For example:

  1. The possibility of not being able to explain things to your friends and family, and then boring them by telling the same stories over and over again. I think this is definitely a possibility—I already have trouble explaining things!
  2. Being bored…gotten used to everything being new all the time…but then, maybe my hometown will be new, as well!
  3. Not being able to speak spanish…I think I’m going to miss this…need to find spanish speakers to practice with during vacation!
  4. Missing the free time –this is definitely going to happen when the school year starts, I think
  5. Surprising friends and family with the ways in which I have changed, which might not seem for the better. Already have experience with this…from skype conversations. I’ll have to see how it goes in person.

Overall, I wasn’t really worried about any of these, until I got the handout. So the mental space I’m in right now is coming to terms with the fact that these problems might arise, thinking about what I can do to prevent them, and looking forward to the adventure of returning to Hawaii after so long!

I think I have definitely changed over the semester, and I am excited to see how—I think this is something that will really be accomplished when I return to a place with people who knew me before, who will be able to see the difference.

These past five months have flown by, but on the other hand it seems like I have been in Cordoba a lifetime. I feel like I live here…But then, on the other hand, I am constantly reminded of my status as a foreigner.

Travelling out of Cordoba has also given me more of a perspective on how Cordoba compares to other parts of the country: a smaller more relaxed city than Buenos Aires, chock full of students, with a raging night life, a pretty thriving hippy culture, hot, dry, far away from the ocean but with lakes and rivers, quite catholic in comparison to the rest of the country, close to the sierras, with a large capital city surrounded by smaller, peaceful, more touristy pueblos.

“Best summer in the world” read some advertisements for Cordoba that we saw in Buenos Aires. My friends and I raised an eyebrow at these. From what we’d heard and experienced, summers in Cordoba were boiling hot and dry. But it was with love of course, that we criticized the advertisement, and with the certain joy of knowing a place better than the average traveler. We smiled when we saw the name and cheered when, in our tour group in BSAS, we found out there were two Cordobeses. In a way, it feels like home.

So am I going home or leaving? Or both?

I don’t expect to be unhappy, wherever I am, wherever I begin to call home, but if I could be in two or three places at once, I would.

“I want to have friends who live all over the world,” a friend said, recently.

The problem with that, I responded, is that you only see them when you’re travelling.

And there is a certainly a certain sadness to it. But then, on the other hand, it is nice to have friends who live all over the world, to have an entire world to explore, and to have more than one place to call home.

What it was like being in Argentina when Trump was elected president

After staying awake until four in the morning watching the increasingly dismal election results, I woke up the next day to the sun streaming in through my open window and the birds singing. I’m in Argentina, I thought. Maybe it was all just a bad dream. Maybe that election didn’t really happen. Maybe today is Election Day.

I picked up my phone. It was still open to the screen displaying that slightly longer red bar representing electoral votes, under a photo of Donald Trump’s face. President Dondald Trump. I felt like I needed to get up and rinse out my mouth.

My host dad was the first person I saw that morning. Did you see the election results, I asked as I walked into the room. Donald Trump, was his response. The day before, when we had discussed the candidates, he had said, at least it would be interesting, if Trump got elected.

Interesting, I said, as my American friends and I were watching the election results. It would be interesting if it was a T.V. show you could turn on and off. It would be interesting if it wasn’t reality. It would be interesting like it was interesting when Hitler was elected.

On election night, a group of about 10 other Americans and I gathered at a friend’s house to watch the election. One of my closest friends started crying at one point, long before it was certain Trump was going to win, just seeing the evenness of the polls. The worst that we thought would happen, though, was that almost half the country would vote for Trump. (Which is, in reality, what did happen…we just happen to have an electoral college…)

The numbers are scary, I remember saying, because even if he doesn’t win, look at how many people support him. At that point, however, we were still sure that Hilary was going to come out on top.

When I came home at one in the morning, continuously updating the vote tally on my phone, my host parents were still awake. My host mom didn’t really know anything about the election, so I showed her the results. I explained to her who the candidates where, explained some of the things Trump had said. And the people still vote for him? She looked at me in shock.

