Monday, May 14, 2007


So I saw that there were some questions from Ms. LeClair’s class, so here are your answers! I’m glad that you all are getting to learn about Latin America – it’s a really interesting place and I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves in schools!

What is it like to go to school there?

Going to school here is a really interesting experience. I’m taking one class at FLACSO (my program center) called International Relations of Latin America, an Argentine Literature class at the University of Buenos Aires’ language center, and two classes at the University of Buenos Aires’ Social Science Department, one about Argentine history and the other about modern Latin American Political Economy. UBA is an experience in itself – it’s a HUGE, public university and it’s notoriously under-funded by the government, so the buildings are rundown, there’s no heat, and the bathrooms are always broken. Also, since the professors are so underpaid (I actually just read in the paper that over half of the UBA professors teach for free), there are professor strikes pretty much every other week. The student body is extremely political, and walking into the building is like walking into an indoor political rally. There are flyers, posters, and murals on every surface, and tables for student political groups line the hallways. Most of the students there are really liberal, so groups like the Youth Communist Revolution Party and the Leftist Socialist Party are really common. Also, you can’t turn a corner without seeing Che Guevara’s iconic face staring you down. I can definitely tell that there’s a fair amount of anti-U.S. feelings there too, as evidenced by spray-painted pictures of President Bush with a swastika on his forehead and posters protesting against U.S. “Imperialism” and telling “Yanquis” (the Argentine word for people from the U.S.) to get out of Latin America. I’ve never felt personally attacked as a U.S. student studying there, but I think for the most part the students know how to separate the U.S. government from its people. At least I hope so.

It’s definitely hard sometimes taking classes at an Argentine university because I’m coming in with a natural disadvantage (not being a native Spanish speaker). Even though I speak Spanish well, there are still times when I have absolutely no idea what the professor is talking about because they speak too fast, or they use vocabulary that I don't know. Overall though, it’s really fun because I’m learning about Latin America from a Latin American perspective, from Latin American professors and with Latin American students. It’s immersion at its finest!

Why is Santiago so polluted? WOW!

I’m not exactly sure, but I think the pollution in Santiago has a lot to do with smog that comes from the city’s industries and cars. I think the fact that the city is surrounded by mountains keeps a lot of the pollution trapped there. Also, most Latin American countries are known for paying very little attention to environmental policy and environmental conservation, and I think Chile is one of those countries.

It is really cool that you get to travel to so many different countries and experience different cultures.

I agree, it is really cool. There’s really no better way to learn a language, or learn about a country than by going to it and experiencing it for yourself. I’ve been really lucky to have the chance to spend this year on two different continents!

Why did you decide to go to Argentina? How many people are you with?

I decided to come to Argentina because I’m really interested in Latin America and I wanted to study abroad in a city where I could get a lot of practice speaking Spanish and where I could experience Latin American culture firsthand. Buenos Aires was the perfect combination! Also, there are about 100 people on the program with me.

Is a funicular like a cable car on a zip line? How long did it take to get to the top of San Cristobal Hill?

A furnicular is like a big open-air elevator that rides on a track up and down the side of a mountain. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the top of the hill - not too bad of a ride!

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Mendoza! A Jujuy!

So the past couple of weeks have been a little crazy: it’s getting into midterm time here so I’ve been swamped with schoolwork (yes, there is actually schoolwork here!). But the best part of the past four weeks have been the two trips I took with my program, one to Mendoza and one to Jujuy. They were both amazing – it was so nice to get out of the city for a while, breath some real, non-polluted air, and see some completely different parts of Argentina.

Mendoza (18/4 – 22/4)

Mendoza is one of the provinces of Argentina, located on the western side of the country next to Chile, and also known as La Tierra de Sol y Buen Vino, the Land of Sun and Good Wine. Most people are familiar with the city of Mendoza (probably Argentina’s most famous city after Buenos Aires), but we spent our trip in San Rafael, which is a more rural part of the province. As our program staff told us, the point of this trip was to “pásalo bien” which basically means to have fun, relax and enjoy each other’s company. So even though we spent a lot of our time sleeping, getting fed pretty much every two hours, and relaxing at the hotel (which was in a gorgeous spot – right near a river at the foothills of some gorgeous small mountains), there were a few highlight activities:

Highlight #1…Wine Day!

