Last Post from the South

So, looks like this might be my last post before heading off on my Patagonia adventure with my parents and then arriving HOME mid-December. Although I know I’ll miss Buenos Aires immensely (and if not Buenos Aires, definitely the fugazetta pizza, the dogs — cannot believe I have continued to neglect writing about them — and the cheek kisses), I’m extremely excited to go back. I feel like studying abroad has made me appreciate America (and yes, Argentina/foreign cultures/etc… but also America) a lot more. Also, I guess I’m also not too bummed to be returning home because I know I’ll come back to South America. Especially since my two good friends down here who have already graduated from college are going to be living here long-term — one is already teaching English and the other is returning in April with a one-way ticket— and the fact that I didn’t make it to some must-see areas in Argentina and Chile, I have a lot to come back to. Buuuut more deeply introspective and incredibly insightful reflections on study abroad later. Now, to finish up some loose ends…

On the host family

I’m still trying to figure out how ever to condense my thoughts on my host family into less than what I’d estimate to be over five pages of excruciatingly detailed analyses of what exactly was not right. Basically, the main problem that I’ve diagnosed is that they are just tired of having exchange students every semester for so many years, which means that they don’t make the effort to explain things, teach me, chat with me, or help me out that they probably did five years ago when they got their first one. The reason I think the friend who recommended this family to me had such a great experience is because she basically arrived fluent in Spanish, so bonded very quickly. I would be much closer to them if I was at the level of Spanish that I am at now when I first arrived, but as it was, I think I was way more shy than I usually am with them because I honestly didn’t know how to say what I wanted to express and didn’t understand them, and then we just got into a rut. So that’s it in a nutshell. And then there’s everything else, but I have this theory that if I don’t document it all, maybe I’ll forget the frustrating and only remember the positive! Unsure as to whether this is a sound psychological strategy, but if you ask me in 5 months how my room was and I say “cozy!” or “really nice!” you’ll know that’s done the trick.

More on the internship

So I’m realizing more and more that this group Generación Política Sur (they have a sweet website if you’d like to look them up and read lots of Spanish!) gave me an awesome network of people down here. This group was formed about 10 years ago basically by a bunch of friends at la UBA and this other private university called Di Tella, many of whom had attended the French Lycée in Buenos Aires together (they’d often break out the French in front of me, which always led to a good 3o seconds of panicking that I literally did not understand a word of Spanish before I would calm down enough to realize they were in fact speaking their mutual third language). And they’re everywhere. For instance, one of the coolest guys in my Argentine history class walked up and introduced himself one day when I wore a Middlebury sweatshirt (another example of the complete and utter abandonment of the whole “look like a porteña” plan…) and told me he was in GPS and Pablo (my boss) had told him I was in his class. Now we’re friends! And then I was at a bar the other night talking to some people and they had all gone to the Lycée and so knew Pablo, and so we hung out with them, too! And the people at GPS are just all really neat people in general who are doing really interesting research. Most have jobs in the government or in academia or are working on a first or second masters or doctorate degree. So basically if I ever want to do any kind of political research in Argentina, GPS is my go-to for sources. They know everyone, and my boss was absolutely awesome and super helpful, consistently offering to help explain my readings for class or talk about my immigration project, inviting me to asados (BBQs) with all the members, giving advice about Argentina, etc. Overall, great experience. Two thumbs up.

My Spanish is affecting my English, it seems. I have realized this in the following scenarios in which I have said things just, kind of… weirdly in English as of late.

  • In English: “Can you pass me the information?”

Spanish origins: Pasar = they use it for so many things, but basically to pass along.

  • In English: “Yeah, I obtained three bottles of wine at the chino… 20 pes each!” (By the way, that is not a typo. Bottles of wine for $5. Good ones for $8.)

Spanish origins: Obtener = to get. And its cognate in English sounds super weird and formal whenever I use it by mistake.

  • In English: “Yes, we’ll see each other!” as a parting line.

Spanish origins: “Nos vemos!” is the most common goodbye here (usually it’s something like, “Así que bueno dale, besos, nos vemos chauuuu!”- “So ok good, kisses, we’ll see each other byeee!”), and it’s like “See you later!” but sounds kinda weird whenever I hear it slip out directly translated in English.

  • In English: “Uyyyyy!”

Spanish origins: “Uyyyyy!” which basically can mean “ohh!” “ahh!” “wow!” or “whoa!” It is literally a compulsion at this point. I say it every 10 words.

So that class…

The one where one where everyone thinks I’m a capitalist pig? The presentation was o.k., except for the fact that my group member told the class that I took a conservative perspective, which hurt me to my very core and when I teared up when explaining impassionedly that my paper would be considered solidly on the left in the United States (awkward…). Otherwise, my teacher privately told me my essay was great, which was exciting.

But the whole experience in that class really made me question the education that they receive at la UBA. I had known that the facultad of social sciences was known to be quite liberal, and that political science was especially Marxist. And for me, this was an interesting educational experience and a chance to learn about issues from a completely different perspective. But what about all the students who only get that perspective? I couldn’t help but think every day as we sat in class discussing once again why America sucked how these students weren’t learning very useful skills. It’s good to know that America is often really horrible and manipulative and ruthless when it comes to international economics and politics. I know that. Lots of people know that. But I feel like it’s more valuable to get that point across, talk about Marxism and then talk about something else. The degree to which they dwell on ideology that will almost certainly never be implemented in a real-world context and the time they devote to discussing American imperialism is amazing. It instills in them 1) pretty deep distrust of/resentment of the U.S. and 2) overly idealistic political philosophies. Which are both justified, but don’t really contribute in themselves to a well-rounded education.

Related to that, one issue I encountered in my presentation of my paper on privatization is just this completely blind progressiveness (“progressive” = “liberal” in the U.S.; “liberal” here means economic liberalism) and idealism. For instance, in the critique after my presentation, a girl in my group was like, “Well, after the privatizations, the government stopped providing services to everyone. People had to start paying for electricity and water.” I get it; those should be basic human rights and maybe the U.S. has made me forget that people don’t always have to pay for everything and that water and electricity are not always dirt cheap. But when I responded with what I thought was a politely-worded, “Yes, I totally agree, but the government literally could not afford to keep doing that; they had no money,” I would expect to be greeted with a well-reasoned response, not a completely baffled and confused look followed by an exchange of knowing glances with other students in the room. Come on! I get idealism; I think I’m an idealist… but a fairly pragmatic one. And these people are definitely not, which is something that’s a little hard to reason with.

FINALE. Here’s the plan:

  1. Tomorrow, I am finishing up the remainder of my schoolwork whilst sitting in the park by my house that I have recently discovered HAS WIFI (is that normal for cities?!). Probably surrounded by wild parrots and in the 80 degree weather. Ok, had to throw that last one in for those of you in the northern hemisphere. Sort of sorry.
  2. THEN, the padres get here on Thursday.
  3. THEN, we have a magnificent 3 days in Buenos Aires and hopefully also Uruguay before heading to Patagonia on Monday (Nov. 28). Getting back sometime in the following two weeks. (Embarrassed to say I consistently only get through the first couple days of the itinerary before stopping and sending a message/email to someone with content along the lines of “soooooo excited for Patagonia!!”)
  4. USA for Christmas. :]
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