Upon arrival to the United States, API (the program I did my study abroad with) sent a bunch of ‘getting adjusted to being home’ documents. One of them was 25 questions about your study abroad experience. I have thought a lot about doing posts about my time Buenos Aires (and eventually I will do my favorite week of activities in BA), but the thought of trying to accurately document my time in that crazy city is overwhelming to say the least. I thought this was a nice way to preserve some great memories as well as be a resource to others considering a study abroad or trip to South America.
1. What was the strangest food you ate?
In Buenos Aires the food wasn’t necessarily that strange, however the change in the ratio of the different types of food in my diet was a difficult adjustment. Their diet consists of meat, pasta, pizza and maybe some greens every once in awhile (if you’re lucky). The pizza in BA is very different than I was accustomed to; thick doughy bread, a teaspoon of sauce, and lots and lots and lots of cheese… I wasn’t a huge fan, however I was able to find a pizza place, El Cuartito, which had THE BEST pizza. My mouth is watering just thinking about it….
However the meat… Oh my, it’s AMAZING. If Argentine’s know one thing, it is the mastery of meat. Asados are a huge part of their culture, very similar to a BBQ; however way more intense. The parrillas (grills) have two sections; one part to heat up the coals and the other part with a hanging grate (to cook the meat on) where you shovel the coals underneath. Asados have a couple of rules: 1. fernet and coke (pretty much the national Argentine drink) and red wine MUST be present, 2. you don’t rush the asado – the meat is done when the meat is done and 3. MORE important than the meat itself, the asado is meant to be a social gathering where the priority is to spend quality time with friends and family while making delicious, juicy to-die-for chorizos, steaks, sausages, etc. I was extremely lucky to get to participate in a couple of asados – most ranches or horseback riding adventures will include them (which are awesome!); however by far the most special were the true asados, the ones hosted by my friends where I really got to be an authentic part of the special tradition.
By far the strangest food I ate in South America was guinea pig in Aguascalientes, Peru. I am a pretty adventurous eater, but the rotisserie guinea pig got the best of me. I took about one bite, became wracked with guilt and couldn’t take another.
Huesilla, a traditional Chilean drink, was also quite strange. Peach juice with sugar, oats, and the dried peach; quite tasty though!
2. How were the restrooms different?
In Argentina you need to be conscientious about whether it is appropriate to flush toilet paper down the toilet. Outside of BA, that should just be a general no-no.
My bathroom in my host family’s house was hilarious; you could close the door, wash your hands and use the toilet all at the same time. Many flats in the city have a small bedroom off the kitchen with a tiny bathroom, originally intended for the Help. That was my room and bathroom!
3. What was your most memorable experience?
Going to the Independiente versus Boca soccer game. There is NOTHING comparable to these games in the US. The stadium literally shakes underneath your feet, the chanting and singing is unfaltering, and there are no away fans allowed. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.
Other memorable events: getting slapped by a 10 year old on the street, baby llama fetuses hanging from the witch market in La Paz, making my Argentine friends a true American brunch, constant cat-calling (the feeling that someone is always looking at you), the way your legs feel after walking around the city all day long, finding a new feria to go to every weekend, gay strip club (see below), the feeling when you found an amazing burger or Mexican food, riding collectivos, accidentally telling our Tigre canoe guide that I loved him.
4. What was the funniest thing that happened to you?
On a Monday evening Kayli and I decided we wanted to go out. We both had gotten a bit tired of the normal bar/boliche scene and wanted to start experiencing more things that you could only do in Buenos Aires. Monday evenings tend to be the one night of the week where bars will have a night off, so the pickings were a bit slim. After some reading about how phenomenal the gay nightlife was we decided to push our comfort-zone and attend a gay strip show that was happening that night!
We arrived at the bar WAY to early (it was 12 am…) and were told to come back at 1:30 am, when the show started. We wandered the streets looking for a place to have a drink, stumbling upon a kiosko (the little hole-in-the-wall stores that sell candy, gum, bus cards, etc.) that had a bar in the back! Random! So we entered, ordered a beer and played some pool. We were the only people in the bar and eventually the guy working the bar and his friend came and played pool next to us. Just another ridiculous/random evening in the city.