The second day we spent in Mendoza was dedicated to wine – which is what Mendoza is most famous for. The province produces about 70% of the country’s wine and is where Argentina’s famous Malbec grape is grown. We got a little taste of both sides of the wine industry –visiting the large, more corporate Bianchi winery first and then heading to a small, local farm that makes its own wine, dried fruit and jams.

Highlight #2…Horseback Riding!

After about two minutes on the horses our guide were leading us up the side of a cliff into into the mountains near our hotel, getting gorgeous views of canyons, hills, and the river as we rode. Needless to say, it was a big step up from my last foray into horseback riding (I was probably about 10 or 11, with my girl scout troop, and had to ride a Shetland Pony because I was too small for a real horse).

Basically the Mendoza trip was a weekend of eating, sleeping, drinking delicious Malbec wine, hiking, and enjoying nature for a change. After living in an urban jungle like Buenos Aires for a while, you can start to forget that there’s an actual world out there with trees and rivers and clear skies.

Jujuy (2/5 – 6/5)

The second program trip took me to Jujuy, one of Argentina’s poorest and most traditional provinces, in the Andean northwest on the border between Chile and Bolivia. Even though we were still within Argentine borders, it felt like we had stepped into a completely different country. Everything, from the food to the people to the culture to the scenery, was nothing like what I’ve been experiencing here in Buenos Aires. Our trip was spent mostly in the Quebrada de la Humahuaca, a huge mountain canyon stretching from north to south, filled with small towns and tiny farms.

We were told that the area had been inhabited for over 10,000 years, first by indigenous groups and then by the Incans who conquered the area in the 15th century and used the Quebrada as a caravan road between Peru and Argentina. We spent most of our trip in the Quebrada, stopping in the towns of Tilcara, Humahuaca and Purmamarca where we visited archeological sites with pre-Columbian indigenous and Inca ruins, explored ancient agricultural terraces, and shopped at local fairs filled with carved handpipes, scarves and hats made out of alpaca hair, and bags of coca leaves.

The last day was probably the most amazing of the trip. We spent the morning at Las Salinas Grandes, a former lake that had turned into a huge stretch of salt flats over the years. Standing in the middle of the flats, all you could see was white all around you, contrasted with the clear blue sky and the Andes in the background.

After the Salinas, we headed to Purmamarca, where we hiked around the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven C olors), an absolutely gorgeous and colorful area of mountains and valleys which, as someone commented, looked like a scene straight out of A Land Before Time.

At night, after a huge asado feast, we got to listen to an amazing indigenous music group – complete with horns, drums, and handpipes – that quickly turned into a huge dance party with everyone in our group, our program staff, and the musicians.

The trip was absolutely amazing, mostly because it was a completely different Argentina from what I’ve been experiencing. The poverty was much more visible, the scenery made me feel like I was in Bolivia, and the indigenous influence was so much more prevalent. I hardly ever get to see the indigenous side of Latin America in Buenos Aires. For one reason, most people here come from European descent, since Buenos Aires was a huge center of immigration in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Also, in the late 1800’s, the Argentine government embarked on the “Campaña del desierto,” a military campaign in the southern Pampas and Patagonia region that essentially wiped out most of those areas’ indigenous populations. Nowadays, the indigenous populations are concentrated in areas like Jujuy, in the northwest of the country. Those who do live in Buenos Aires are usually immigrants from Bolivia or Peru and live in poorer areas in the outskirts of the city. Indigenous culture is such a huge part of Latin America, and it was really interesting to be somewhere where it was THE dominant culture, not the one pushed off to the margins.

The other thing I loved about Jujuy was the food. I’m getting sick of the bland porteño fare (you can only eat so much pizza and empanadas), so the Jujuy cuisine was a nice change. I ate tons of tamales, locro (a traditional corn stews), and even tried llama meat. The food actually has SPICE there, which was a welcomed change, since porteños are notorious for having really bland palates.

