If I am going to leave Argentina without being an emotional wreck I will have to leave not by saying “goodbye” but instead by saying “Nos vemos”, because I know I will be seeing Argentina again in the future. “Nos vemos” is much less final than goodbye. It lets me be hopeful that this isn’t the last time I will be here, and that my departure is just a brief interlude of separation.
It is a very bittersweet time right now. I miss New York and my home. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss the comfort of routine. I miss the familiarity of the United States. But I also love Argentina. I love speaking Spanish every day. I love being pushed outside my comfort zone. I love feeling welcomed in by my host family. I love experiencing new things. So my desires both to return to the United States and to stay in Argentina are equally strong.
One particularly important aspect about being abroad was making friends with Porteños (natives to Buenos Aires). My experience here feels more real knowing that there are people with whom I will continue to stay in touch. I know that for many who study abroad, there can be a bit of a USA bubble. When you are around so many other Americans all of the time, it’s only natural that one could fall into the comfort of staying with your fellow classmates. But having had the opportunity to befriend people in Argentina reassures me that I will always have someone to reach out to when I return in the future (which I know I will!). It makes my departure a little less sad, and little more hopeful.
So, to my wonderful host country that I have fallen in love with, this is just chau for now. Nos vemos pronto.
Aprovechar: that is the one thing that I would absolutely advise when studying abroad and even just traveling in general. It is the word that most encompasses how you should approach the wonderful opportunity of travel and exploration. When I was first learning to speak Spanish I had trouble grasping the concept of this word. I though it meant simply “to use”. But I remember having a conversation with a friend when I heard him use the verb “aprovechar” and in that context “to use” didn’t fit. We struggled with our obvious language barriers to contextualize and explain the verb aprovechar and what I learned is that it really means “to make use of” or “to take advantage of”. And that is exactly what I tried to do this semester, to take advantage of being in the incredible city of Buenos Aires by seeing and doing as much as I could.
It’s really easy to get stuck in the “Oh I have plenty of time for that” mindset. But in reality, four months is not that long of a time. And for me personally, it has gone by in the blink of an eye. Wasn’t I just arriving in the Ezeiza Airport a couple of days ago?!? So, if I were to advise anything, I would say to really try to make the most of your time from the get go. I think that I could have been even more adventurous at the beginning of the semester. Because now my flight is just around the corner and there are still a few last minute things that I am fitting in that I haven’t done!!
Other than the obvious advice of making the most of your time abroad, some Buenos Aires specific tips I would include are the following:
- Bring US money: The dollar is very strong in comparison to the Argentine peso. If you bring actual physical money you can get a much better exchange rate than if you were to use an ATM or other money sending services like Xoom. Instead of getting the official rate which is around 10 pesos to the dollar, you can get about 15.5-16 pesos to the dollar if you use the blue rate.
- Spend time in San Telmo: This is just my personal opinion, but I think San Telmo is one of the best neighborhoods in the entire city. It is the oldest and smallest neighborhood in Buenos Aires but there is still so much to do. It boasts the most incredible street art, has a large variety of restaurants, is the birthplace of Argentine tango, and has a huge antique market in the center with cute knick-knacks as far as the eye can see. You’ll never be bored if you spend time in San Telmo.
- Learn how to use the Subways and Buses: I do love to walk. But sometimes in a city as big as Buenos Aires it’s impractical to try to walk everywhere. And taking cabs all the time can get pretty expensive. So, as intimidating as the buses and subways may seem, it is worth it to put in a little extra research time in learning how to use public transportation to get around the city. I was able to see so much more than I would have if I had not learned how to use the buses and subways.
So, to all the future study abroad students in Buenos Aires, don’t forget…APROVECHAR!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I transferred in to NYU. It was a difficult transition, but an unfortunately necessary one. As we all know, NYU is a huge and often times intimidating institution. I don’t know what it is like to enter NYU as a freshman, but I am sure it is a daunting task. Making friends in a place that from my perspective doesn’t foster the greatest sense of community is a hard thing to do for 18 year olds who just left the comfort of their home, their family, and the familiarity of their friends. So, coming in as a transfer student added another layer of difficulties in the sense of finding a niche. I didn’t live on campus, so I didn’t have the ease of making friends with dorm-mates or meeting people from down the hall. There was no transfer “Welcome Week” to get us acclimated to the school. While I did meet some wonderful people and made some amazing friends last semester (my first semester at NYU), I was still yearning for that sense of community that I have found lacking at NYU. And for that reason (among many others, of course) I was really interested in studying abroad.
Buenos Aires was a deliberate choice of study abroad location for me. Not only is it a location that meshes perfectly with my academic interests, but also it is one of the smaller NYU study abroad sites. Though it may sound paradoxical, being at a smaller site allowed me to get to know more people than I might have if I had been at a bigger site. Because there are fewer of us, you actually see each other more often and have classes with the majority of the students from the program. The mere fact that I get to see everyone almost daily has allowed me to get to know so many wonderful people on a more intimate level. On any given day, I can walk into the academic center and I will find a familiar face sitting in the main hall with whom I can easily sit down and talk to for hours.