Getting back to the gay bar we grabbed a drink and tried to pick an inconspicuous table with a good view; near the front and on the side. The lights dimmed and the show started. Our host for the evening was a skinny, dressed-to-the-nines drag queen that spoke a million miles hour with constant biting humor. As she started interacting with audience Kayli and I realized we had made a grave mistake, we were WAY to close to her. Immediately she spotted us and honed in; two girls definitely not from Argentina without a guy… We should have just brought in signs that said “We don’t belong here, make fun of us!”
And so it began. She started asking us questions, we tried answering… Almost every other word from her mouth was some sort of sexual slang, which of course I had never heard before. Some Ecuadorian guys next to us took pity on us and helped us inform the drag queen that no, we were not lesbians and that we really did not have a great reason for coming to a gay strip show without someone who was gay. It was mortifying and absolutely hilarious all at the same time.
Finally the show began, I would imagine pretty similar to any strip show; men dressed in costume, dancing to music, taking their clothes off. Each dancer did 3 acts, the third leaving NOTHING to the imagination. We walked out of there speechless, laughing and jaws on the ground… Definitely a hilarious and memorable experience.
5. What do you miss most about your host country?
I loved the social aspect of Argentina. Every afternoon during merienda (tea time), the parks in the city would fill with Argentine’s, sitting with a group of friends or family, sharing yerba maté. Traditionally mate is a hollowed out gourd that you add yerba (tea) and hot water to, and drink out of with a special kind of straw called a bombilla. The first person in the circle drinks the full amount of liquid in the mate and passes it back to the person who filled it originally. They then refill it and pass it to the next in line in the circle. The mate keeps getting refilled and passed around the circle until they are either finished drinking or it becomes floja (lost the majority of its’ flavor).
Sharing mate was a way to relax, spend time talking with people, and reflect on the day. It was one of my favorite traditions and that importance of relaxation combined with putting in time to maintain relationships is something I believe Argentine’s are a bit better at than us in North America.
6. Where would you go if you had the chance to study abroad again?
I have a biased answer because the main purpose of my study abroad was to immerse myself in a Spanish speaking country. So choosing again, I would be torn between Ecuador or Valpairiso area in Chile… probably chose Ecuador. But if I had to chose all over from the very beginning again – I would DEFINITELY do Buenos Aires.
7. What was your living situation like abroad (host family, dorm, etc)?
I lived with a WONDERFUL host family; my host mom, Marita, and her three children; Luli (24), Sol (19) and Tomas (17).
The custom in Argentina is to live with your parents until you get married and move in with your significant other. Therefore hearing that a 27 year old still lived at home was something very common and normally. My host siblings were around all the time, which was awesome. Nobody in my family spoke English, which was a bit frightening at first, but helped to improve my Spanish more than anything else. We ate dinner together every night (usually missing one or two of my host siblings) at 9 pm; discussing the events of the day, politics, or watching The Great Escape game show (my personal favorite! – lots of Spanish trivia so I would learn a ton and we would make fun of the contestants).
Marita was a yoga teacher; extremely kind, generous and wonderful. She constantly looked out for me and always made sure that I was comfortable and happy. I got the chance to attend one of her yoga classes, which was a really fun and interesting experience.
Luli was a genuine and kind soul as well. She was super talkative and interested in me which always made it fun to practice my Spanish with her. She is an amazing singer (always singing to herself around the house) and guitar player. Her boyfriend Leo was around often and was another nice person to be around.
Sol was awesome. When I first got down there she helped me go get a cell phone and we hit it off immediately. We were similar people; science majors but also enjoyed going out and having fun. She invited me out with some of her friends when I first got there and I had a great time and probably a bit to much to drink 😉 Her boyfriend, Mateo, was awesome and I always enjoyed spending time with the two of them.
Tomas was my typical 17-year-old brother; quiet, kept a bit more to himself and LOVED soccer. I befriended him by staying up late a couple times to watch the games with him, pestering him about soccer vocabulary until he would finally open up a little and talk to me some.
