Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Last Week

As I prepare myself for my final days in Buenos Aires I look back onto the experience I have had this semester abroad. I have learned so much about the world by virtue of opening my eyes to new cultures. I learned that being connected to the world is beyond news headlines, it is sharing experiences and having the eagerness to do so. Having a semester abroad taught me that I can rely on myself, and in a situation I can do anything. Granted, the comfort of a major city helped me adjust. However, learning to live for fives months in a country while learning the native tongue had me bound a few times. Study abroad gave me perspective on the world, on myself and on others. I have learned a lot about independence and responsibility in this city. I have learned that to be a good friend takes a good friend, because no matter how big the city may be, you always can use someone by your side. Buenos Aires has taught me to always expect the unexpected, whether it comes to issues with visas or just a rainy day. I am prepared to take on challenges that come my way and I feel confident in my abilities thanks to this study abroad experience. I will always have Boston on my mind, but Buenos Aires will be in my heart.

Ushuaia: Pinguinos and Snow Capped Mountains

The past weekend I spent in a frozen city at the very bottom of the world, the "Tierra del Fuego", the province of capital city Ushuaia. It is the southernmost city in the world, nearly 9.000 km from Antartica. As a group, we gathered Saturday morning at the local airport for our flight. All eager, and ready for winter weather we were on our way. Three hours later we landed in the port city and were greeted by the massive snow peaked mountains. The small city was built on the foothills of the mountains. The view is picturesque from all of the streets of the city. As we drove to our hotel we pass by big cargo boats on the water and small souvenir shops on the street. After settling in, we explore the little city and all it has to offer. We poke our heads in the sweet smelling chocolate shops and marvel at the giant sea crabs in the restaurant windows. Back at the hotel, we clutched our hot cups of tea close and watched the sun set over the mountains.
That following day we had a train tour of the rural part of the city. We clambered into the coaches and watched the tall green trees pass by our windows. Horses grazed alongside the train. The massiveness of the mountains put into perspective how small we are! After out train ride through the valley we jumped back on our bus and headed towards the port for a boat tour of the penguin´s islands. We were grateful to have seats inside the cabin of the boat because outside on the open water was freezing! Above us, circled seagulls looking for fishing boats. We could hear the roar of the sea lions before we approached their rocky island. The fuzzy beasts were accompanied by condors who fooled some tourists into thinking they were penguins because of their black and white tuxedos. After a couple of hours on the water we made our way to the island of the penguins. The little birds were splashing in the frigid water and making nests of pebbles. After we all awed and ran our camera batteries dry from too many pictures we made our way back to port and bundled up for the night.
Sunday morning we took a bus tour of the crystal lakes of Ushuaia. The lakes were so clear that the surrounding mountains reflected in their waters. The pebble beaches had perfect stones for skipping across the glass lake. Some of the locals drove by on jet skis and waved hola to us. The sun was high and warm at 48 degrees. We had been spoiled with Buenos Aires tropical weather. Everyone adorned knit hats and sweaters under big winter jackets. We spent the day outside of town and enjoyed lunch at a local bakery which also hosted an exotic bird sanctuary. We left the city with warm Buenos Aires on our minds, and hundreds of photos on our cameras.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Before, during and after

Studying abroad can be a wonderful experience if you are prepared and know what to expect. These are some of the things I have done during my study abroad semester which benefitted me in the long run.

Make and keep a budget before and during the trip. It is important to keep track of your spending and funds while you are abroad. Often, you will be only studying when abroad and not making any income. Keep all of your receipts and your checkbook active.

Do research on the country before you go and continue to stay connected while in the country. For Argentina, national pride sweeps the nation and people are very proud of their culture and history. It shows initiative if you read up on the history and the culture of the country before you go. Also, while you are abroad stay active with the news and be aware of the politics and events going on.

Keep everything organized! Between school papers, important documents, receipts, letters, and more! It is priceless. It is easy to be swept up into the lifestyle of living abroad in a big city, but if you are organized it will make life much easier!

Wake up everyday with courage to try something new. Schedules and routines are great, but stepping out of your comfort zone allows for self discovery.

Follow the customs and rituals of the host country. Try to avoid the comforts of home and do new things that the locals do!

Keep connections with people you meet. Not only the other study abroad students at the university but the locals as well. It can be helpful to have someone to rely on who knows the city. Also, networking has its advantages!

Just by doing some of these simple things my study abroad experience was wonderful. I have three more weeks in Buenos Aires until I return home, but I will keep exploring and enjoying the city until then!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's not about how much you know, it's about how you work with what you do know.