Being in a foreign country with others encountering similar cultural obstacles and being so far from home really forges bonds with those persons. For example, when I am with my friends, whether sharing a meal, meeting for coffee, or visiting a museum, though we all have a pretty good grasp of the Spanish language, sometimes, try as we might, we can’t think of a word we want to say or phrase we want to use. When I am alone and face these situations, I get flustered and forget even more of my Spanish. But when we’re together as a group, one of us always has the others’ back and is ready to chime in with the right word or phrase that another of us is struggling for. Without the community I was able to be part of here, living abroad would have been a tougher transition and a lonelier existence. I feel so fortunate for the connections I’ve made in the welcoming community that I encountered here, and I will gratefully take the enduring and endearing friendships I’ve made back home with me to New York.
I am fortunate enough to say that so far during this semester (knock on wood) I have yet to face much “misadventure” in regards to travel follies. However, I still have a few weeks left, so I don’t want to jinx myself. And for that reason, I won’t go so far to say that I have avoided misadventure entirely. One never knows when a forgotten passport or unconfirmed bus ticket lies lurking around the corner. But as of yet, the travel gods have treated me quite fairly.
The only bit of small “mishap” I have encountered is the unfortunate simultaneous malfunctioning of my essential electronic devices. It was right before fall break, smack dab in the middle of midterms. The chronic procrastinator that I am, I was about two pages in to a ten page essay, just two nights before said essay was due when I get the dreaded message: “10% battery power, plug in your computer”. “Not to worry” I think, as I reach for my charger. However, the trusty green light alerting me that my computer is happily recharging fails to turn on. As I’m sure it has become apparent in some of my previous posts, I get rather frazzled quite easily. So, at this moment the panic sets in. What am I going to do?!? How am I going to finish my essay?!? Why the hell do I always leave everything to the last minute?!? “Self, you need to relax” I mutter. I try the charger again, but no dice. The charger’s wire is completely frayed and useless. I call my mom: MOOOMMM WHAT DO I DO?!? Mom: First thing’s first, you need to relax…the most unrelaxing words that any anxious person could ever hear. Then, my phone shuts off. “Not to worry” I think as I try holding down the power button. This has happened before, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. However, this time the phone doesn’t turn back on. No matter how many times I push buttons, plug in the charger, or plead with the mini electronic elves inside my phone’s battery to get the gears running again, it just will not turn on. I was able to avert the crisis that night because as luck would have it, my house mate had the same model of computer. I finished out the week of midterms borrowing her charger.
I wanted to sort out my electronic mishaps before leaving on my trip, and I especially did not want to be without a phone just in case I needed to reach my host family or the NYU staff here in Buenos Aires while I was away. It’s better to be safe than sorry right? So I went to 6 or 7 computer stores in Buenos Aires searching for a similar charger and some advice on where to go to fix my phone. After being met many times with “Lo siento, no vendemos ese tipo de cargador” I finally made headway in my search when I stumbled upon a slightly sketchy tech shop in central BA. Again, as luck would have it, they had a suitable charger for me to use for the remainder of my time in Argentina. Unfortunately, after a few hours of analyzing my phone, and losing all its information in the meantime, I was advised that it was totally dead beyond fixing.
So I bought a burner phone to use while I am abroad, and will continue to use in the future during my travels. None of my problems were insurmountable or life-altering and I was timely able to figure them out. And the nuisance experienced in those few days without my precious technology was quickly eclipsed by the wonderful and lasting memories created on one of the best trips of my life with new, fantastic friends.
For the past few weeks I have been wrestling back and forth between the decision to stay here in Buenos Aires for one more semester or return to New York for the remainder of my junior year. For anyone who knows me, they could easily understand why this is a seemingly insurmountable decision. And for anyone who does not know me, I will explain why.
I am the world’s most indecisive person. Plain and simple. When it comes to easy decisions such as whether I want to wear pants or a dress for the day or if I should eat a salad or sandwich for lunch, I suddenly forget how ostensibly simple and straightforward these choices are and freeze up. Especially on my particularly indecisive days, I am completely useless. I get absolutely nothing accomplished and have to leave the decision making responsibilities in the hands of someone else. Honestly, I sometimes wonder how I am a functioning adult human being (to which I usually answer myself: “Thank goodness I have such a wonderfully helpful mom.”) So, when it comes to bigger decisions like choosing classes, looking for internships, or making big purchases, the natural human ability to reason and rationalize completely escapes me and leaves me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Therefore, when presented with the opportunity to stay in Buenos Aires for another semester, though extremely excited and grateful for the possibility, I knew I would be in for a lot of back and forth.
