Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

Eva's grave

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This place will always have a special place in my heart. Although it wasn’t what I expected, there were many positive aspects of my stay.

One reason why I will never forget Argentina is because I celebrated my 21st birthday here. The birthday that means so much in the United States but unfortunately has no meaning pretty much everywhere else. Some of my professors recognized that it was an important age in the U.S. and of course all the students were ready to celebrate. My host mom made carne (beef) for dinner (which isn’t a common meal in my homestay). After dinner there were cupcakes and she sang happy birthday to me in English and I blew out the candles. She then made me go get my camera, and then I had to blow out the candles a second time. After dinner I went out with my friends.  Many people from my program came, and everyone seemed to have an amazing time. I was afraid that my birthday wouldn’t be exciting here, but Argentina knows how to party.

Another positive was the size of the program. There were only about 50 students this semester. This was great because it allowed us to be closer. I didn’t have just one small group of friends because everyone was nice and willing to hang out. Also, because it was such a small group, the staff knew everyone’s name. This was such a different experience because of course the staff in New York does not know who I am. The small size allowed for the whole program to go on the same weekend trip together which was not my experience the first time I studied abroad. Most of my classes were small as well. This helped with learning because everyone had a chance to speak.

I loved the meat dishes. They were so tender and once I watched my waiter cut the meat with a spoon. This is what Argentina is known for and it didn’t disappoint.  I found some delicious desserts, I discovered my favorite empanadas (carne picante – they are actually spicy), and I tried some awesome wine. Even though the food here can get a little boring, there are still some great food options. Choripan with chimichurri, and dulce de leche, will forever have a place in my heart.

Although I wish there had been more time to travel, and I wish I had gotten closer to my host family, coming to Argentina was a great experience and an interesting alternative for those who don’t want to study in Europe or for those who already have.

Lujan Zoo

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Another must see/do that while studying abroad in Buenos Aires is to visit the Lujan Zoo. It is about an hour bus ride from the city (only if you catch the bus in the right place, otherwise you cannot catch the express bus and it takes several hours) but this long ride is well worth it. This zoo is unlike any other. Instead of just getting to see the animals, you get to actually touch them. No, I am not describing a petting zoo. You get to enter the cages of Lions and Tigers and touch them!

Some people believed that the animals are drugged although the zoo argues that they have been raised with dogs and are therefore calm and playful. I had a baby tiger jump on my back and playfully bite me. I wasn’t afraid though, mainly because I thought it was a dog. There was a dog in the cage and since I am used to dogs doing this I just assumed it was the dog. I was taking a picture with the mom tiger and couldn’t see what was on me. The baby tiger was very cute and did not hurt me.

I recommend this place because it is very unusual. Usually when people go to Taiwan I see pictures of them with tigers. It is not necessary to go to Taiwan for that because it can happen right here in Buenos Aires. I fed baby goats, laid my head on a tiger, posed with lions, and fed elephants. This was one of the first places I went when my mom came to visit me and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

San Telmo

Choripan in San Telmo

Everybody has different interests. For example, I am not a museum person. Several people have raved about a few museums here, but I can’t comment on that.  For that reason, the most important thing to do in Buenos Aires is not a museum.

The one thing that I truly believe that everyone should do is to go to San Telmo for the fair on Sundays. I know it sounds really touristy but it is so much fun. I admit that I was not interested in the fair when I first arrived. People kept describing it as an antique fair and I have no interest in Antiques. I finally decided to go with a couple friends.

The first time I went it was overwhelming. There were vendors everywhere and at first it all looked like junk. My friends bought a few things but I couldn’t find anything that I thought would make a great gift. It was beginning to rain so I didn’t stay long.

However, when my mom came to visit I decided to return to the fair because it is often described as the thing to do on Sundays. Things were much more appealing this time. I have to admit that it was a little intimidating. We couldn’t decide on what to get. There was lots of jewelry, wine holders, accessories, hand made goods, and the list goes on and on. It is much more than just antiques. Many of the prices are decent, most things of interest were 150 pesos or less (the equivalent of about 30 dollars). It adds up easily when buying gifts for the whole family all in one day. We ended up having to take a break to decide on which things were worth buying. We ate choripan (one of my favorite Argentine foods) at an outdoor place along the market to rest. We spent most of our day at the fair but in the end left with many gifts.

I went back a third time on my last Sunday to buy Christmas gifts for the family. Since I had already been twice, I knew which section of the fair to visit. I was able to make a quick trip to the market and kept things at a reasonable price.  I bought gifts for everyone for less than $100 USD.

I recommend visiting the market more than once. The first time can be overwhelming but it gets better every time. You learn which prices are fair since many venders sell the same things. You also learn which sections have the best goods. Although this is a very touristy option, I highly recommend going to the San Telmo fair and starting in Plaza Dorrego.