My host dad had a better grasp of the candidates. Who’s winning? he asked. He had always been less sure than I was that Hilary was going to win. Most of the Argentinians I talked to about it were more cynical about her chances. Maybe because of what they’ve seen in their own country.

There’s a tradition here of thinking that leaders need to be strong, explained our Argentine history teacher (she wasn’t talking about this in relation to the U.S. election, but it’s applicable). That they need to disrespect the institutions and break the rules in order to get things done. A good leader doesn’t listen, he makes people listen to him.

The day following the election, I had one class, with seven other Americans. Our argentine teacher was amazingly sympathetic—do you want to still have class, she asked us. We decided to suck it up, even though we knew what the topic of the day was.

She asked us how we were feeling, if there was anything we wanted to say, and to let her know if we wanted to talk. I think we were all too much in shock to articulate exactly what we were feeling in English, much less in Spanish. So, after a pause, our teacher said, ok then. Let’s talk about dictatorships. With that, half of us started to laugh and cry at the same time, struck with the full force of the irony. Funny, but not funny.

After that class, some of us went and ate ice cream. We hung out in the ice cream shop, discussing the fate of our country and the world, and I then spent three hours there trying to write an assignment for Argentine Literature about a short story about a woman who kills herself. Fun stuff.

On the way home, I stopped in an art museum because they are free on Wednesdays. It was really interesting, looking at the art that day, in light of what had just happened. A lot of it had more meaning for me, I think, than it would another day (see below for photos/explanations).

That night, I discussed the election results more with my host family and the German student who lives with us. She was upset as well.

In the days that followed, I’ve heard snippets of news about hate crimes, members of minority groups being picked on in school and at work, incidences of emotional and physical violence by people who felt they could do these horrible things because the new leader of our country condones.

One of my friends who is a Spanish teacher said that her students asked why they should learn Spanish, now that it would probably be banned from the country. Another friend who is a teacher said that her students asked her if their parents were going to be deported.

It hurts being so far away.

It’s strange. Before coming to Argentina, five or six blissful months ago, I joked about staying in Argentina if Trump won the presidency. But now that it has actually happened, I realize that that staying abroad is the opposite of what I need and want to do. After hearing the news, I wanted to be back in Hawaii, back in Baltimore, back somewhere, anywhere in the United States. I wanted to do something. I wanted to be organizing a protest, marching in the streets, volunteering in the community, being there for my friends and family who are disillusioned, sad, or afraid…afraid for their friends, their family, and their lives. I wanted to be physically there, doing what little I could to help our country, support my fellow countrymen, and work towards the “united” in United States.

Someone wrote a tweet that summed up my thoughts exactly in the days following the election. Something to the effect of: “Don’t move to Canada. Move to a small town in a red state, become a public school teacher and teach kids about sexism, racism, and evolution…”

There is something deeply wrong with a system in which people feel trapped between two options, neither of which they like. In which the majority of the population actually voted for another candidate than the one that becomes president. In which 60,265,858 people voted for a man who has expressed and/or promoted racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, other forms of emotional violence, sexual assault, riots, shootings, war….They all have their reasons, their justifications…

It’s not Washington that needs to change. It’s the country.

And we need to work to change it.

 

Academics: What to expect

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Pabellon Argentina, where the Spanish Studies office is and where I had class everyday 

A lot of study abroad programs have a reputation for very easy classes, in which students have little homework and don’t have to try very hard, so they spend all their time doing other things—enjoying the culture, travelling, partying, etc. Warning: this isn’t true of the Spanish Studies Cordoba program.

It isn’t insanely difficult or anything, BUT depending on which classes you take, and if you take classes appropriate to your level of Spanish, you are going to be challenged. And I think this is a good thing. After all, it is called study abroad.

Of course, it is up to you how much effort you put into the classes, and how much you care about your final grade. Some universities have a pass-no-pass policy when it comes to study abroad classes. My university, however, treats it as any other semester, and the grades I get will be factored into my GPA.

There are a several academic elements to the Spanish studies abroad program which I think are super helpful in improving one’s level of Spanish/helping one feel comfortable in Cordoba.