All in all, Jujuy was an amazing trip. Now it’s back to Buenos Aires and my regular life here. I can’t believe it’s halfway through May already!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Semana Santa en Chile

So Easter Week led me across the border and across the Andes to Chile, Argentina’s skinny neighbor. After an easy 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires, an annoying $100 “reciprocity fee” that all U.S. citizens have to pay to get into the country (a clever way for Chileans to get back at the U.S. for charging $100 just to TRY to get an American visa), and a quick shuttle ride from the airport we were in Santiago, the capital. We spent 2 nights in Santiago and I really liked it – even though it’s a huge city, it felt much more laid back and WAY less hectic than Buenos Aires. We stayed in a really nice neighborhood, Bellavista (described as the “bohemia” of Santiago), which had tons of colorful houses, cobblestone streets and little restaurants and shops.

We spent most of the first day exploring a bunch of Santiago’s modern and fine art museums, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Contemporary Art Museum and the Museum of Visual Arts. A lot of the art dealt with the September 11, 1973 coup against Salvador Allende (a democratically elected president) and the almost 20-year military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet that followed it. Besides still being very present in the art we saw, the memory of the “Chilean September 11th” was all over the streets:

We also took a tour of La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago, which had lots of artwork and gifts from famous friends of his like Diego Rivera and Siqueiros, his Nobel Prize, and tons of quirky furniture, dishes and decorations. After a late lunch we wandered over to the Plaza de Armas, the city’s main plaza:

On our second day in Santiago, we took a funicular up to the top of San Cristobal Hill, the highest point in the city, which (of course, this is Latin America) has a huge statue of the Virgin Mary on top, watching over Santiago.

Usually San Cristobal has an amazing view of the city and the Andes behind it. Sadly, you can usually only see that “amazing view” right after it rains because Santiago is absolutely covered in pollution. We did get a good view of Santiago itself, but could only make out the outline of the Andes behind the thick smog. Here are a few views of the city from the top (you can sort of make out the outline of the mountains in the background if you look closely):

After our few days in Santiago, we took a bus to Valparaíso, a port city about 2 hours north of Santiago. The city is built on a huge hill overlooking a bay, and tons of the houses are painted bright/beachy colors. We spent one morning exploring the hilly streets and looking at the colorful houses, a lot of which are decorated with murals and mosaics.

Even though Valparaiso was really pretty and seemed like a great place to live, we discovered that there wasn’t a lot to actually do there, so we spent most of our time at the beaches in Viña del Mar, the town next door. Needless to say, after being in the urban jungle of Buenos Aires for five weeks, it felt really nice to see the ocean again. Here are some pictures of the beaches in Viña:

Overall it was a really fun and relaxing trip. It was really interesting to experience another Latin American country and see the differences in everything from accents to food to architecture. Here are my favorite things about Chile:

1. The fact that they put palta (avocado) on EVERYTHING
2. The Santiago subway system (well-organized and planned, clean, and not ridiculously crowded - Buenos Aires, take note)
3. The lack of humidity
4. The fact that no matter where you go you're never too far from the ocean

I’d also say that one of the highlights of the trip was the people we met in the hostels we stayed at. A lot of them had been traveling all throughout Latin America for months, and it made me realize that there’s so much more of Latin America that I want to see. We even met one Canadian couple who had been traveling around the world for almost a year and had been to every single continent. Amazing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Plaza de Mayo

So I had planned on posting this entry last Tuesday, but a little crisis involving me getting my wallet stolen on the colectivo sort of messed up that plan. So here's what I was planning on posting:

Since I'm finally up on technology and figured out how to post pictures here, I figured I could give you all a little taste of some of the major sights in Buenos Aires.

Here we have the Plaza de Mayo, the main plaza/square in downtown BsAs. It is named after the May Revolution of 1810 which started the movement for the city's (and eventually the country's) independence from Spain. In the late 1940s it was home to massive rallies of "descamisados" (the shirtless ones - Perón's name for the lower-class workers who supported him) that gathered to hear the speeches of Pres. Perón and their beloved Evita. In the 1970s it became home to the "Madres de la Plaza de Mayo," a group of mothers who marched around the plaza's central statue, protesting Argentina's military dictatorship and demanding the return of their sons who had been kidnapped (and consequently tortured and killed) by the government's paramilitary forces. The "desparecidos" are still very much in the minds of Argentines and since the 70s, the Madres have still marched every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. My host lady told me that they don't march anymore, but I'm going to go down to the Plaza one Thursday to see if that's true.