Friday, October 8, 2010


One of the greatest aspects of study abroad is having the chance to challenge yourself with new opportunities everyday. I make a point to try something new, or go somewhere different everyday. This way, I meet new people, learn more things and experience a part of the culture beyond the monuments and buildings. Most days, I pick a point on my map and explore. It is fascinating to see the city operate behind the scenes.

The city is filled with so many different neighborhoods and barrios filled with different types of people. As I walk from one neighborhood to the next I pass under the detailed architecture of the city and admire the Italian influence on the city. I see the colored buses driving by, stirring up the pigeons in the street. The blocks are separated by little parks where people sit and have mate while their dogs run free. I take a moment to sit and enjoy the landscape before me. Under the coconut trees of Palermo I hear the parakeets chirping loudly. The rollerbladers skate by fast racing with the taxis. As I get into Belgrano I am awed at the massiveness of the embassies that line the streets.

Recently, there have been political demonstrations in the city by public school kids who are protesting the government spending on private institutions. Large crowds of students gather in the streets with their banners waving against the sun. They come in hundreds and are loud with drums and horns. Away from the crowd I can enjoy some of the hidden gems of the city, the art. Most prominently in Palermo Soho as well as Belgrano, the buildings are marked with big colorful paintings.

During the early 1950’s, Argentina went through a depression losing about 70% of its peso value. Juan Peron, who was president at this time was overthrown by a military coup. The state of the country was in a depression as well. In an effort to restore hope to the people, artists were commissioned to paint grand murals all over the city to illuminate the dark situation. Now, the city is covered with these massive masterpieces which still bring a smile to people’s faces when they pass by buildings.

The amazing thing about exploring is that you come across hidden secrets of the city that are beyond wikipedia and travel guides. I love taking the road less traveled to see what I can come across; in this case, Buenos Aires in total is the road less traveled.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Buenos Aires, Beyond the City

Taking day trips out of the city has been an experience to refresh, recharge and learn of the people of Buenos Aires beyond the buildings and buses.

We have taken a few day trips to leave the city and see grass again.

First, we went for the day to an estancia an hour past the city. An estancia is similar to a ranch, full of horses, cows and plenty of roaming room. We took a long dirt road to the house and when we arrived we were greeted by puppies and hot breakfast. We had coffee and medialunas around a big wooden table overlooking the flat plains of the estancia. The weather was perfect for a day on the ranch. The sun was set high as we lounged around the lawn with puppies and listening to the horses in the pasture neighing. We saddled the horses and rode around the estancia like real gauchos. After exploring the ranch we found sheep and cows and even a snake in the fields! Some of the boys took turns trying their luck with a boleadora, a type of Argentine lasso. For lunch, we were treated with a traditional style asado, like a coal fired barbecue. The family’s teenage boys entertained us with horse racing around hay barrels. They ran their horses in and out of the barrels. We gathered on the porch to dance tango and folk dancing provided by the enthusiastic singer of the family, grandpa. We laughed and sang along to the gaucho songs and were happy to see coffee and tea put out after a long day. We watched the day end around the pool with happy little puppies on our laps.

The trip to the estancia left us tired and dirty, but had us longing for city life again. We saw no other neighbors or heard the family sounds of the city at the estancia. Although it was well needed to get out and breathe the fresh air of the country, we all still had our busy city in our hearts.

A few weeks following this excursion we left in the morning for a trip up the Rio de la Plata to Tigre. We took the train to Tigre and from there we took a ferry up the river to a remote island. The train serves as a taxi to the river residents because there are no roads connecting the neighbors back to the center of town. As we were traveling the river we passed by small river houses equipped with elaborate docks to harbor their boats. The lawns were lush green and colored with brilliant flowers and palm trees along the river’s edge. We passed an amusement park and heard the kids laughing from the Ferris wheel overlooking the small town. Dogs chased our boat as we passed by the homes and small motorboats competed for room against our long ferry. Once we got to the house we had breakfast of dulce de leche torta and orange juice. We took the opportunity to dip our toes in the river and lay out on the lush lawn.

The boys of the home took out their long rowing boats to teach us to navigate the river. As a team we rowed and laughed when we messed up the pattern of the paddles. We sang rowing songs and some American pop too! The sun felt good on our backs as we were rowing back to shore for lunch. We made milenesa sandwiches and had fresh tomatoes and eggs. After lunch some jumped off the dock into the river! It looked too cold for my liking. We took a “nature walk” through the swamp of the backyard and got our shoes stuck in the deep mud. We were waist deep in nature and were laughing the entire way! When we got back to our house we washed our clothes in the river and listened to our host mother for the day tell us about the geography of Argentina and its history. We were a tired group and ready to go home to shower! Our ferry boat picked us up and took us back to port where we took the train back home to the city.