I have loved being in Buenos Aires. It is a cool, cosmopolitan, chic, and intelligent city. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is rich and delicious, and I get to practice speaking Spanish! My host family has been so wonderful and accepting and have treated me like a daughter. So I think it is understandable why I would feel the desire to stay. However, New York feels like my home. I have my comfortable and reassuring routines, favorite restaurants and cafes, and the company of my best friends. It was, and always will be, my first love.
I think what it has come down to for me are the academics. As much as I have enjoyed most of my classes, I have been underwhelmed by the academic rigor of the program here in Buenos Aires. Of course I feel challenged in some ways, but in New York I feel challenged in a way that inspires and excites me. Occasionally I bemoan the task of writing an essay or completing a reading assignment, but for the most part I really enjoy what I learn back in New York. Of course the fact that I am in a foreign country and feel as though there is an illusion of being on an extended vacation may have a little something to do with my lack of motivation. But for the most part I do in fact miss the class atmosphere of New York. Furthermore, as I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I transferred to NYU from a different college. Therefore there is the question of graduation requirement logistics, most of which can only be fulfilled in New York.
So, I think that means I will have to say “chau” to Buenos Aires for a while. BUT, I know for sure that I will be back in the future. I have always said that I don’t plan to live in the United States after graduation, so Buenos Aires seems like it could be the perfect choice for a future home.
As I am sure many people are aware, Argentina has a particularly sordid political past. From the widespread massacring of indigenous people during the early years of Argentina’s independence as a sovereign nation in the 19th century subsequently leading to the systemic racism that still plagues Argentina today, through the contested years of Juan Domingo Peron’s presidency under which Argentina’s political parties became acutely divided, to the very recent Dirty War in which 30,000 of Argentina’s left-wing activists, including students, trade unionists, and journalists, disappeared mysteriously under a military dictatorship. What I find particularly disconcerting through my own personal observations while having lived here for the past few months is the total lack of public discourse surrounding all of these (fairly recent) atrocities. For example, while on a tour of Buenos Aires in the beginning of the semester, one student asked the tour guide for information about Argentina’s indigenous populations to which she responded that Argentina “doesn’t really have any indigenous people”, an obviously and wildly fallacious statement. There was no mention of the effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples. It seems as though no one (or at least a small percentage of the population) is willing to address and accept the fact of Argentina’s murky history.
For this week’s post, I chose to read The Ministry of Special Cases written by Nathan Englander. This book, through the lens of a fictional family and fictional events, attempts to depict the years of the Dirty War that took place in the 1970s. The novel revolves around Kaddish, Lillian, and Pato Poznan, members of a Jewish family living in Buenos Aires at the start of the Dirty War. Kaddish, the patriarch of the family, is a perpetual buffoon, never able to do right by his family, who works to make ends meets as a sort of gravedigger. Pato, the Poznan’s only son, is a university student who is considered somewhat of a radical and revolutionary, especially in militant 1970s Argentina. As Lilian states early on in the novel, “You cannot ever let your guard down in Buenos Aires. It’s like standing in the ocean and facing the beach. It’s up to you to know what’s behind you. Always there’s another wave coming, building in force and crashing down” (page 50). This phrase rings true throughout the story. Amid constant family struggles, the Poznan’s face their biggest tragedy yet as Pato disappears under the dictatorship. The novel continues to focus on the Poznan’s frantic search for their son and the disintegrating relationship between Lilian and Kaddish as their tragedy becomes too much to bear.
While I admire the author’s efforts to promote discourse of a difficult and often ignored topic, the novel did not seem to me to be wholly rooted in Argentine culture. Written by a native Long-Islander, The Ministry of Special Cases seems to superficially examine the devastating decades in which Argentina was submerged in abject fear and tragedy. Though I enjoyed reading the book, it had a less impactful effect as a novel by an American writing about Argentina rather than if written by an Argentine who actually lived the experiences. That said, I think that it is extremely important to initiate conversations about this often concealed history, and The Ministry of Special Cases does an admirable job at encouraging such a conversation.
I have always been a creature of habit. When I find something I like I often stick to it for a while. This in particular applies to my habits of homework. I am entirely unproductive if I stay in my apartment to do any sort of work. I sit down to write an essay and I think how nice it would be to make myself a cup of tea. I open up the novel I am reading for class and I remember that I missed this week’s episode of Chicago Fire. When left by myself, I get absolutely nothing done. Therefore, to hold myself accountable I often spend my evenings and weekends in Bobst Library where I know I won’t get distracted by the latest Buzzfeed articles or cat-themed Youtube videos. There I am in an environment of learning and feel obligated by my fellow studious classmates to buckle down and focus. I have my favorite spots – the East side on the 9th floor and the west side on the 5th floor – and there I am able to get my work done (somewhat) efficiently. If I am not in class or at home, you can nearly be sure to find me in the library.