One is the month-long intensive program. We arrived in Cordoba a month before regular classes started, were split up into classes based on our level of Spanish, and we spent a month reviewing and learning vocabulary, grammar, practicing listening, etc. While the class was five hours a day in the same room (a bit painful, that was), it really helped me feel more comfortable with my level of Spanish once the semester classes started up. It also helped my confidence in passing the CELU, the language-level exam necessary to take classes in the university, with Argentine students.

This is the second thing that I think is really good about the Spanish Studies abroad program—the option of taking classes with Argentine students. If your Spanish level is sufficient, I would highly recommend taking an integrated class. While what you learn might not be directly applicable to your major, might be too technical to be helpful, or in a completely different field, taking an integrated classes lets you interact with the Argentine university system, see what a class is like, study with Argentine students, etc. I took a linguistics class, and it was a very interesting experience. While the work was extra-challenging at times, for me, at least, it was nice to be challenged. And I really appreciated the window into the Argentine university system. After learning how the system worked, because all of the classes in the Universidad Nacional are free, I was able to take an art class as “oyente,” or audit it, in other words. It was a bit of a challenged finding classes, but the process was definitely worth it. And in the end, I was able to use this art class for my “cultural activity” for Realidades Culturales.

The Realidades Culturales class is the third academic experience for which I would like to thank Spanish Studies. This was an hour-long class, once a week, in which we met with our program director and all the other students in the program. In a way, it is the complete opposite of the integrated class. It is completely with other Americans, and it is very low stress. We talked about cultural differences and adjusting to life in a new country, and wrote weekly reflections/observations about cultural differences/similarities. One of the things I appreciated about this class (even though it gave me a fair amount of stress) was the requirement of the cultural activity. The idea behind this was to have us do something regularly, that wasn’t class, or part of the program, or with other students from the program, that helped us to get more involved in the community. Like I said, I wound up using the drawing class for this activity. Certainly some activities were more beneficial, or easier than others. For example, it was better to do an activity that that wasn’t on the weekends (because we were often travelling on the weekends, so you would miss your activity), that involved talking (the art class wasn’t great for this), that wasn’t in English (although a number of students volunteered in an English school for their activity), and that wasn’t expensive (obviously…).

Overall, these aspects of the Spanish Studies academic program really helped me. My other classes that I took this semester were all within PECLA, an organization that is part of the university that offers classes to international students. I took Latin American culture, Argentine Literature, and Argentine History. In reality, these were my only options, because my university doesn’t accept grammar/conversation classes, and the only other non-grammar/conversation class that PECLA offered this semester was a scheduling conflict with the integrated class. However, I was very happy with how these classes turned out.

The way the PECLA program works is that they are small classes (especially this semester, when there were only 11 students in our program—one of my classes only had four people in it) of all international students, in which you practice the language and learn about culture, literature, history, be what it may. The good thing about these classes is that they are more generalized and introductory than the classes in the University, and they teach you what you would want to know about a country, as someone without much of a background in these things. It is also easy to clear up any doubts or questions that you have, in part because the classes are small, and in part because everyone is an international student, having language difficulties, etc. In a lot of ways these classes are very similar to the small liberal arts college classes that I take in the U.S.

With classes almost winding up (I have one more class left), I think I would say that I was sufficiently challenged this semester. I do think I spent less time doing schoolwork than I normally do in a semester, and definitely less time doing things involved with the university (normally in the states I am involved in a lot of clubs and student organizations), but it was good that I didn’t have so much to do for school because there were so many other things that I wanted to do while I was here. So, even though the schoolwork was challenging, I was also still able to spend a lot of time chatting with my host family, meeting up with friends, watching movies, travelling, etc. And, of course, all of these activities, being in Spanish, helped me improve my Spanish level.

One of my friends here was surprised, when she arrived, that all of the classes were completely in Spanish. Not sure how she didn’t get the memo, but as a heads up, yes, everything is in Spanish. It is Argentina, it is Spanish Studies, and, like it or not, your Spanish is going to improve after five and a half months of being here.

Getting from one place to another

DSCN6242.JPGThis is a photo of the avenue next to the Terminal de Omnibus (the bus terminal) and the Department of Transportation in Cordoba. As you can see, there are a lot of taxis (the yellow cars), a remis (which is similar to a taxi) and buses.

