This past Friday, my host University put on an International Night. It was a chance for all the international students to mix and mingle and for the local students to meet some foreigners. Students from each country decorated tables with information showing the history and culture of their homelands. Each country also brought in traditional food and, of course, booze from their regions.

The party started off with a group of us from my tango class performing a choreographed tango show. I can’t say we were very impressive, but it sure was a lot of fun!

My tango partner, Eugenio, and I.

For me, the winning tables were the United States, Germany ,China and Mexico.  The USA table featured liters of Budweiser (I never realized how awful that beer was until after drinking really good beer in Argentina for two months), Cheeze-Its (yes!) and Oreos with peanut butter (double yes!).

The USA table after some major damage to the Cheeze-Its.

The German table featured men dressed in lederhosen, liters of Warsteiner and Becks, pretzels and radishes (I still don’t understand the latter).

The German table.

The Chinese table had a variety of homemade traditional Chinese dishes – which were all delicious. They were so popular that they ran out of plates and chopsticks so I ate my food out of a cup with a knife – college ingenuity at its finest.

My favorite table was the Mexican table. They showed everyone how to do tequila shots “like real Mexicans,” according to my tango partner Eugenio, who is a “real Mexican”. These consisted of a tequila shot with a drop of hot sauce, followed by a chaser of chili powder. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it, I was pleasantly surprised. Most importantly, the Mexican table had homemade quesadillas and chips with homemade guacamole, beans and hot sauces. And it was actually spicy! (It’s impossible to get spicy food in Buenos Aires)

The Mexican table.

I loved having the opportunity to hang out with my classmates in a more informal setting. I was also amazing to see so many different cultures in one place – we have so much more in common than we have differences and I loved being in an environment where we were able to appreciate and learn about those differences rather than criticize them. Maybe the way to solve the world’s problems is to get everyone in the same room with some good food, good drinks and lots of dancing. Well, it’s worth a shot!

Thanks to my friend David for letting me use some of his photos for this post! Check out his blog here.

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Hanging With the Gauchos

August 29, 2011

This post originally appeared on August 22 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Saturday we had our first excursion with ASA, the program I’m in Argentina with. The eight of us met our site director, Gaby, at a café in the center of the city and hopped in a van to drive out to the Santa Susana Estancia, about an hour’s drive outside Buenos Aires.  Irish immigrants built the estancia, an Argentine cowboy, or gaucho, ranch, in the 18th century. The beautiful, expansive property consists of the original main house, which is now a museum, the horse barn and the entertainment barn, as well as a lot of open land.

The old estancia house.

The restored kitchen inside the estancia.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with wine, juice and fresh, homemade empanadas. We meandered around the grounds and explored the museum, which has been well preserved. The house even has its own chapel, complete with a confessional.  After the museum, we walked to the horse barn for our horse ride.  They were the tamest I’ve ever encountered and we went on a much too short ride around the grounds.

A photograph of First Comunions hanging in the estancia chapel.

Kenzie lets her horse have a quick snack before heading out for our ride.

After pretending to be cowboys, a few of us braved the very large, incredibly rickety horse-drawn cart for another ride around the grounds.  That cart ride gave me an adrenaline rush greater than most roller coasters, simply because I was sure the wheels would fall off at any moment!

Around one, the dinner bell rang and all the guests rushed inside for traditional Argentine asado.  We chowed down on bread with chimichurri, traditional sausage and blood sausage and a variety of delicious salads while waiting for the gauchos to bring around the different meats that had been on the grill all day.  We had tender pieces of pork, chicken, and of course, steak.  We finished the meal with some pastelitos con dulce de membrillo, a type of pastry dough filled with jam made from quince and then fried and drizzled with honey.  So yummy!

A variety of sausage and meat on the grill for lunch.

The delicious pastelitos con dulce de membrillo we had for dessert.

During dessert, we watched a couple of dancers do a tango show and then they demonstrated traditional folk dancing and music.  At the end of the show,  many of the audience members, including yours truly of course, joined in for some high spirited dancing.