Even more dirty than our trip to estancia, we were excited to see river life and glad to experience a part of Buenos Aires that lies beyond the sidewalks. Each of these excursions leaves a mark in our mind of how vast and different each part of this amazing country is. We have seen the enormous tropical waterfalls of Iguazu, the dry flat plains of the estancia as well as the life on the Rio de la Plata. Buenos Aires is much more than the city. It is a fascinating learning experience to be a part of these trips beyond our city neighborhood.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Family Reunited

For weeks I had been anticipating the visit of my father to the city for a week. I had set out itineraries, lists of restaurants and multiple back up agendas. I was ecstatic waiting for this week to come, just so I could see a familiar face and talk in real time instead of Skype! As the day neared I was counting down in my head the hours until I could get a real daddy hug. As I walked in the airport I saw him standing in the corner waiting for me. I dashed across the lobby grinning from ear to ear! He was finally here! As I turned to leave he diverted me towards a money converter, insisting that he get change. As we stood in line both my mother and sister came from behind him! A full family surprise! I was blindsided, but even more excited that the whole gang was here in Buenos Aires together!

Driving through the city to their hotel I was pointing out buildings and monuments that we would see in the following week. Although tired from traveling, they wanted to set out and see the city. We took the subte to calle Florida to walk the long street of shops and the Plaza de Mayo. I had to break for class, and they took a break for siesta. After, I showed them around my neighborhood, pointing out all of my favorite stores and magnificent buildings that I am neighbored with. We ate at one of my favorite restaurants, Madeline’s, where we had empanadas, milenesas and pizzas. We followed the cobblestone street up to the cemetery and peered in the cultural center; a free art exhibit. We even got to see a sculptor at work. We watched the sunset over the city and left for ice cream at Volta.

Having no class on Friday is excellent because I was able to spend the whole day with my family. We walked all the way to El Centro, to Silvia y Mario’s, a leather shop. One of the first things to check off my dad's itinerary. We spent the day shopping and exploring the city. We went all the way to Plaza Italia to a winery that my dad was interesting in as well. Argentina is known for it's excellent leathers as well as it's wine. The malbec is world famous, grown from the grape vines of Mendoza. At the winery, I had my mom and sister try mate, which they did not like at all! Mate is a traditional tea that all Argentinians drink. It is served hot in a gourd from a metal bombilla, or straw. The Yerba Mate is bitter, but has an excess of caffeine, which is why the gauchos on the Pampas drink so much of it! Later, I took them to my university in Belgrano, which was decorated for primavera. The university was also featuring student’s art projects, so the lobby was weaved with the exhibits. That night, we went to a parrilla in Recoletta, where they were able to have an authentic Argentinian cooked steak.

Saturday was another beautiful day in the city, which was perfect for walking the cemetery and the Recoletta markets. My sister found plenty of trinkets for her friends at home, and we all enjoyed looking at the crafts at the fair. We had dinner at the famous Cafe Tortoni which has hosted many famous faces from around the world. After dinner, we went downstairs to the tango show. The music, dancers and actors were all full of energy, it almost made me want to dance on stage!

Since Buenos Aires shuts down on Sundays we took advantage of the San Telmo antique markets. We started from the Casa Rosada at el centro and walked the markets straight through to San Telmo. Almost 22 blocks! We found scarves and colorful jewelry and some traditional Tom’s footwear that the Argentine’s wear! We broke off from Telmo and explored Puerto Madero too. We crossed the famous walking bridge, Puente de la Mujer. The big sailboats and private yachts made for a beautiful backdrop in mom’s many photos of us.

Monday we explored the gardens of Palermo, starting first at my favorite, the Rosedal. The sun was perfect for lounging in the grass and enjoying the swans and birds bathing in the pools. We took a horse drawn carriage around the gardens and stopped at Plaza Italia for lunch. We enjoyed the sauna at the hotel and relaxed for the night laughing about the week and enjoying each other's company after a few months apart.

I forgot how much I had missed my family until they were here with me! I am not accustomed to going long periods of time without seeing them, so being in Buenos Aires for five months was a big change! It was an interesting experience sharing my city with them and all the things I love because I wanted them to see it all, when all they were interested in was seeing me! As we walked the city they used me as a translator, which was a great way to practice my Spanish comprehension! It was sometimes difficult to relay messages back from English to Spanish but, it helped! It was amazing being able to share the things I love with the people I love!