Buses are a very important part of the transportation system here. It is the easiest way to travel within the city and it is also the easiest way to travel out of the city. For intercity and inter-province travel, there are very nice buses on which you can sleep, and they give you food and play movies. Travelling in these buses made me realize how big the country is, because it is possible to travel in a bus for 21 hours, and that isn’t even nearly the longest distance one could go. Overall there is pretty good transportation infrastructure in Argentina, which I think says something about the importance of travel to Argentinians (I’ve had a lot of conversations with Argentinians about parts of their country or the world that they want to see, or where they are planning on travelling). It also says something about the unity and political organization of the country. I think it has to do with their history, because (as we learned about in history class) there was historically a lot of investment (foreign and internal) in the Argentine transportation system (primarily railroads), and it was a lucrative business.

The city runs on buses, one of my professors told us. When there is a strike, it messes everything up. That is why the bus drivers are paid so much. On average, she told us, bus drivers in Cordoba are paid more than doctors. This surprised me a lot. Apparently Cordoba is also one of the most expensive cities in Argentina for public transportation, and people often complain about this (We are lucky to be from the United States, because with the strength of the dollar, the transportation—especially in taxi—seems incredibly cheap).

I don’t have a picture of it but there was one day when, from this same vantage point, I saw a number of people with drums chanting and blocking the road. All of people in cars were honking their horns.

There are a lot of taxis in Cordoba, and a strong taxi union. It was a taxi driver strike. One of my friends was in a taxi once when a strike like this happened and the taxi driver told her to get out of the taxi. Unions and strikes are a significant part of life in Argentina. Just about every week, there is some sort of strike or protest.

A friend told me that they didn’t think it was good that there were so many, because it made people pay less attention to them. Apparently, a few years ago, the police went on strike, and this was a huge problem because people started looting and destroying things and committing other crimes and there was no one to enforce the law. This sounds terrifying. I think it is pretty unthinkable in the United States that the police would go on strike, and it shows the power that the unions have here.

It really makes me wonder about the efficacy of the strategy, of physically taking to the streets. It seems to have worked out in some historical cases, like in 17 de octubre and Peron’s release. As far as I know, there are fewer strikes and protests in the U.S. I’m not sure why exactly…if it is because people are less invested, there is a lack of political organization, because they have less hope that it will change anything, or if because the government is better at repressing that kind of political expression. There are a lot of possible reasons…

Vegetarian Eating in Cordoba

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Friends getting ready to eat in vegetarian-friendly restaurant

Argentina does not have a reputation for being a very vegetarian-friendly country. It’s economy is based around the production of meat, it is one of the cheaper foods that one can buy, and if you ask an Argentinian what a typical Argentine food is, or what you should try, a typical response is asado (barbequed meat).

Before coming to Argentina, all of my friends and family were doubtful about my prospects of maintaining my vegetarianism. “Ohhhh, good luck,” I think was a typical response. “You’re going to die!” I think someone told me.

I have, however, lived to tell the tale. And really, it wasn’t that bad. Or nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

My first stroke of luck came in that I live with a vegetarian family. This is one advantage of going with Spanish Studies (and of knowing people who have gone before). I knew someone who had lived with a vegetarian family and really enjoyed it, and I was able to request the same family. I eat breakfast and dinner with them, and lunch on the weekends, and because they are all vegetarian, I don’t have to worry at all about those meals being vegetarian.

During the week, I eat lunch in the Comedor Universitario (University dining hall). Since I arrived, they seemed to have improved the vegetarian options. At first, there was meat everyday, and some other food, like salad or rice, and so when I said I didn’t eat meat, they would give me two portions of the other thing, so I would either have a ton of salad or a ton of carbs. Recently, however, they have started having two vegetarian options (one hidden under the counter and only given to people who don’t eat meat). This has improved the lunch experience considerably.

The one thing that I do have complete control over is merienda (snack). Merienda is the typical fourth meal of the Argentinian day, which you eat at some point in the afternoon so that you aren’t hungry before dinner (which is usually at 9 or 10 o’clock at night). There are a lot of options for merienda, from fruits to crackers to ice cream. There are also a lot of nice cafes in Cordoba, and merienda is almost always vegetarian. A typical merienda in a cafe might be toast with marmalade, coffee, and orange juice. Or a croissant (they call them medialunas) with tea. There are a lot of options.