It was a very fun day and both my roommate and I were exhausted when we finally got home later that evening. I had been looking forward to this excursion most of all and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

After dinner, we watched the gauchos play a variety of games with horses that I can't even begin to explain. But, they were fun to watch!

Recently I started taking an advanced photography night class at the Universidad de Belgrano, the university I’m studying at in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My class consists of four older Argentine women, two Argentine students and three foreign exchange students (1 Colombian, 1 Canadian and 1 American – me). Mainly I’m taking the class as a way to practice my Spanish and meet some non-Americans, but it’s also a fun way to keep my photography fresh and hopefully learn something along the way.

This past week in class, we were give 30 minutes to explore the 19 floors of the University building we were in. We had to take 10-20 photos that showed different perspectives and we weren’t allowed to delete anything. It was a fun exercise and forced me to be more deliberate with each photograph that I took. Here are a few of my favorites from around the building.

Tour de Belgrano

August 28, 2011

This post originally appeared on August 14 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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For my post this week, I thought I’d give you a little tour of the area of Buenos Aires that I’m living in. I live in the barrio Belgrano, which is split into four sections, of which I live in Belgrano C.  As you can see from the map, Buenos Aires is split into 48 barrios and Belgrano is in the northern part of the city.  According to Wikipedia, a little under 140,000 people live within Belgrano, which is only two and a half square miles – wow!

The barrio received its name from Manuel Belgrano, a politician and military leader who created the Argentine national flag.  In addition, the law declaring Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina was issued in Belgrano.

These days, the neighborhood is a nice, upper-middle class residential area with lots of parks and restaurants. It is just south of Palermo, the largest barrio in Bs As which is a very trendy bar and club area as well as residential.  I’ve come to enjoy running on the bike path that goes from Belgrano to the large parks in Palermo.

Drinking gourmet tea at my favorite cafe and homework spot in Belgrano - Tea Connection.

Enjoying some yummy Argentine steak at a parilla near my house.

My house is three blocks from Buenos Aires’ Chinatown, which is quite small (about 8 blocks or so) but is always bustling.  My 20 minute walk to school takes me through Chinatown and along a park so it’s a really nice walk. I particularly enjoy watching the shopkeepers in Chinatown set up in the mornings – although the smell of fish isn’t as enjoyable.

The arch in Buenos Aires Chinatown.

Every weekend, there is a feria (artisanal market) in the Plaza de Belgrano.  It’s smaller than some of the other more touristy ferias in the city but I think the products are generally of higher quality and at better prices.  Most Sundays, I stop by to look around.

Some stands at the Feria de Belgrano.

The University of Belgrano, the school I'm currently studying at.

I’ve really enjoyed exploring Belgrano and feel pretty lucky to live here.  I’m a ten minute walk from the Subte (subway), am blocks away from stops for many of the city’s bus lines and can walk to school every day.  While I’m still obviously in the city, it’s comparatively quieter than other areas and I’ve never felt unsafe in this area.

My room.

My house.

I’m also excited to explore some of the other 48 barrios. Next stop, Once, home to the city’s Jewish, Korean and Peruvian immigrants.

An aerial view of Belgrano.

This post first appeared on July 22 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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The title of this post is a Czech Proverb that my friend quoted the other day during lunch.  I have been thinking about these nine words since then.

In coming to Buenos Aires, one of my main goals was to become functionally fluent in Spanish. Technically, I have been studying the language for eight years (high school and college) but upon arriving here, I did not feel comfortable speaking to native speakers at all.  Today was the last day of my intensive month-long Spanish class and I am amazed at how far I’ve come in just four weeks.

The whole ASA gang out for drinks five weeks ago.

Today on the way home from class, I stopped by a fruit stand to buy a few apples.  I had the following conversation with the vendor:

Me: I’ll take two red apples and two green apples.

Vendor: Ok. Are you North American?

Me: laughs, Yes, I’m from the United States.  Is it obvious?

Vendor: Oh yes, very obvious. Want me to wash these for you?

Me: Oh yes, thanks a bunch!