Therefore, because I am so used to my specific study spots, I was thrown off-kilter when beginning my study abroad experience here in Buenos Aires. Where would I do my homework without my comfortable, familiar desks among the stacks of Bobst? The NYU campus here in Buenos Aires is very small, as I am sure is the case in most global campuses. It is an old converted embassy made up of just four floors. It is only open until 10 pm on weekdays and Sundays, and it is not open on Saturdays. Therefore my options were rather limited when it came to deciding on what place I would call my own. As a result I was compelled to find my “great good place” outside of the NYU facilities, and luckily I did!
I live in the neighborhood of Palermo Soho, a super-chic, ultra-trendy area of Buenos Aires. It is brimming with cute boutiques, modern restaurants, and hip cafes. Though all good choices, none was appealing to me enough to call my “place”, until I found Libros del Pasaje. Libros del Pasaje is a small bookstore, with an even smaller café, just around the corner from my homestay. It is eclectic and filled with like-minded people, enjoying a good book or each other’s company. I might even venture to say that it is better than “my spots” in the library because it is multifunctional, great for both doing homework and spending time having an afternoon coffee or mate with friends. During these easy and interesting conversations with friends I feel wholly Porteño, as though I could be a character in the midst of a Borges short story or Cortázar novel. It is a place I know I’ll miss when I return home next semester. So for the time being I am just enjoying having found my great good place in this great good city.
I grew up in a town outside of Boston. Because of my close proximity to the city, I spent a lot of time there while growing up – hanging out on the harbor, seeing a concert, going out for dinner. I always thought that Boston had a professional chicness to it. However, a few years ago, much to my surprise, GQ magazine dubbed Boston the “Worst Dressed City”. It might just be my fondness for the city, but I don’t think the title was warranted. Sure, maybe people aren’t as stylistically avant-garde as those in New York, or as bohemian chic as some in San Francisco, but I have nevertheless considered Bostonians sleek and tasteful. However, now having spent some time in Buenos Aires, I can say with confidence that Boston is NOT the worst dressed city. In fact, a case could be made that Buenos Aires could be deserving of the title. Don’t get me wrong, there are some undeniably stylish people here in this city. But as a whole, there are some seriously questionable fashion trends, the most noticeable of which is the platform shoe. I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to fashion. Stripes and polka dots? Sure. Blue lipstick? Absolutely. I always enjoy experimenting and admittedly even dabble occasionally in the use of irony in clothing. However, there is nothing ironic about the wearing of the platform shoe in Buenos Aires. There is the platform boot, the platform sneaker, the platform clog, and yes, EVEN the platform baby shoe. Apart from the impracticality of walking around all day in a 6-inch platform, they are honestly pretty heinous looking. Maybe I’m just a silly American who doesn’t understand the latest trends, but I can say with certainty I will not be jumping on that bandwagon any time soon.
Apart from the occasionally questionable fashion trends, from what I can see, Buenos Aires is as equally a diverse, melting pot of people as the United States. During the large migrations of people in the early 20th century, two of the world’s largest ports of immigration were Ellis Island in New York and the port of Buenos Aires. The country has a large Spanish, Italian, and Jewish population as a result of the migrations. The architecture of Buenos Aires truly reflects the hodgepodge of people living here in the city. Buenos Aires is unlike any other city I have visited architecturally speaking as it incorporates so many different styles of buildings while other cities seem to be more architecturally homogeneous. Within the main square of Plaza de Mayo, one can see remnants of colonial Spain in the cathedral, influences of 18th century Paris in the whimsical iron-clad governmental buildings, and inspiration from 19th century industrialized London in the stark and utilitarian, brick-laid financial institutes.
Platform shoes aside, Buenos Aires is a cool, political, interesting, passionate, and intelligent city. This is greatly reflected in Buenos Aires’ artistic and literary world through the contributions of famous historical figures like Julio Cortázar, Xul Solar, and Jorge Luis Borges, to more contemporary visionaries like Marta Minujín and Juan José Saer. Buenos Aires has much to offer culturally, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to explore and experience its diversity while I am here.
Gen Y-ers often face much scrutiny from older generations when it comes to the use of new technology like smartphones, laptops, apps, and various other useful gadgets of the 21st century. There is no exception when it comes to traveling in this modern age, or as this week’s post refers to it, Travel 2.0. But why should we face so much scrutiny? Newer technologies allow travelers to have more adventurous and fruitful travel experiences because they know where they’re headed and already have some ideas of how to spend their time in these new locations.
In his article in The Guardian, writer Rolf Potts does a good job explaining the need for balance between modern comforts and authentic travel. As a fellow avid traveler, during his youth he faced scrutiny from older generations for things we now think of as old hat such as email and credit cards. So when it comes to newer technologies he writes, “I have to remind myself that this isn’t a new conversation – that technology has been altering the travel experience since at least the dawn of the steamship and the railroad engine. Any technology that makes travel easier is going to connect aspects of the travel experience to the comforts and habits one might seek back home – and can make travel feel less like travel.” He also posits the benefits of balance between using and freeing yourself from technology because “…part of travel’s charm has always been its disorienting uncertainty – and it can be hard to stumble into serendipity when all your travel decisions are filtered through your iPhone…That means 21st-century travelers must be aware of when their gadgets are enhancing new experiences, and when those gadgets are getting in the way of new experiences.”