Merienda was not included in the cost of the program, but food here is a lot cheaper than in the United States and it is nice to be able to treat myself/decide myself what I am going to eat, one point in the day. Since being here, I have gotten a lot more used to having very little control over what I eat. In some ways, I think I have become more open-minded about food. I have definitely become more grateful for the times when I have control.

Another thing that I have become grateful for is the diversity of food in the United States. In the US there is a lot more access to food that isn’t characteristically comida estadounidense (from US). There is mexican food, chinese, japanese, indian, thai, etc. Of course, there are these things in Cordoba, but they are harder to find, and since we eat most everything in the house or the comedor, most of the food is typical “argentinian.”

Argentine Foods that are easy to find and that happen to be vegetarian:

  • alfajores (a type of cookie sandwhich that is extremely popular)
  • ice cream (if you’re lacto-ovo)
  • humita (a corn-based stew)
  • empanadas (caprese, corn, soja, etc…there are a lot of options for things to put in vegetarian empanadas)
  • pizza (fugazza pizza doesn’t have cheese, either)
  • pasta
  • medialunas (if you’re lacto-ovo) and other baked goods

Common Argentine foods that can be vegetarian

  • milanesa (breaded meat that can be made with soy or eggplant)
  • lomito (a sandwich typically made with meat that can be made with a veggie option)
  • choripan (like a hotdog. vegetarian versions from soy)

There are also a surprising number of vegetarian options in restaurants. It seems like the culture is changing–the family I live with is very alternative, and they have been vegetarians for a long time. It’s becoming more fashionable, however, and I have met a number of young people–quite a few in the university–who are vegetarian, which gives me hope that the number of options will continue increasing and Cordoba will become even more vegetarian-friendly!

 

 

 

Little differences and habits I’ve gotten used to and will miss when I leave

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    A mural in Salta, in the Northwest of Argentina

    Saying “Hola, ¿cómo estás?,” “Hola, ¿qué tal?,” or some sort of greeting whenever entering a small shop or business.

  2. The Beso: A pretty universal Argentinian greeting. A light touch of the cheeks and a kissing sound that can be used in pretty much any social situation. I wonder if, going back to the states, I might just move in for a beso and really confuse some people
  3. The abundance of pan and panaderías: Argentinians love their bread. Plain French bread comes with every meal in the comedor (dining hall). Restaurants always give you pan with your meal. A common breakfast is French bread with dulce de leche or mermelada. When we were travelling in hostels this past week, every hostel gave us breakfast and every time it was bread. In the city, one can find a panadería (bakery) on nearly every block. They also sell a variety of delicious baked goods that, in comparison with prices in the U.S., are remarkably cheap (food in general is a lot cheaper here).
  4. Criollos: layered biscuits made from dough and grease that are a Cordoba specialty and can be found in every panadería in Cordoba. They are very common for breakfast or merienda (snack) and are very affordable: 15 pesos (about the equivalent of a U.S. dollar) for 100 grams.
  5. Dogs in the streets. There are packs of stray dogs in Cordoba. They’re a little dirty, but they’re also usually very chill, generally tranquilos, and I’ve certainly gotten used to them. Sometimes they will follow you around for a while and it’s like having a new friend.
  6. Drinking mate is an argentine tradition—originating from the indigenous Guarani culture—in which people drink yerba with hot water from a special cup (made from a mate plant originally) through a straw. Sometimes they add sugar or juice or other spices. The tradition is for everyone in a group to drink from the same mate. There are special mate carriers, for the mate, yerba, and a thermos full of hot water. Argentinians are always drinking mate. At home, in parks, while studying, during long bus rides. In class, students might be drinking mate in class and offer it to the professor. It is a common activity to go to the park for an afternoon, drink “mate” and chat.
  7. The food-sharing culture. Sharing food in general is a big thing here. If someone has a snack, they usually offer some to everyone they’re with. Beers are enormous because the idea is that you share it among all your friends. In bars and boliches, if someone orders a drink, they pass it around the group. May sound like a quick way to get sick and spread germs, but it’s so common that Argentinians must have built up immunities from the exposure.
  8. There are lots of places where you can go to browse and buy handmade, artisanal things in Cordoba. During the week, in the street Caseros, or on the weekends in the large Paseo de las Artes. The informal economy is a lot more present in Argentina—street venders and people carrying around boxes of alfajores and other packaged goods to resell are quite common. Why? Partially because it is cheaper. And it works. People must buy their goods, or no one would do it.
  9. Dulce de leche: it’s everywhere, in everything sweet. Pastries, cakes, ice cream flavors. And it makes everything better. Cakes are going to seem so dry when I go back to the United States.
  10. There are lots of colorful, strange and beautiful murals. Sometimes they make a statement, other times they are just eye candy.
  11. Political graffiti. In the states, most graffiti is people’s names. Here it’s a lot about the president and politics
  12. Free education: There is something much more relaxed about education, because it is free. Attendance is also not required. It is kind of funny—there will be 50 students registered for a class, but only 15 will actually come, and all the rest may show up for the final exam. I’ve found it is amazingly easy to just show up in a class (this is how I started going to painting and drawing classes) and however is there will welcome you and the teaching assistants will help you.
  13. The charlar/chatting culture: Argentines make lots of small talk and spend hours talking with friends. Like I said, it’s common just to go to a park and chat for a while, while drinking mate.
  14. The schedule: With dinner being served at 9 or 10 at night, there is a lot that one can get done between the end of classes and dinnertime. This is something I am going to miss. Also, because in theory, Argentinians never sleep, one also has a lot of time after dinner to do things.