Here's the Casa Rosada, the centerpiece of the Plaza de Mayo and the seat of executive branch of Argentina's government. There's a few theories as to why the building is painted pink. One of which is that the President in power at the time of its construction chose the color to fuse the colors (red and white) of Argentina's opposing political parties. Another theory is that the paint used contained ox blood, giving it a pink hue. As you can see from the pictures, they're doing construction right now. My Argentine Literature professor told us that they're re-painting the house to restore its original shade of pink, which had been lost after years of new paint jobs. The balcony of the Casa Rosada is where Juan and Eva Peron would make their famous speeches, and the Argentine government actually allowed Madonna to be filmed singing from the balcony for the movie "Evita" (which most Argentines were not too happy about).

Nowadays, the Plaza de Mayo ground zero for political protests in Buenos Aires. You can tell just by looking at the graffiti around the plaza:

Well hopefully that's enough of a history lesson for now. I'll hopefully be able to post about my Chile trip within the next few days. For now, it's back to classes and the "real world."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Buenos Aires, por fin

So I have officially been in Buenos Aires for a month. The past four weeks have been very busy with orientation, trying out classes, and getting to know this huge city, so I haven’t had much time to sit down and reflect. What better time to start than now!

Buenos Aires is absolutely huge (about 12 million people live here) and although a lot of people call it the “Paris of the South,” it reminds me more of New York City. I’ve already had my fair share of adventures with public transportation and getting completely lost trying to walk somewhere, but I’m slowly but surely learning my way around. Even though BsAs has a subway system, it’s very old and poorly planned, so most people take public buses (called colectivos here). There are literally hundreds of different buses and bus routes, making it really convenient to get around the city, but also really confusing for a newcomer like me.

My home for the next four months is in the barrio (neighborhood) of Recoleta, which is in the north of the city. It’s a pretty residential neighborhood with lots of parks, restaurants and cafes. It’s probably most famous for being the home to the Recoleta Cemetery – the resting place of that kindof famous former first lady, Eva Perón, who is buried there in the Duarte family crypt. The crypt is actually pretty simple compared to the rest of them, despite being the home of Argentina’s most famous corpse.

My Argentine host lady Cecilia is really great. She’s only 26, so she’s more like a host older sister or host aunt. It’s definitely not the “traditional” host family experience like I had in Spain, but I really like the change. We have a lot in common – she studied international relations too and loves travel and languages. She invites me out with her friends all the time, so I’ve already had the chance to meet and talk to a bunch of young Argentines.

My program is centered at FLACSO (Facultad Lationamericana de Ciencias Sociales), which is a Latin American social science “think tank” founded by UNESCO in the 1950s to promote the study of Latin American social sciences. Nowadays FLACSO runs a graduate program but also offers classes for undergraduates through my program. I’m taking one class at FLACSO, International Relations of Latin America, an Argentine Literature class through the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)’s language lab, and two classes at UBA’s social science department (Argentine History and Transition, Crisis and Reform: The New Scenarios in Latin America). All of my classes seem really interesting, but the UBA classes are going to be a lot of work. I’ll write about UBA another day because it’s a really interesting place and completely different from Tufts.

It feels good to be speaking Spanish again. The Argentine accent is very distinct though, and it took a little while to get used to that. Argentines (especially porteños) pronounce their “y”s and “ll”s like “sh.” So, for example, “Yo me llamo” is pronounced “Sho me shamo.” It’s completely different from the accent in Spain, and I actually like it a lot more. I think it’s pretty and it gives Argentine Spanish extra character. Personally, I feel like I can function almost completely in Spanish and a Spanish-speaking country. However, I think the challenge for me now is to learn how to be “me” in Spanish. Communicating your personality and truly being yourself in another language is really hard and that can be extremely frustrating.