In a similar way, I think that living and traveling in Argentina illustrates that balance between connectedness and disconnectedness. In my past travels, I have used sites like AirBnb, Couchsurfing, and Tripadvisor. Were it not for these sites, I wouldn’t have found those great accommodations, met extremely interesting new people, or tried deliciously authentic local food. So there are absolutely some great benefits for using travel sites that are made available to us these days. However, I also recognize the advantages to leaving technologies behind. This past week I was traveling around the north of Argentina, essentially just miles upon miles of empty desert land with a few tiny little towns scattered about the regions. While there are myriads of websites containing “Where to” and “How to” guides for Buenos Aires, there is far less information available about these less traveled areas in the north. Aside from finding the hostels online, everything was planned day to day, and coordinated through word-of-mouth recommendation from locals, a type of travel that I am less accustomed to. While traveling around Europe, I was able to plan my trips down to a “T”, calculating the exact moments of arrivals and departures and the precise and best route to get from point A to point B within a city. Being in the middle of the desert, there was no service so flexibility and adaptability was key. Additionally, as I have mentioned in previous posts, people in Argentina are never on time for anything, and that extends to modes of transportation. During vacation, we took buses between towns when they came, and simply made other plans if they didn’t show up. It was liberating to be disconnected from the world in a way that eliminated distractions and allowed me to soak in the natural, almost overwhelming, beauty of Argentina’s deserts. Though I won’t be giving up the use of travel sites any time soon, I do see the true merits in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveling as well. Really, it’s all about the balance because both allow for a unique though equally enriching experience. Personally, I would recommend that people give both a chance.
“‘Patagonia!’ he cried. ‘She is a hard mistress. She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets go.’”
Throughout Bruce Chatwin’s travel novel, entitled In Patagonia, written in 1977, it seems as though Patagonia did just that to Chatwin – wrapped her arms around him and never let go, prompting a six month long journey along this southern most region of Argentina.
Chatwin begins his novel detailing the beginnings of his obsession with Patagonia. He recalls a swath of patchy, furry animal skin his grandmother kept encased. Enchanted by the spectacle he begged for information about the animal from which the skin came. Though he later discovered this was a tall-tale, he was told it was from a dinosaur native to southern Argentina, what he would eventually learn was known as Patagonia. This mesmerizing story sparked the imagination of a young boy, and led to his life-long love of the region.
In the novel, Chatwin finally fulfills his dream of traveling around Patagonia. He begins in Buenos Aires, moving on to the smaller city of La Plata, and finally reaches Patagonia. He documents his many encounters with people of the region. He lives nomadically traveling from one town to the next and staying with people he meets along the way. The novel is unusual as it shifts seamlessly between past and present. In his discussions with the people of the region he learns of people of the past, often nomads or others just passing through, not unlike himself. Such figures who are featured in his stories range from Frenchmen crowning themselves kings of the natives in the mid 1800’s to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid who find refuge in the south of Argentina after their many dastardly exploits.
The novel takes on an unusual form. It is made up of 97 chapters, all of very short lengths, ranging from just a paragraph to a few pages. This in some way mimics Chatwin’s travels throughout the region. He is constantly moving and meeting new people. His encounters are brief yet full of meaning. Each chapter, just as each encounter, gives a small vignette into the life of a Patagonian. Chatwin’s travels are representative of the people of Argentina. He meets villages of Italians, towns of Englishmen, and communities of Welshman, as well as the natives of Argentina and the Hispanic culture that has been a part of the land for hundreds of years. Argentina is a melting pot of immigrants and Chatwin demonstrates that well through his tales of Patagonia.
Additionally, Chatwin recalls the observations of Charles Darwin: “The Patagonian desert is not a desert of sand or gravel, but of low thicket of grey-leaved thorns which give off a bitter smell when crushed…Charles Darwin found its negative qualities irresistible. In summing up The Voyage of the Beagle, he tried, unsuccessfully, to explain why, more than any of the wonders he had seen, these ‘arid wastes’, had taken such firm possession of his mind.” He continues with the observations of ornithologist and naturalist W. H. Hudson: “Hudson devotes a whole chapter of Idle Days in Patagonia to answering Mr. Darwin’s question, and he concludes that desert wanderers discover in themselves a primeval calmness (know also to the simplest savage), which is perhaps the same as the Peace of God.” Patagonia in its simplicity represents the beauty and tranquility of Argentina. Though I live in the bustling city of Buenos Aires, I can sense the subtle undertones of a calming culture that linger just outside the city edges.