Circus in Cordoba

dscn2716This is a photo of a circus event that I went to with my family. It was in a neighborhood, in a plaza next to a library, and this was the culminating moment. It was in a plaza, and the performer had a device that was basically a long pole with 4 wires attached to harnesses, and he had four men from the audience help him by leaning back in the harnesses to create tension in the wires to hold the pole in place so that he could climb it and do tricks on top.

The circus here is much less informal than the circus in the U.S. It is also much more popular, and much more “of the people.” I’ve been to quite a few circus events since arriving, because my host sister is involved in the circus. She is learning how to juggle and she helps with the promotion and organization of events. One thing that is great about the circus events is that they are all “a la gorra” meaning you pay what you want to pay, and they are completely community-sponsored.

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Jugglers practicing/playing in a plaza

They aren’t professionals, sponsored by a company or the government, but rather it is all run by the community. And they perform in all sorts of venues—from plazas to the fancy auditoriums in the university. Once a week, my host sister meets in a plaza with a group of jugglers to practice, and they will willingly teach anyone who comes up and asks how they do a certain technique or trick. When I talked to another argentine about the circus, she said, “this is argentine culture.” They love the circus. On our first day of class in Argentine literature, we read a short story about the circus.

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A theater-like circus performance

Juggling, and other circus-like tricks are incredibly c

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A theater-like performance in a circus event

ommon. I often see students walking around with juggling pins in their backpacks, and nearly every day I see someone juggling or doing tricks at a stoplight for money. There also seems to be a lot of overlap in the circus and theater communities. Several of the circus events that I went to had acts that were almost entirely theater acts. I was very surprised by all of this when I came to Argentina, because when I think of the circus, I think of a big top, quite formal event, with animals, that comes to town maybe once a year, is rather expensive, and kind of outdated. Here, “circo” can be formal or informal, but it is entirely of the people, by people, and for people. It is more democratic, in a way. No animals, but any human who is interested can get involved.

Portualemañolglish: International student culture in Cordoba

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Us estadounidenses en El Parque Sarmiento en Cordoba Capital. (Photo Credit: Reena John).

Before coming here, I was under the impression that I would be spending most of my time with Argentinians and people from the United States. What I did not expect was

  1. the quantity of international students in Cordoba (400-something, I’ve been told), and
  2. the interconnectivity of the programs for international students.

It’s almost been easier for me to meet foreigners here than it has to meet Argentinians.

For example, during the two months that I’ve been here, I’ve lived with four different german students who are part of a program called HABLE that is an intensive spanish-language immersion program with flexible start and end dates. Some people do it for 3 weeks, others for 3 months. Through them, I’ve met a good number of alemanes.

It seems like it is pretty common for families that host exchange students to be involved in more than one program for exchange students. For example, one of my estadounidense friends lives with a student from Japan who attends another university.