In a week and a half I’m going to Chile for Semana Santa (Easter week) with a friend of mine from the program. We’re going to spend 2-3 days in Santiago and then a few days in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, two oceanfront towns north of Santiago, where my friend Chloe is studying for the semester. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and it will be really interesting to experience another South American country and see how people live and act there.

So I think those are the basics of my experience so far. A bit vague, I know, but it's hard to boil down an intense experience like study abroad into neat little blog entries. Instead of just updating about my day to day activities, I think I’m going to write more about my observations and particular experiences with Argentine and Buenos Aires culture as they come.

Until next time, chau!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vale, vale, vale

I´ve had an nice break from traveling the past two weekends, which has given me the chance to get into Madrid a lot and explore. Last weekend, I went to see Volver (the new Almodovar movie), which was amazing. I loved the movie and it was so cool to be in an actual movie theater in Spain seeing a movie by Spain´s most famous director and actually understanding it. I even laughed at some of the jokes when the Spanish people did, which was exciting. After the movie, my friends and I went and had tapas on the Plaza Mayor, which is all lit-up and filled with people at night. Sunday I went to El Rastro, which is a huge open-air market in Madrid that happens every Sunday. It was really hot out and super-crowded, but still really cool to walk around and take it all in. After the Rastro, we went to the Retiro park (basically the Central Park of Madrid) and walked around and relaxed for a while. This past week was Halloween, which is sort of catching on in Spain. Everyone goes out on Halloween because the next day is All Saint´s Day and no one has to go to work or school. It was fun to dress up (we went as pirates), but Spaniards aren´t very creative with their costumes. They mostly go as witches, vampires, zombies and things along that vein. On Friday of this week, we went to Toledo (a medieval city outside of Madrid) for a day trip. It was POURING out the entire day and walking around the city for 6 hours wasn´t exactly fun in the rain. I think I would have been able to appreciate it more if it hadn´t been so miserable out. Last night I went to my first flamenco show. A bunch of us went into Madrid to Casa Patas, a restaurant/tavern that has flamenco every night. The show was awesome -the dancers were incredible (the dancing involves a lot of intricate hand motions and foot stomping/tapping) and the music was beautiful - lots of drumming, Spanish guitar, and clapping.

Overall, things are still going really well, although I can´t believe it´s half-way over! Three of my best friends from Tufts are coming this weekend from France and Germany to stay in Madrid and visit, so I´m really excited to see them and to show them around the city. I will try to update again next week!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Barcelona y Andalucía

The past two weekends I’ve spent traveling to two completely different regions of Spain. Two weekends ago I went with three other girls from my program to Barcelona, the biggest city in Cataluña, a region located right next to France on the Mediterranean Sea. This past weekend I went with all of the Tufts in Madrid/Alcalá program to Baeza, Úbeda and Córdoba, three cities in Andalucía, the southern-most region of Spain. Here’s a recap of my two trips:


Barcelona is an absolutely beautiful city, and it was a lot of fun to have the freedom to explore it for ourselves and choose what we wanted to see. We took an overnight bus from Madrid, arriving in Barcelona early in the morning on Thursday. We left on Sunday morning, so we had three days in the city. After a little mix-up with our hostel, we ended up renting our own little apartment for the three nights. It worked out perfectly because we had our own kitchen and bathroom and could leave our stuff there without having to worry about it getting stolen. Since it was pouring the day we got there, we decided to hit up the Picasso Museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona when he was younger, so the museum has a lot of his early works. It also had a bunch of paintings from his Blue Period and Cubist period. My favorite part of the museum was a room dedicated to a technical study Picasso had done of Valazquez’s Las Meninas. There were about 40 paintings in the room, most of which were interpretations Picasso had done of the individual characters in Las Meninas. At the end, there were 4 or 5 interpretations he had done of the complete work, of course in his own abstract/cubist style. Since I had just seen the real Las Meninas in the Prado a few weeks ago, it was amazing to see it interpreted in such a different way. Needless to say, I love Picasso even more after going to that museum. Friday was dedicated completely to Gaudi, the Catalan architect who led the modernist architectural movement in Cataluña during the late 1800s/early 1900s. His style is completely different from anything I’ve seen anywhere (not just in Spain). I think the word “wacky” would best describe it. He used a lot of different materials (glass, tiles, mosaics, metal, etc.) and lots of curvy lines and shapes. Instead of using straight lines, Gaudi liked to imitate the lines that exist in nature: the curves of waves, the slant of tree trunks, etc. to create a more organic art. My favorite building we saw was the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral that Gaudi designed and was working on building when he died. It’s still being worked on to this day (a lot of people call it “the world’s most visited construction site”) and it probably won’t be finished until the middle of the century. I think the Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen…it’s absolutely HUGE and the outside is so incredibly detailed and covered with wacky touches that you could look at it for hours. The inside was not as memorable because it was covered in construction equipment, but I was in love with the outside. It was very cool to see a Catholic church built in such a crazy, progressive style – not something you see every day. The other Gaudi buildings we went to that day were La Pedrera (a former apartment building that looks like a huge rock on the outside) and La Casa Battló, which were as equally wacky and modern as La Sagrada Familia. That night we explored La Rambla, a street in the middle of the city that leads down to the ocean and has a huge pedestrian walkway in the middle and tons of markets and shops, and went down to the Port Vell to get our first glimpse of the Mediterranean. On Saturday, we went to the Parc Guell, a Gaudi-designed park with amazing views of the city. The front entrance is filled with Gaudi creations: a huge winding park bench covered in mosaics (the longest park bench in the world!), little houses that looked like sand castles, mosaic-covered lizards that served as fountains, and wave-like walkways made out of leaning columns. After exploring the park for a while, we headed to the beach (yes, the beach in the middle of October). Since Barcelona is right on the water, there are a bunch of gorgeous beaches at the bottom of the city. It was a hot day so we got to lay out on the sand in our bathing suits and wade into the gorgeous blue Mediterranean Sea (my first time!). It was a perfect ending to our weekend. Even though I LOVED Barcelona and would go back there in a heartbeat, I'm glad that I'm not studying abroad there. Not only do many people speak Catalán there instead of Castellano Spanish, but it seemed like everywhere we went there were Americans or British people speaking English. I heard way more English there than I've ever heard in Madrid.


Even though it was pouring when we were driving to Andalucia, it was still gorgeous. Andalucia is where Spanish olives are grown, so we were driving through these fields with miles and miles of olive trees and little towns filled with whitewashed houses with red clay roofs. The first day of the trip we went to Baeza, a small town in Andalucía and looked at some churches and the old university building there. Frankly, it was a little too gross out to appreciate Baeza, but I’m sure it's beautiful during nice days. The next day we headed to Úbeda, another small town, and visited a few old churches, walked around the palm-tree lined plazas, and had a long lunch. That afternoon, we headed to Córdoba, which is one of the big three cities in Andalucía (along with Granada and Sevilla). Our first stop in Córdoba was Medina Azahar, the ruins of an old Arab city used back in the day of the 10th century when the Arabs ruled Spain from Andalucía. We got to see a lot of examples of Muslim architecture there, especially their trademark arches and incredibly ornate wall decorations. The next day, we went to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a castle built after the Christians had re-conquered Córdoba and driven the Arabs out. The best part of the castle was the gardens in the back, which were actually built in a very Islamic style (lots of paths, trees, fountains, etc.). An interesting fact about the Alcázar was that it was one of the big headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. After touring the Alcázar, we headed to La Mezquita, the most famous building in Córdoba. The Mezquita was built in the 10th century by the Arabs as an Islamic house of prayer. At one point the Mezquita was the second largest mosque in the world (after the mosque at Mecca). During the 13th century, a Catholic cathedral was built right in the middle of the Mezquita after the Christians had re-conquered Córdoba. So what you have now is a functioning cathedral in the middle of an ancient mosque. The Mezquita was my favorite part of Córdoba…the mosque part is filled with rows and rows of columns supporting yellow and red striped arches that seem to go on forever and the Muslim art is so incredibly detailed and ornate. It was gorgeous.

Even though traveling these past two weekends was a lot of fun, I'm looking forward to having this weekend to explore Madrid some more and get a lot of work done (I know, sadly there is schoolwork in Spain).