Negative Nancy? Not Now.

Montevideo

I realized that I had less than one month left in Buenos Aires and I became frustrated. I thought of all the ways the city wasn’t what I imagined it to be, the fact that I hadn’t done as much traveling as I thought I would, didn’t enjoy my homestay or classes as much as I had hoped, and once I started thinking of all of the things I had to do to prepare for next semester, my mind began to explode. I didn’t have all my Christmas gifts bought, I wasn’t sure about my classes for next semester and I had no idea where I was going to live. Add all of these problems with the stress of rapidly approaching finals and you get a very confused JNicole. I didn’t want to think about anything or do anything. I was upset that two of my best friends here were going to Chile and I couldn’t go because our class schedules were so different. Thanksgiving was approaching and although I was thankful for the opportunity to travel and study abroad for another semester, I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing.

So I sat, thought, and pouted. Feeling drained of energy I mindlessly searched the web. And then it hit me. “Go somewhere nearby for Thanksgiving weekend since you don’t have much time” I thought to myself. Uruguay is the quickest country to get to from Buenos Aires as it is just a ferry ride away. I decided to go to Montevideo and Punta del Este for the weekend because both cities had beaches for me to relax. Since several of my friends had already visited these two cities, and I knew a few people that were going Thanksgiving weekend so I decided to just book my ticket and go. I had traveled alone before in Europe, so I figured going to Uruguay by myself would be the perfect way to relax and get back to happiness.

That weekend trip was what I never knew I needed. I learned several things about myself in just four days. The first thing I learned was that I am really lucky. On the morning that I was leaving for Uruguay the door to my homestay was jammed and it took an hour to fix the problem. I was stressing out and didn’t get to the dock until it was time for my boat to leave. Lady luck was on my side that day and I was able to make it on the boat (Argentines are horrible with time). When I got to Montevideo I walked around peaceful and ran into four boys from NYU in Buenos Aires. We decided to go to a café together. After we parted ways I went back to my hostel and ended up having dinner with my roommate. I had a relaxing night and slept well.

The second thing I learned/relearned was that traveling alone had its perks. For one I could change my plans whenever I wanted to. I woke up in the morning to walk along the coast and take pictures. It seemed like Montevideo was a perfect mixture of a city and a beach town. I walked around the coast for an hour and ended up having lunch with two girls from NYU BA who I ran into while exploring the city.  I hadn’t planned to spend so much time in Montevideo because I heard that it wasn’t that interesting of a city but I enjoyed my time there. I didn’t leave for Punta del Este until 4 when I had originally planned to leave around noon (good thing buses leave every 30 minutes).

Next, I realized that eating alone isn’t as depressing as it sounds. I took myself out to dinner and didn’t feel alone. I was happy with my meal and the price.  It was near my hostel which made it convenient since I didn’t want to walk back in the dark alone.

When I got back to my hostel I saw the four boys plus one more from NYU BA. We ended up hanging out that night and the next day. I learned that I could get along with other people with ease. I had never really spent that much time with them in Buenos Aires but we seemed to mesh well.

In the end my vacation was the perfect mix of solitude and being with friends. I returned to Buenos Aires refreshed and ready for the laborious weeks ahead.

Tips

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Choose your study abroad site wisely. Studying in Europe and Studying in South America are two different things. I have done both and they can’t be compared. Buenos Aires is still a new site and just celebrated its 5 year anniversary. There are no free trips and only a few activities that are offered are free. Traveling is also much harder to do here than in Europe. There aren’t any budget airlines and taking a bus requires more time. But it’s not all bad. Traveling may be limited to the week-long break and a couple weekend trips, but that allows for more time to get to know the city of Buenos Aires. This site is different from my experience in Europe because pretty much everyone in the program lives in a homestay here. This helps to improve language skills and makes getting to know Argentine culture easier. I recommend living in a homestay but I suggest that if there is a problem talk to the family and then consider moving out. Don’t ruin your experience by living with a family that isn’t the ideal situation. When moving out of a homestay there is an interview process which makes it easier to decide where to live. Don’t put up with things you don’t have to.

With that being said it is important to research information about Buenos Aires. Although it is sometimes fun to go in with no expectations, it could be helpful to know more about the city. We recently had an end of the year party at the site and the student speakers made fun of the fact that many people looked at a map, saw that Buenos Aires was near water, and assumed it was a beach town. Wrong! Unfortunately there are no beaches nearby. Doing research will also help with knowing what to pack. It was pretty cold when I first arrived but it has been 80 degrees and higher every day since November (except for the day after a storm when it briefly falls down to the 70s).

