After a rather long hiatus, I now return to my blog to update you all on what my life in Buenos Aires has been like these past few weeks!
I’ve now been in Buenos Aires for nearly eight weeks. And while on one hand that sounds like a long time, I actually feel like I’ve been here a lot longer. I feel like I know the city, even if it is just a surface knowledge. I have favorite haunts where I order café and empanadas while studying. I have bus routes memorized. I feel comfortable here. I’ve started using parts of the porteño accent in my Spanish, changing my pronunciation of words like “calle” from “cai-ye” to “ca-jay.” (But don’t be fooled, judging by the number of times I get asked ¿de dónde sos? on a daily basis, I still sound very American. Regardless, I continue my futile attempts to sound more porteño). I’m no longer overly paranoid when using public transportation, and when I returned from my long weekend in Rio de Janeiro (which was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken), I felt comforted to return to the streets of Buenos Aires that I have grown to know and love.
In short, in eight weeks, Buenos Aires has started to feel like home, which is kind of crazy if you think about it. I guess it speaks to the adaptability of humans, that you can go from knowing almost nothing about a place, to calling it home two months later. In reality, “home” is really much more a state of mind than anything else, and I’m happy to add Buenos Aires to my list of places that I can call home.
What else has been going on in the past few weeks? Besides the few trips I’ve taken (which I’ll write more about soon), what sticks out most for me are classes.
Entering the Argentine public education system has been a lesson in itself, and while I’ve grown accustomed to the different structure of Argentine classes, in the beginning it was quite the culture shock. To start with, the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) is home to somewhere around 300,000 students who pay the tidy sum of $0 to attend the institution. UBA also happens to be the most prestigious and highly ranked university in the whole country. To US ears, this sounds impossible. Free university education? 300,000 people? No way that could actually work.
Yet UBA, despite its various deficiencies, is living proof that this system turns out successful graduates. Free public education has been a hallmark of the Argentine educational system since UBA was founded back in 1821. Because UBA is entirely government funded, there are definitely issues with shortages of funds, which are most obviously manifested in the university’s infrastructure. Some of the buildings are pretty run down and there’s not much modern day technology that’s penetrated the walls of UBA’s institutions (i.e. wi-fi, computer labs, projectors).
However, infrastructure notwithstanding, I’ve been impressed so far with the quality of instruction UBA has to offer. The classes may be big and the classrooms themselves not so pretty, but students are very active participants in class and professors give challenging lectures, expecting students to be on top of the work. Argentines also opt for having longer classes fewer times a week, which means that most classes last for at least 2 hours at a time. I even have one class that I’m in for four hours straight (The only way I can get myself through 4 straight hours of Latin American history in the morning is with healthy doses of coffee both before and throughout class). The scheduling choice on part of the university probably has to do with that fact that all students are commuters. Even if you live in a student residencia-which is not the same idea as a US college dorm at all-the residencia isn’t located in the same place as your classes. In any case, most students live at home with their families in Buenos Aires and drive or take public transport to get to class. Personally, my commute times to get to classes range from thirty to forty-five minutes. (I will never again complain about having to walk to Car Barn for class at Georgetown).
At any rate, we came into UBA at a very interesting time: election season, both for Argentina as a nation as well as for UBA as a university. Now let me just clarify what election season at UBA is like. For Georgetown students convinced that GUSA presidential elections could not get any more intense/intrusive, I am here to tell you that we don’t know the half of it.
For starters, Argentina’s political climate is more diverse than in the US, and politics are also much more incorporated into the daily lives of Argentines. On top of this, UBA is essentially a haven for leftist, pro-labor, anti-establishment politics. To be fair, they have a diverse array of political parties represented, however this is the most prominent ideology at UBA.
You think I’m joking? Their school mascot is el Viejo Topo, a socialist beaver wearing a Che Guevara hat. Especially during election season, posters adorn every open inch of wall space, with signs proclaiming the victory of the left and the need to fight for workers rights. It is, in short, the socialist-fearing American’s nightmare. My favorite poster that I’ve seen so far is titled “Secret Map of Gringa (US) Military Bases in Latin America.”
The political activism, however, does not end in the hallways of UBA. I distinctly remember my first class at UBA (during peak election season) when out of nowhere a group of politically organized and passionate students burst into our classroom and proceeded to hand out flyers for their political organization while simultaneously entering into a heated political debate with other students in my class about their differing ideologies. I was shocked the professor was willing to be interrupted like that, and for such a significant a period of time too! I soon learned, though, that this was standard procedure at UBA during election season; classrooms are interrupted as many as six times over a span of two hours to allow for students to advertise for their various political candidates.
The whole experience may sound crazy, and it definitely leads to a fast-paced, frenzied environment, and yet I love it. I love how much people here care about what goes on both in their school and in their country. I love how confident these students are in their beliefs, and I love hearing a perspective that I would never get back in the states. What I love most of all, though, is that students listen patiently to the presentations and then debate back with the student activists (or passionately agree with them).
It’s a school that fosters the constant flow of ideas and beliefs from many different political spectrums, and a learning environment that encourages—if not outright demands—broader engagement with what’s going on in the world outside the university. We don’t have anything like it in the US. (And this is coming from someone who goes to a pretty politically active school in Washington DC).
I came to Argentina to experience the world from a different perspective, and I’m definitely getting that experience at UBA. Of course, midterms are coming up in two weeks, at which point I’m sure my idealistic view of the school will quickly turn to resentment and despair as I realize I have to take actual exams in Philosophy and History in Spanish.
Oh well, one thing at a time!
Here are some pictures from the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires. The exhibits were amazing!