Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Life in Buenos Aires: A Throwback Post

While I'm getting settled in Korea, let's talk about my very first adventure overseas: Buenos Aires, Argentina!

The famous "El caminito" In the Boca neighborhood

Here is my experience as an exchange student in Buenos Aires, along with pictures!

"The Paris of South America" - How I Arrived
I was a college student at the time, and by that point I had studied the Spanish language for years. I wanted to get the chance to strengthen my language skills and venture overseas for the first time. I went through our school's AU Abroad program to study about Latin American history, politics and culture at a school in Buenos Aires.

When I first arrived to the city, it was a defining experience for me because the place had been so different from what I was used to. It was strange to hear everyone speaking a different language and me being called a foreigner. It was off-putting to have so many people stare at me for the very first time.

La casa rosada or The Pink House

My Housing Situation(s) ??
You could say that I was crazy or just unlucky. Over the course of a year, I lived in three different housing situations! Each of these had their own strengths and weaknesses.

  1. The Dorm
I didn't want anyone telling me what to do. I also wanted to make local friends and learn to speak Spanish well fast. So, I initially opted for what is called a "residencia." You see, local students typically attend school close to home, live with their parents and commute. That means the local universities don't have on-campus housing. However, someone might decide to buy out a home, then rent out the individual rooms to students who don't have a place to stay. This is a residencia.

The one I stayed in had students from out of town, and a couple of them were from Colombia. It was an okay living space with older appliances. I made friends with a couple of the other students, and we would go out together. But here was the negative - although we had a maid, the place would get dirty quickly. The others would even leave dirty dishes in the sink and the maid didn't wash them. I responded by quietly buying and using my own dishes. Believe it or not, this caused a bit of a rift in the dorm, and some of the other students didn't like me very much. I didn't want to be stressed out and lacked the language skills to defend myself, so I packed my bags and left.

the common area

hanging out

  1. The House
Next, I moved into a house full of other foreigners who were mostly traveling. It was a very chill environment and I was constantly meeting new people. The owner also always had things for us to do, so it was a more comfortable environment. The major downside was that while I was studying, everyone else was traveling. People constantly came and went. There was also a security concern for me, since the house was located in a not-so-good side of town. On top of that, there were constant parties with drunk guests and none of the doors locked. Imagine trying to get your beauty sleep while random drunk people keep barging into your room while looking for the bathroom. I didn't last long there! I'm still good friends with the owner, though.

my room

Cooking "thanksgiving" dinner

  1. The Homestay
Soon after, I moved into an extra room at an older woman's house. I found her through word of mouth from a local friend. The woman lived in a medium sized apartment with two of her four children. This experience was more personal and felt more authentic. She would take me with her whenever she ran errands and to family gatherings. We would do things such as relax at the park with her friends. Her children were around my age and were pretty pleasant to be around. I was pretty satisfied here, and this is probably the situation I would prefer as long as there aren't too many strict rules. However, I noticed that other foreign people were paying twice as much (and up to three times as much) more money to do the same thing! I'll address this in a different post.

the view from the rooftop

New Year's Eve dinner with the family

Things were pretty disorganized upon arrival to my ritzy private university. However, they had a decent program for exchange students, who were from the USA and Europe. We did a city bus tour and a bike tour. They also hosted an intensive Spanish course to help us adjust. Signing up for classes was a little tricky, and getting out student visas from the government was a headache with long wait times. All of my coursework was conducted in Spanish. In Argentina, university classes have lectures with little discussion, and the entire grade is determined by your score on the final exam. Some of those exams are oral.

Unfortunately, the school I was at wasn't known for its friendly and open students. The students were a little on the snooty side. When students attend university, they sign up for a "career". Then, all of their classes are carefully mapped, and they have all of their classes with the exactly the same people. As a result, the students had their cliques and I didn't make many local friends at that school. But I made friends elsewhere, so this wasn't a problem.

I was an exchange student here

In the middle of our bike tour

The Food
Argentinian cuisine is fantastic. They're big meat eaters, just like I was. They had great steak cooked perfectly every time. Eating out at restaurants was cheap and I was spending about $5 per meal. They also had good pastas and wonderful authentic Italian-style pizzas. They also have the best empanadas. They were also good with breads and cakes. I miss the medialunas and the locro. The milanesa, the asado, the dulce de leche. The only thing I didn't like was the Yerba Maté -- but that's because I don't like tea!

the first time I had common soda served to me this way

My Lifestyle
Other than my classes, my life, like theirs, was very relaxed. It's a large city, but it didn't have the typical rushed feel to it. Everyone liked to socialize and take their time while doing things.  It was a good time to relax at the park and chat with friends. Buenos Aires also had a good nightlife scene, with bars and clubs that played a variety of music and appealed to different tastes. I was able to get around the city well with the subway and their buses also ran all night. With their Guía T (or T Guide), I have found my way back easily after getting lost.

Thankfully, the Argentinian people were sociable and helpful. They never minded if you had to approach them to ask a question or ask for directions. And strangers loved to sit down and just chat with me and ask about my life. I found romance and had my heart broken, too.

The only main issue was crime. Petty crime was a big issue and I would always have to take extra extra caution with my belongings, how I carried them and what I wore. People attempted to pick-pocket me twice. Once by an older woman, and once by children. I watched a woman get tossed to the ground, punched and robbed.

listening to a live band in the San Telmo neighborhood

checking out a museum

and I could hit the bar scene legally before turning 21!

Travel Opportunities
Argentina is a good country to travel to, as it has variety. Aside from Buenos Aires, you have the Patagonia, Córdoba, Mendoza, Salta and Iguazú Falls. I didn't have much money, so I only visited Iguazú. It was money well spent!

at Iguazú National Park

This fall is called the Devil's Throat

Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires

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