Also, know that not every day is going to feel like the time of your life. There will be days where you really love the city (hopefully) and your new friends, and there will also be times when you just want to go home. This is completely normal and there is an onsite psychiatrist and an onsite doctor if you need any help.

Furthermore, be prepared for what was once referred to as “comida beige.” The food here is not the most exciting. Look for places with spicy empanadas because they will make life more enjoyable. The meat here is delicious, and meat and carbs make up the entire Argentine diet. Don’t feel guilty about eating at McDonald’s (their ice cream is the bomb) and make sure you eat plenty of dulce de leche. Actually, don’t go a day without it. Keep your eyes peeled for new restaurants to try because the food here can get boring quickly. There is a lack of spice here so I suggest bringing your own.

Lastly, travel, eat at Mexican restaurants, drink mate, go to the park, discuss politics with taxi drivers, spend all of your pesos at the San Telmo market, stay clear of ATMs and use xoom instead, and finally, Have fun!

NYU Field Trips-Worth it!

Me and the falls

NYU took us on a field trip to Iguazu falls in Argentina and it was an amazing deal. Although it wasn’t free like the trips in Paris, it was still much cheaper than doing it alone. Also, instead of only spending one night and two days like we did in Paris, we had three full days of fun.

We left on Halloween night which was a little bit of a bummer. Even though it is not celebrated here by going trick-or-treating, several bars and clubs recognize the American holiday. Luckily I was able to find a club that celebrated Halloween the Saturday before and was able to celebrate one of my favorite holidays.

Getting back to the topic of the field trip, we took an overnight bus Wednesday night to a farm in the province of Missiones. Almost everyone in the program went and those that didn’t missed out on the fun. Most of us were on a private bus with the student life coordinators Alejandra, Diego, and the tour guide Marina. About ten other students and Pedro, another student life guy, took a public bus which got stuck in traffic for hours. They left earlier than the private bus but ended up arriving hours after the private bus. The quality of both buses was very nice as buses here tend to be pretty luxurious. The chairs reclined pretty far and came with a pillow and a blanket. The seats were spacious and dinner and breakfast was served. My bus (the private one) watched Step Up after dinner and then we all went to sleep.

At the farm there was plenty of food and a pool. The place grew tea and even had cacti on the property. There was table tennis, tennis, hammocks, and a porch swing. I ate many tortas fritas and drank mate. Then we went for a walk and saw how the yerba mate is dried. After the walk we cooled down in the pool until lunch. First we ate choripan (the traditional thing to eat while waiting for an asado) with lemonade and then had salad and grilled meat.  After lunch we left the farm and went to the Jesuit ruins which were pretty cool. We had a buffet dinner at the hotel which also had a pool and many places to sit outside.

Friday morning we woke up early to get to the Iguazu waterfalls as the park was opening. The sights were unbelievable. My favorite part was the optional boat ride into the waterfalls. I got soaked and it was so much fun. After leaving the falls the rest of the night was free. We ate dinner at the hotel, made use of the pool and the sauna, and went into town to check out the nightlife. When we got back to the hotel many of us sat and talked on the porch before calling it a night and going to bed.

On the last day we were able to sleep in. We had free time in the morning and many chose to go to the point where you could see the monuments of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. It’s crazy that the borders were so close. Later we went to a mine and saw some beautiful gems. We all flew back to Buenos Aires on a nice plane with drinks and snacks.

I definitely recommend going on the excursion with NYU. Although it may seem expensive it is a great deal and so much fun. Be sure to add this trip into your budget for the semester.

Student life

Tigre!

NYU in Buenos Aires is very lucky to have an amazing student life staff. They are approachable and very helpful. They even know your name! That’s one of the perks of having a small community. It’s a little weird at first since they have pictures of you and know you before they have even seen you in person, but I’m glad that they took the time to try to know me. Whenever I have a question they not only answer it, but talk to me about how things are going.

The student life team also puts together fun things to do. They show movies and even taught us how to make mate, the drink that Argentines love to have. One of my favorite activities that they offered was the Ritmos Caribeños dance/ workout class. I loved it because it was a lot like Zumba which I also admire. It was a great way to work up a sweat while also learning some new dance moves. The music was great and the instructors were very nice. They even let us stay for the next dance class. There are supposed to be a couple more of those classes offered before the semester ends so I look forward to that. I might even go to that dance studio another time and try out some of the other classes that they offer.

Another great part of student life is when classes go on field trips. Often times the student life staff sends out emails and invites other students not in the class to join. It’s a great way to get a free tour of an area along with some history that we may not have known before. My favorite class field trip was a trip to Tigre. Many students went there on their own, but I was able to join a class and go for free. It was a lot of fun and I hope to go back because there is an amusement park that I would love to visit.

The activities that NYU puts together for us are a lot of fun and I recommend taking full advantage of them.

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