Letter From Buenos Aires
The experience is often shared by many students studying abroad. At first you feel like a stranger. You feel like you don't belong. You notice all of the little things that are different, like the traffic signals that turn yellow a second before they turn green. But after awhile everything just becomes familiar and normal. You stop making the comparisons and just accept everything for what it is. That is the point where you truly immerse yourself in another culture; the semester ceases to be an exploration and turns, simply, into your daily life.
I first studied in Buenos Aires with the Council on International Educational Exchange during the fall of my junior year. Now I'm back as the first-ever participant of the Swarthmore Buenos Aires program. Professor of History and native Argentine Diego Armus believed he could use his network of academic connections in Buenos Aires to create a program tailored to the varied interests of Swarthmore students. I can attest that he has succeeded in creating an academic environment in which the classes are one-on-one with professors and the curriculum is as demanding as Swarthmore's.
For instance, I am taking a political science class with Professor Maria Matilde Ollier, one of the first academics to publish a book on the military government in Argentina from 1976-1983. My first homework assignment was to read one of her books. The next week I was able to ask specific questions directly to the author herself. Her responses even included her own experiences as a Montonera guerilla during the early 1970s.
One of the benefits of the program is the opportunity to complete an independent study project. I chose to look at the recent growth of the wine industry in the province of Mendoza. In truth, I didn't even like wine when I chose the topic, but I thought it was interesting how Argentine wine had grown in popularity in the United States over the past five years. I just returned from a trip to Mendoza and where I met with government officials, academics, business association leaders, and vineyard owners. Furthermore, my Spanish language professor incorporated into the curriculum the creation of a blog on the wine industry that follows my research while allowing me to practice different writing styles learned in class. The research will eventually become a case study for my political science senior comprehensive exercise on Argentine monetary policy during the 1990s.
Most students are familiar with the seductive tango, the traditional French architecture, the rumble of the crowd in the football stadiums, and the juicy beef from the Pampas. Yet, there is something beneath the surface imagery which gives great depth to this city and country. In Argentina, ambivalence toward any subject is virtually unheard of. Argentines love to argue, or as they would say, "discuss," any topic, whether it be politics, soccer, or the best brick oven pizza place in the neighborhood. It is a national pastime to gather with friends and drink mate, an herbal drink native to this country, and discuss whatever is on your mind. It is within these discussions that you learn to release yourself from your foreign standpoint and begin to understand what it means to be Argentine.