Tomorrow, as it is the beginning of fall break, I too will be traveling the countryside of Argentina just as did Chatwin. I look forward to meeting as great a variety of people and experiencing all the beauty it has to offer.
I like routine. Nay. I love routine. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy a bit of spontaneity and adventure now and again, but I base myself and the majority of my life on the promise of routine. I like to have a schedule – daily, weekly, monthly – which I can follow to keep my workload, appointments, meetings, classes, and the myriad of other daily minutiae in check. Having a routine helps me focus and stay grounded and assures me that if I fall behind, I will eventually be able to sync back up again. A routine lets me know where I have to be, when I have to be there, how much time it will take to arrive, and how to get there. For that reason, I take great comfort in having a routine.
Argentines eschew routine. Nay. Argentines appear to barely understand the concept of routine. I realize this is a bit of an exaggeration, but for someone who calibrates life with lists, plans and schedules, it feels as though here the notion of routine is thrown right out the window. Sometimes I will have class. Sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll have an extended class. Sometimes I’ll have three of the same class in one week. The general feeling I get is that things will happen when they happen. Or they won’t, with no rhyme nor reason. Although, the lack of routine is discomfiting to me, it does have its unintended benefits. I can sit in a café or restaurant talking and laughing with my friends for hours without being rushed out by waiters. I can have extra leisure time to go to all of the amazing museums throughout the city, a favorite pastime of mine. And moreover, because Argentina has an easygoing and laidback vibe (or as Argentine’s say “buen onda”) there is a greater willingness to engage with others that I find to be lacking in New York. New Yorkers are extremely fast-paced and focused. For that reason, many people seem to often have blinders on when it comes to engaging new people or even having a brief but friendly conversation with a stranger on the street. Just today I was trying to get on the subway but was having difficulty finding an open subway entrance. I noticed a woman in the same predicament. We found an open subway stop together, and she took the time to ask where I was from and if I needed help finding anything, and then we both went happily on our way with the rest of our respective days. Had this occurred in New York, I don’t believe we would have even made eye contact.
Apart from the lack of routine, daily life in Buenos Aires has some other obstacles and challenges. Dealing with money in Argentina, especially as a United States citizen presents its problems. After the major economic crisis in Argentina during the 90s and early 2000s, United States banks and other lenders loaned money to the country. During this time, Argentines could go to any bank and request US currency, and they were not required to provide any reason why they needed US dollars. However, unable to repay the loan, Argentina was forced into default. Ever since, Argentina has been working hard to nationalize its money system and keep out other currencies, especially United States dollars. Consequently, it is extremely hard to get US money into the country, creating a hassle for all of us NYU students. Additionally, rarely do you find a retailer in New York that won’t accept credit cards. Just the opposite is true in Buenos Aires. Retailers who accept credit cards are few and far between. So, buying anything, from food to tickets to clothing, has proven to be a bit of a problem in some cases. When you find a place that accepts credit cards, a national identification card (for Argentine’s the DNI or for foreigner’s a passport) is required without exception. Despite the initial difficulties of buying items here in Buenos Aires, the advantage I do have is that my US money goes a lot farther here. The US dollar is valued around 10 Argentine pesos officially, or 15 Argentine pesos to the dollar on what is known as the blue rate. Imagine my delight when I get the check for a lunch of a coffee, a sandwich, a salad, and a dessert and it’s a mere 4 US dollars!
Just like being back home in New York, daily life in Buenos Aires has its ups and downs. Sometimes I am head over heels in love with the city, and other days I just want to curl up in my pajamas and never leave the bed. Short trips don’t allow a traveler to experience the same notion of routine. But this opportunity for an extended stay to study teaches me how to adjust and reorient my life in a new and peculiar setting. After the initial honeymoon period and having had time to settle, I’ve once again realized, it’s just life, and it will continue, with both its beautiful and mundane moments no matter the locale.
If I am being honest, this particular assignment was a bit of a struggle for me. Like many other fast-paced, energetic New Yorkers, I am normally very one-directional when it comes to where I am headed. I have a place in mind and get from point A to point B in the timeliest of fashion. Though I enjoy the occasional stroll, I am often too focused on where I am going to let myself actually appreciate a leisurely walk throughout the city. And beyond the physical aspect of strolling lackadaisically, there is a mental component to strolling that does not jive well with me. While strolling, one lets not only one’s body wander but also one’s mind, soaking in all the sights, smells, and sounds of one’s surroundings. I am by nature a very anxious person. When I let my mind wander, I am playing an extremely dangerous mind game with myself.
