Traveling and Studying in Argentina

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on May 22, 2007 0 Comments

I’ve been meaning for some time to write down the story of my study abroad in Argentina.  Here is the first part of the story of my trip, I will add additional articles about specific places and events of my trip in the next few weeks.  Thanks for reading!

In 1998 I was in the second semester of my junior year of college.  My college major was Spanish and it’s typical for language majors to study abroad for a semester or year.  I had a wide selection of programs and countries to choose from, the most common ones being located in Spain or Mexico.  By going through a program that my college affiliated with my financial aid would pay my tuition for the study abroad program.  In considering all of the options I chose a study abroad program that no other Spanish major in my school had gone to.  I decided to go to Argentina with IES, the Institute for the International Education of Students.

Why did I chose Argentina?  Salamanca, Spain was by far more popular and well-visited by other students at my school.  Mexico would be closer and more familiar.  I honestly didn’t know a lot about Argentina but the allure for me was that it was an opportunity to see someplace I otherwise probably would never see.  I figured I could always go to Spain or Mexico later in life but while I had my financial aid and had the structured college program I wanted to go someplace different.

I arrived in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, in February 1998, late summertime in South America. This was my first time leaving the U.S. (I’d traveled to Canada of course but I grew up in Minnesota so that doesn’t count).  I was met at the airport by the program director for IES La Plata, Irina Podogorny.  I guess you could say she was the first person I met when I got to Argentina.  Once all of the U.S. students had arrived we were herded onto a mini-bus for the 1 1/2 hour journey to our host city of La Plata, Argentina.  After a brief orientation we were introduced to our families.  All I knew going into the program is that I would be living in a local home, nothing more. 

My host “family” was a divorced woman, Nilda Garcia, with a grown son, German, and daughter, Gabriela, that lived in the same town but no longer were at home.  Upon reaching my new home for the next few months I collapsed on the bed and slept for several hours.  My first few days passed in a haze of only half understanding everything that was said to me and absorbing huge amounts of new language.  I quickly learned that my academic Spanish wasn’t very useful when trying to communicate on how to turn on the hot water heater, what to eat for breakfast, how to reach my Host Mom at work, getting an extra blanket for the bed and a myriad of other day to day situations.

I was lonely.  I don’t know how much culture shock I really went through, the think I remember most is the loneliness and depression that set in.  I missed my boyfriend (now husband of 7 years) horribly.  Unfortunately I didn’t make any friends with anyone my age there.  Most young people at age 20 in Argentina went to clubs and bars.  It’s typical for young people to be out until 5am even on a weeknight.  I’ve honestly never been dancing or clubbing in my life.  My college, Gustavus Adolphus College, was located in a small town and there were no dance clubs.  In hindsight I wish I would have left my comfort zone and tried something new.  Unfortunately my sense of adventure only extended to traveling to South America but not to “doing what the Romans do.”  I really think my Host Mom was exasperated that I was always around. I didn’t go out with any friends, I didn’t go out to clubs, I mainly just stayed home and slept or studied.

Although a serious depression and loneliness kept me from getting as much out of the experience as I could have I did learn a lot.  I learned a lot of language, I learned a lot about Argentine culture, history, literature and women’s studies.  I went on several field trips that were included with the program and took one two short trips within the country during breaks.  At the time I felt I didn’t see much – many of my North American peers were traveling to other parts of South America after the program was over and I just didn’t have the money to be able to do that.

Since it is my travels around Argentina that stand out in my memory as the highlights of the experience I want to chronicle those journeys in separate photo essays so please stay tuned.

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I am kind, honest, open minded, detail oriented and intellectual.

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