There are also a fair number of international students in the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC), where we take classes. Around 200, if I’m not mistaken. The majority of them are from Mexico, but there are also quite a few from Germany, Brasil, France, Chile, Spain, and the list goes on. There were also a few countries with one student from that country (Greece, Canada, and Switzerland, I believe). In my integrated course, there are two other Americans (the three of us have all the same classes this semester), a student from Spain and another from Italy.

The UNC has a group, called Cordobesiando, through which you can participate in activities and go on trips with other international students.

In general, the number of mutual friends in the international student community is pretty high. A lot of the organizations (for example the group that organizes activities for the university that our friend from Japan attends) open up their activities to other international students.

There are a number of language groups that meet to encourage language exchanges: Espanol y Cerveza, Francais e Fernet, English and Mate, etc. There’s one for German and one for Portuguese. (All of these are under one umbrella organization, or are connected in some way, I think). And there is a group called EnglishTalk (which I’ve never been too).

Speak Easy is an organization that hosts fiestas and events in boliches for international students. At times, international students are able to get into boliches for free because of some deal or other–supposedly Argentinians like to meet extranjeros so we are like a resource that the clubs like to draw in. (The boliche culture/nightlife here is very interesting–will have to write about that another time).

In conclusion, because of the various events and organizations that I’ve participated in, I feel like I have met at least as many people NOT from Argentina as I have people from Argentina. Not only that, but many students come from all over Argentina to study in the Nacional. So only a surprisingly small percentage of the Argentinians I’ve met have actually been from Cordoba the province, and an even smaller percentage from Cordoba Capital.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that when you are abroad, you have a certain mentality. The mentality of a person who will only be there for a limited period of time. And in the case of many international students, this means the mentality of wanting to take advantage of the experience (“hay que aprovechar, digamos”): to do as much as possible, meet lots of people, go to fiestas and nightclubs and travel to nearby pueblos and all over the country. Most of the international students have roughly the same interests, so it makes sense that they would wind up in the same places, doing the same things.

Of course, a semester is also a pretty long period of time, so we might start to get close to the mentality of someone who lives here. But, when studying abroad, there is always that knowledge that someday in the not-so-far in the future you are going to leave. And that simple fact is made all the more evident when you are surrounded by people who are constantly coming and going (which is how it is in the international community here).

To be a viajero is a mindset. This is something that an Argentinian recently told me. She recently returned to Cordoba, after traveling through various other Latin American countries on bicycle, and she is now staying for an indeterminate period of time. However, even though she is from Cordoba, in her mind she is still a viajero (this is actually the case with many of my host family’s friends–they are in Cordoba for a time, but they seem to be constantly travelling).

To be a traveller is to see everything as if for the first time, to not settle into a routine, to explore and discover and have adventures. A mindset, in this friend’s opinion, that is possible to cultivate no matter how long you are in a place.

This has its advantages, of course, and there is a certain spontaneity about this that I love. However, I think there are also a couple danger that come with the traveller’s mindset, traps one might fall into. One is the danger of being too much of a honeymoon tourist: the danger of not really connecting with the people that live in a place, of not seeing the negative sides of things, of being blind to the problems, the social and economic disparities, the real-life issues that inhabit a place. On the other hand, there is the danger of being too much the social justice missionary, determined to solve the world’s problems with outsider’s knowledge.

And, of course, there are advantages to settling down in a place. You become invested in a community, you understand (more or less) the people that you live with and the problems that they face. There is as much a beauty in permanence as there is in spontaneity.

For me, I think the goal is an “in-between”: to feel at home, but with my eyes wide open.

How things are going with my hopes

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Vegetarian lunch with estadounidense amigas and our lovely argentine speaking partner (Photo credit: Sara Angelina Pearson). 

In my last post I wrote about my hopes before I got here, and now I’d like to elaborate a bit on how these things have been playing out since I arrived.

Hopes before I got here:

  1. That I would like and get along with my host family.
  2. that I would enjoy my classes and learn a lot
  3. That I would make friends with Argentine people
  4. That my Spanish would improve

I also mentioned that, after arriving in Cordoba, another hope was that I would become familiar with the city and be able to navigate it and use public transportation. I’ll start with this and go backwards.