I offer a common illustration of my stream of consciousness way of thinking: What do I have to do today? Wow, I have so much homework. I still need to do that project. Why do I do this to myself? I let it go until the last minute. Oh my god, how am I going to get it all done? Hmm, I like what she is wearing. Maybe I could try to find a dress like that. But do I have enough money? No definitely not. Don’t spend your money so frivolously! You should save more. You need to get another job. Have I been exercising enough? You need to go for a run tomorrow. But I don’t have time because I have too much homework! And the black hole of thoughts grows deeper…
As I mentioned in a previous post, my preferred mode of transportation is walking. So for this assignment, I went about life as usual, but made a concerted effort to pay closer attention to the city’s goings-on, clear my mind and permit myself to enjoy some true leisure time. Something that I really appreciate about Buenos Aires that is lacking in New York City (and most bustling and frenetic United States cities for that matter) is the café culture. Crowds of people gather every day to enjoy a coffee, the newspaper, a media luna (the proper way in Buenos Aires to refer to a croissant), each other’s company, or simply the sunshine of a beautiful Sunday morning. People sit for hours at the tables lining the sidewalks without so much as glancing at the time. It makes for a collaborative and lively city experience that to me is not so apparent in New York. Throughout my stroll, I eavesdrop on bits of conversation, smell the delicious mid-afternoon latte steaming on the table as I pass, and watch an endearing elderly couple lovingly holding hands as they search to find an open table.
Being more aware of my surroundings throughout my stroll also allowed me to enjoy the incredible street art that fills Buenos Aires. There are gorgeous murals covering countless walls all over the city. Every corner you turn, you are surprised by at least three more murals. Beyond just murals, even the graffiti takes on an artful role. The city does not punish tagging, painting, or any other written expression on public buildings, so the streets are peppered with vibrant colors, swirling figures, and political and activist messages. Strolling has its obvious benefits. It allows for a far greater appreciation and understanding of one’s surroundings. I am reminded by this assignment to slow down and enjoy my journey allowing for a deeper more meaningful connection with my temporary home city.
The person you talk to most in the world is yourself. Internal conversations, funny thoughts, plans for the week. You can be open with yourself in a way that is difficult or even impossible with others. I am certainly no stranger when it comes to talking to myself, whether it is out loud or internally. I compose entire stories in my head as I stroll down the street, hold imaginary conversations with strangers as I cook in my kitchen, or design itineraries for possible trips as I zone out in class. Though I have always been conscious of this phenomenon, the constant stream of self-talk has never been so evident to me since arriving in Buenos Aires. I take particular notice of it here because now I find myself translating my conversations as well. A simple sentence like “I really like what she is wearing” takes double the effort as I internally translate afterwards to “Me gusta mucho lo que ella está llevando”. Often I find myself struggling to translate exactly what I want to say and try to find short cuts around the words. For this reason, I am (unfortunately) reminded of how much I still have to learn to feel completely comfortable in my grasp of the Spanish language.
Buenos Aires is the perfect place to bolster my Spanish speaking skills as the frequency with which one comes by English speakers is much less here than if I were in Europe. In my trips to European countries in the past, as I attempted to communicate with waiters or shopkeepers, the minute I revealed myself to be American with my less than perfect accent and stumbling on words, they would instantly respond in English. So I am forced, though in a way I appreciate, outside my comfort zone. It invites far more opportunities to learn, practice and improve, albeit very slowly. Not being able to speak with absolute ease and confidence as quickly as I had fantasized, I will admit is a bit humbling. But with each new store I visit, stranger I ask for directions, or dinner with my solely-Spanish-speaking host family, the chronic embarrassment diminishes and is replaced by an inkling of pride and sense of accomplishment.
However, there are definite road blocks to learning the language in Argentina. Most of Latin America mocks Argentina for its interpretation of the Spanish language. Known as Porteño, Argentine Spanish is almost its own unique dialect. Ask someone where to find the stop for the “autobus”? You will be met with a chuckle as you remember that the buses are referred to as “Colectivo”. Tell your host family you are going to the “disco”? You will only encounter confused stares as you fumble to remember the word “boliche”. And worst of all, you say that you are going to “coger el subte”? You will be riddled with shame when you realize that coger has an entirely different (BAD) meaning in Argentina. (Reader, you will have to look that one up on your own!) Though many lament these differences, I try to embrace them as I navigate an unfamiliar language, with its own unique form!
Buenos Aires is a fairly logical city, geographically speaking. Whereas only a portion of New York is designed like a perfect grid, essentially all of Buenos Aires is set up in this way. When the conquistadors from Spain were establishing the cities of South America, they all followed a generally similar pattern so as to create a uniform look throughout the major cities of the south. There is a center in Buenos Aires named Plaza de Mayo, and from there emanate all of the streets fairly equally. While the streets are not numbered as they are in New York, there are major avenues one can use as landmarks for ease of navigation. So, in terms of my “inner compass” I think I will have a much easier time orienting myself as opposed to my fellow travelers in Europe who face the challenge of learning to navigate the winding, cobblestone cow-paths that make up most of the western hemisphere’s ancient cities.