I really feel so lucky to have been placed with such an incredible family. They made my study abroad experience what it was and I cannot thank them enough; each of them has a special place in my heart.
8. Who did you spend most of your free time with abroad?
I spent a lot of time alone (as lame as that sounds!). I really felt like I was able to truly experience the culture, personally grow and have more authentic experiences by forcing my self to wander solo. During my time there I did a lot of research to find unique and important things I wanted to do and thanks to my class schedule allowing for lots of free time I did many things randomly throughout the week.
However Kayli, another girl in my program, was definitely my partner in crime in Argentina. Our personalities meshed very well together and we enjoyed doing very similar things. She was the first person I would ask to accompany me on a random adventure.
I spent quite a bit of time with Vale, an Argentine girl introduced to me by a friend back home. Vale was awesome, an English teacher, and incredibly nice and warm. She was kind enough to invite me to an assortment of her events and come up and take me out to dinner right when I moved to the city. She played a huge role in developing my Spanish and when I look back on my time in Argentina my crazy fun memories with her always come to forefront of my mind.
Flor was my other great Argentine friend. An incredibly nice and kind girl she forced me to speak Spanish for half the time every time we hung out, which was great. 🙂 She welcomed me to her apartment (with her ADORABLE dog, Timoteo) whenever I wanted and was always game to go on my ‘crazy gringo’ quests on trying every single restaurant in the city haha
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, my crazy wonderful soccer team at University of Belgrano. One of the best decisions I made in BA was to join the school team. The girls were hilarious, fun and we had a fabulous time playing soccer together once or twice a week. Almost every Saturday we would have a game north of the city, meaning the majority of my Saturdays were spent waking up early, taking the train, playing soccer and (my favorite part) enjoying a Viki-mandated parrilla lunch at this awesome corner spot afterwards. As the season progressed we would have parties, eat pizza, drink wine and fernet, and pretty much do all the things any soccer team anywhere in the world does together 🙂 Male and Viki, two of the girls on the team, were incredible. Viki was a total fireball, always something hilarious to say and the life of the party, or game, or practice, or pretty much any event she was at. If you were hanging out with Viki, you were always going to have a great time. Male and I would ride the bus together from practice; chatting about life, soccer, school. A funny, wonderful and interesting girl who I looked forward to seeing every week.
9. Where did you travel before/during/after your program?
All over the place! Thankfully I kept up with this blog throughout to document all of those experiences. But in Argentina I was fortunate enough to visit
In Chile I visited
After the program I traveled with my family to Peru
and to Bolivia
10. What was your favorite place in your host city?
What a tough question, there were so many! Buenos Aires is enormous and packed full of a million interesting and great places.
Favorite place(S) would have to include wandering around in Palermo Soho (Beautiful neighborhood with yummy restaurants and bars on every corner), all of the incredible parks between the water and city (starting at Puerto Madero and continuing North), Recoleta Cemetary, and San Telmo (much like Palermo Soho however with an older, more eclectic feeling).
11. Where did you want to go but didn’t get the chance to?
I really wanted to visit Museo de las Malvinas and unfortunately wasn’t able to. The only day I traveled all the way out there something strange was going on and they had just shut down for the day. It would have been an incredible cultural experience and a great way to learn tons about the history of Argentina and Buenos Aires.
During the last couple days of my time in the city I stumbled upon Las Cañitas area in Belgrano… It was a baby Palermo! I loved it !! If I had the chance I would definitely spend more time exploring that little area.
12. What was the best language experience you had?
Hands-down going to Mar del Plata with my Argentine friend Vale. Her family has an apartment down there and so she invited me to tag along with her boyfriend, cousin and friend for a weekend on the (cold) beach. Her friend didn’t speak hardly any English and being native Spanish speakers they naturally spoke Spanish… For the whole weekend. It was an incredible experience for me. At one dinner we spoke English for 10 minutes and it honestly felt as though I had been holding breath all weekend and I COULD FINALLY BREATH! Speaking English felt so good and wonderful, such a funny feeling. It was such an incredible time… I feel SO fortunate to have been a part of it 🙂