I think I got a little lost everyday the first week I was here. I had more issues navigating here than most places I’ve been. Not sure why. Maybe because it is a large city and the landmarks aren’t ones I was familiar with. Also, because the buildings are all pretty tall in the center, you can’t see a landmark until you are on the actual block that it is on. Another issue is that a lot of the streets have similar names, or names that are dates, and it can be hard to keep track of which is 27 de abril and which is 24 de septiembre and which is 25 de mayo, etc., etc.

However, I am getting used to it. Now, if someone tells me where something is, I have this vague map in my head with a number of landmarks and more and more frequently I am able to conjure up a general location if someone tells more where something is. And the more I get to know the city, the more I like it. There is a lot of life, here in Cordoba–a lot of culture, creativity, and corners and communities of people doing their thing.

Moving up the ladder now, to #4: my hope that my Spanish would improve.

I think, when you are living with people who speak the language, going to school with people who speak the language, talking to taxi drivers and store clerks, this is pretty inevitable. However, it is hard to measure, to see from my perspective, how my Spanish has changed since coming here. I am fairly certain that it has improved. At the very least, conversationally.  I don’t have to think as much to speak.

#3: Making friends with Argentines is underway. One great thing about the Spanish studies program is the speaking partners program. Basically, they pair you (or a couple students) up with Argentinian students who are studying English. So you’ve got this exchange of languages going. And its up to you how often you want to meet. You can meet once or a hundred times.

There are also a number of groups (ie. English and Mate/Espanol y Cerveza, Englishtalk) that bring together locals and extranjeros to exchange languages.

Once classes get rolling, I’ll meet more people that way, as well, I think.

And of course, its always possible to just talk to folks in the neighborhood, in various other activities, etc. There are a lot of friendly young folks since there are 100,000 students in the Nacional. And a hopping nightlife. Its very easy to meet folks at clubs, if that is your thing!

(I’ve only been once, and unfortunately it was a very busy night so there were too many people. For example, there were so many people that once half our group got separated from the other half, it took us an hour to find each other again.)

#2: We’ll see about the classes, as they haven’t started yet. I did enjoy the intensive course, though. It was a lot of class (5 hours a day), but our professor was very sweet, and she tried to help us get through the afternoons by bringing in mate and coffee!

So far, I’ve been to one class in the Nacional and I enjoyed it. Our professor, (who is porteña and talks at a speed that is almost comical in its rapidity), seems to really know what she is talking about and is passionate about the subject. She seems to be understanding, recognizing that everything will be more difficult for us, as Spanish is our second language. It is her first semester at the Nacional, as well! Fortunately, we also have a small class, (I told my host dad that there were about 30 officially registered, but the other students said only 15 or 20 normally come to class, and he said, wow, I had classes with 1,000 students).

And finally:

#1: ~~~I love my host family~~~

I had a kind of unusual situation in that I requested them, because a friend of a friend at my university had lived with them before, and they liked them a lot, and they’re also vegetarian, which is unusual for Argentina, and perfect for me (it makes everything so much easier to live with a vegetarian family! Mucha suerte tengo!)

I have a host padre and madre, a host hermana who is 17 years old and a host hermano who is 6 years old. There are also two German exchange students living with the family, one for a month and the other for about 3 and a half months.

We all get along quite well, it seems to me. They are a bit “hippie” but then, I am too, so it works out. The second week we were here, my madre, hermana, one of the German students (this was before the other arrived) and I went to a small farm/sustainable living/permaculture community outside of a nearby city, called Pueblo Mampa (I think this might merit an entire other blog post).

I’ve been enjoying playing with my hermano, talking with my padre (he has read a ton and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge about certain things), watching tv shows with my hermana (she learned Japanese from watching Japanese shows, so we watched some anime last night with subtitles in castellano), and my madre has started teaching me how to tejer (to crochet).

The German students are also really cool. I’ll have to write more about them sometime.

My family also have dogs. One of these days I am going to write a post about the dogs of Cordoba.

Anyway, as you can see, things have turned out better than I hoped! I tried not to have super high expectations before I came, which might have helped, but I think I’ve also been really lucky in almost every aspect of this adventure.