As for actually, physically getting around the city, that is another story entirely. In most of the cities that I have visited in the United States and abroad, the public transportation has been quite reliable. I know that can’t be said of everywhere in the US, but my experiences thus far have been positive. However, your possibilities of public transportation in Buenos Aires are a bit of a toss-up. The subway, though sometimes useful, doesn’t stretch the entire length of the city. And let’s say you decide to take the subway in Buenos Aires during rush hour. Imagine a crowed NYC subway during rush hour, on steroids, multiplied by ten. You might as well just put in the effort to walk the hour and a half from Palermo to San Telmo. Or better yet, go on a different day at ANY OTHER time than rush hour. In addition to the subway, there is the bus system, which I will admit can be useful. But, when there are hundreds of bus lines that may or may not have stops that are actually visible, to say it is a bit of a feat to navigate is an understatement. I have yet to take on the challenge whole-heartedly, but if I want to avoid racking up massive taxi fares, I’m going to have to figure it out sometime soon. So in the meantime, especially when Spring is imminent and the temperature a delightful 65 degrees, and with its obvious health benefits, walking is my preferred mode of transportation.
The NYU building is located in the neighborhood – or barrio – of Recoleta. While most students were placed in homestays within Recoleta, I was placed in the neighboring barrio of Palermo, a chic, youthful, up-and-coming (though admittedly gentrified) neighborhood of Buenos Aires. This allows me a brisk and usually pleasant 35 minute walk to NYU. I qualify this with “usually” because walking in this city requires its own nuanced form of navigation. In my experience, the vast majority of New Yorkers are attentive to picking up after their dogs. And, those who don’t are subjected to the hideous glares of on lookers for long enough to instill a deep sense of guilt and shame for not having done so. Sadly, this is not the case in Buenos Aires. Dogs roam freely without leashes choosing to do their “business” whenever and wherever they please, regardless of whether there owner is nearby enough to notice…or even care for that matter. For this reason, walking in Buenos Aires most of the time must be done with great attention and care, lest you find yourself stepping in a generous pile of dog poop.
Each mode of transportation in Buenos Aires, whether it is walking, taking the bus, or riding the subway, presents its own difficulties and rewards. All allow for a uniquely different perspective of the city, which I otherwise wouldn’t experience if I opted to avoid any one entirely. There are still so many neighborhoods, plazas, avenues, museums, restaurants, and more that I have yet to see. But I remind myself that I still have plenty of time to visit them all, remembering always to watch where I step along the way.
I originally attended a small, liberal arts school in upstate New York, but for various reasons, I transferred to NYU. Though initially unsure whether I was taking a liking to a new, large university and city atmosphere, both of which were novel experiences to me, I began to fall in love with the fast paced, ever-stimulating metropolitan lifestyle. Having spent the past year getting to know New York City, I’ve encountered some of the wonderful treasures it holds: secret gardens like the enchanting one in the novel of the same name by Burnett, artwork by the masters, behemoth skyscrapers with the most mesmerizing of aesthetics, and local bodegas open 24-hours a day where I can get my favorite toasted-everything-bagel even in the wee hours of the morning. I have often said that my relationship with New York City will be the greatest love affair of my life. With New York’s cultural, economic, artistic, theatrical, and political prowess, how could any city compete?
And yet, upon my arrival this semester to study abroad in Buenos Aires, I am beginning to suspect that New York City has a serious contender vying for my affection. Without hesitation, upon arrival at Ezeiza airport, I could subtlety feel it’s soothing, yet electric character. Latin American culture is one of passion, acceptance, and pleasure, all of which to me are appealing aspects of a city. Throughout my first days in Buenos Aires, I can already envision a future here.
Learning the ins and outs of New York, I’ve noticed that it can sometimes seem haughty and pretentious. It is the type of lover about whom you always secretly wonder whether or not truly wants to be in a relationship with you. You feel as though you are the one putting in all the effort and are left feeling tired and lonely sometimes. However, Buenos Aires, though of course not without its flaws, is more like the type of lover who greets you when you walk in the door with dinner prepared. Though you may not particularly like their cooking, at least they put in the effort. New York makes you feel cool and chic and you sense everyone jealously sneaking glances at the two of you when you’re together. But Buenos Aires is comfortable, and happy, and enjoys your company above all else. So, in some ways, I feel as though I am cheating on New York. New York was my first experience living in a city. It was a whirlwind affair which from the beginning swept me off my feet. But Buenos Aires is beginning to open my eyes to new opportunities.
Though there are aspects of Buenos Aires I find disconcerting and intimidating, as the first week comes to a close, I can confidently say that I am very much looking forward to the rest of my semester in Argentina. The initial butterflies are fading. The nervousness, albeit slowly, is being replaced instead by excitement and anticipation. I’m sure I could not have chosen a better location to improve my Spanish skills and fully immerse myself within a culture that I am passionate to learn about. It’s the perfect place to bolster my knowledge on Latin American culture, among the many other things I am studying at NYU, which I am sure my fellow Gallatin students can relate to. Buena suerte to all of you other travelers this semester!