April 8, 2017
“El viaje es la mejor educación que cualquier persona puede tener.”
“Travel is the best education anyone can have.” (unknown author)
For the past couple of weeks, as you are all aware of, I wrote about the crisis that I went through with food poisoning and my hospital visits in addition to the transition to my new host family. In the midst of this experience and these changes, I failed to talk about how my first week of class turned out! But, I had to share these other occurrences to show that traveling in general has its challenges and difficulties too, no matter how fun the journey may seem. Classes began March 20, which was about two weeks ago, but for some reason, it feels longer than that. Although I’m on the campus with over 119,000 diverse students, the classes that I’m in are smaller, with about ten students per class. The students who I have classes with are in the same program as I am in, PECLA, (Programa de Español y Cultura Latinoamericana) the Spanish and Latin American Culture Program. This excellent program encourages acquisition of Spanish and integrates both the language and the Latin American culture through a variety of classes, in which I will talk about later in this entry. I feel really comfortable with the small number of students in the class because my Spanish learning experience is more personalized.
In comparison to Susquehanna University, my home institution in the states, my schedule here in Argentina is more flexible. I’m balancing my time better between my studies, traveling and of course, “me” time. (For once, I actually have more time to read for pleasure) Classes are from Monday-Thursday with a three day weekend EVERYweekend. I’m enjoying each and every one of my classes, especially Latin American literature (Literatura Latinoamericana) where we study and read distinct works by Latin American authors. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be reading any works by Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite authors from Brazil, (if you haven’t read “The Alchemist by him, it’s a must read) but it’s always fun to become exposed to something new.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, I only have one class, Socioeconomic Problem of Latin America (Problemática Socioeconómica de América Latina) which doesn’t begin until 3 PM. This course focuses on expanding our knowledge on the economic and social situations in present day Latin America. I love all of the time that I have before class to get other tasks done and to help my host mom around the house if need be. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my classes begin a little earlier at 11 AM beginning with Latin American literature, followed by Argentina and it’s regional diversity (Argentina y su Diversidad Regional), in which students study regions within Argentina and their distinct economic and geographical characteristics. Once a week, on Tuesdays, I have cultural realities (realidades culturales), which is almost equivalent to the pre-departure study abroad course that I took back at Susquehanna except we discuss specific aspects of Argentine culture and what we have been observing.
However, the only thing that I feel like I have to get used to here, is the teaching style. The professors lecture for about an hour and forty minutes with absolutely no group activities, which makes it easy to zone in and out, especially when the lecture hits the hour and fifteen minute mark. For me, I like lectures, but I also like group activities where I have the opportunity to move around and discuss my ideas with my peers. It takes me about 35-40 minutes to get to the university by foot, so I try to leave the apartment at least an hour early before classes begin. That may seem like a long time, but for me, it goes by really quickly not only because I’m a naturally fast city walker, but I always enjoy taking in the lively metropolis.
Of course, since Argentine breakfasts are very small, by the time lunch time rolls around, I am starving! For the first week, I ate in el comedor, or the dining hall which is somewhat different to what I’m used to back at my home institution. When you first walk in, it looks more like a prison, than a dining hall. Each student has cards that they use to swipe themselves in, but the waiting time to actually get the food can be very long. What is that red symbol on the card below? Yes, you guessed it! It’s a special emblem that lets people who work in the dining hall know that I have special dietary needs. (Sin T.A.C.C- without gluten) On my first very day, I was saddened at the fact that the only options they offered for lunch everyday was spinach pie, empanadas with cheese and a cheese pizza. Seeing that I can’t have cheese, I was left to eat the spinach pie for four days in a row that week for lunch. It actually tasted decent (the picture doesn’t look to appetizing though) but later on, I found out that the crust on the spinach cake has milk, so I can’t have that either. So now, my host mom has to pack me a lunch to take to the university. Thankfully, some people are working behind the scenes to supply me with lunches that I can eat at the dining hall. (Honestly, I hope that they make other options available because my host mom already does so much.)
I am satisfied with the education that I have been receiving here through the PECLA program, but, other students and their parents see many flaws in the educational system. Students have the option to attend either a public or private school. Despite the fact that they have the choice to receive a public education for free, many parents choose to send their children to private schools because of the poor quality of public education. But, the public universities here, which are mostly TUITION FREE are decent in educational quality. Teachers here are also not paid high enough wages, which can cause some unrest, such as what took place this past Thursday. On April 6, this day was considered, el día de paro, the day of unemployment, where instead of working, people protested against the government. We were encouraged to not go out anywhere because in the past, demonstrations would get so severe, that people burned cars. Flights into Argentina were canceled Thursday, streets were blocked and the bus system stopped completely. Even though I didn’t go out to actually witness these demonstrations, talking to my host mom about it made me even more aware of the fact that despite this being a developing country, people here are desperate for change and want to rise up.
Before departing for Argentina, my Spanish professors advised me that studying abroad is not about hitting the books 24/7. While studying is very important, traveling to a different country should be full of enjoyable experiences and adventures outside of the study room. In fact, a person can learn just as much outside of the classroom as inside of it! I can definitely say, that this semester abroad is my least stressful semester ever. Back at Susquehanna University, my schedule was so jammed packed with deadlines of papers, exams and extracurricular activities. And by the time the end of the semester rolled around, I felt like I was able to actually breathe. Here in Argentina, it’s the complete opposite and I am loving it. For me, there are no 15+ pages to write, the homework is very light and it only consists of short readings and writing assignments. I have more time to enjoy this new culture that surrounds me everyday and that’s what it’s all about!