While not an intellectual conversation about the state of Argentine politics, I was thrilled that this exchange didn’t consist mainly of finger pointing, “Sí,” and “¿Qué?. In this moment, I realized that I truly understand more than I did a month ago and I can express myself a bit more clearly.  In other words, I’m getting there.

In addition, my host mom, Carmen, told me that she’s surprised how much better my Spanish has become.  So, I’m not making this up!

I realized last week that the moment I started to feel more comfortable with this new language was the moment that I stopped trying to translate everything directly. I realized that I have to think in Spanish to be able to speak in it.  This is a fact that others have told me but I never truly understood it until I experienced it.  This brings me back to the Czech proverb.  Learning a new language is not just about learning rojo means red and lo siento means I’m sorry.  It’s teaching yourself a whole new way of thinking. I have to think how would a Spanish speaker express this thought – not how do I translate what I want to say. A new way of thinking – a new “soul”.

I still wouldn’t call myself fluent but I am excited to see how much I improve over the next four months. But for now, I’m off to catch a bus for a 21-hour drive to Salta, a northern province of Argentina, for the next week. I’ll let you know how that goes in my next post. Chau!

This post first appeared on August 1 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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If you had told me a year ago that this past Wednesday I would have started my day before the sun rose by climbing into a pick-up truck with two Argentine men and one American to drive two hours into the Andes while rocking to ACDC’s You Shook Me All Night Long, I would have told you that you were insane.  But, that’s exactly how my most recent Wednesday began.

After the completion of our month-long intensive Spanish course, we had a week break to do some traveling.  My friend Campbell and I decided to head up to Salta, in Northern Argentina, to escape the city and get some fresh air.  The Friday evening after our last class, we climbed into a bus and 22 hours later, arrived in Salta. We spent our first couple of days exploring the city and it’s main squares (reminded me a lot of Savannah, Georgia) and visiting the various art museums.

Monday afternoon, we popped into a bike rental place to see if we could rent some mountain bikes for the day.  Francisco informed us that we could rent the bikes overnight and ride up to a little mountain town called La Caldera.  It sounded like an adventure to us so we loaded up the bikes with our backpacks and headed up Route 9 North – a road no wider than 12 feet.  It took about 2 hours to ride the nearly 20 miles to the town, since it was mostly uphill the whole way.  We arrived to La Caldera, a tiny town that consists of about 5 blocks and whose main tourist attraction is a giant statue of Jesus on top of a mountain, and began looking for a place the stay that night.  We found a beautiful hostel on the edge of town that was well worth the less than $20 each we spent to stay there.  After checking in, we rode the two and a half miles to the Dam north of town.  We relaxed and read our books for while on the edge of the lake.  In other words, it was heaven.

The next day we rode up the mountain to see the “famous” Cristo statue.  It was interesting and slightly creepy but a feat of engineering nonetheless.  I was surprised that the number of mini-vans full of tourists that arrived there on a Tuesday morning.  While the statue didn’t enamor me, I did fall in love with the town. If I’m ever forced to go on the run, I’m moving to La Caldera.

We said goodbye to the quaint little town and rode back down to Salta, which only took about 45 minutes since it was a downhill coast most of the way.  We checked into a hostel, took a nap, ate a wonderful dinner at a cute little parilla, chatted with the French and Swiss travelers at our hostel and went to bed.  We had an early morning the next day.

At 6:45 am the next day, my alarm went off and we quickly packed our backpacks, shoveled some cornflakes and coffee into our mouths and met two Argentine men, Facundo and Santiago, outside our hostel next to their new pick-up truck.  Facundo, “Facu,” was the guide we had hired for a two-day trek through the Andes.  Santiago, “Santi,” was driving us to the start of the trail.  Two hours later, after listening to a strange mix of Lady Gaga, ACDC and Simple Plan, we arrived to the trailhead.  We spent the next two days trekking our way through the Andes, meeting the local mountain people along the way.  The next evening, we arrived back in Salta, filthy and sore but happy and relaxed.  I can honestly say that our four days of biking and hiking were some of the happiest of my life.  It was so nice to be away from smog and Internet and people and just sit and look at the mountains.

Well, since this post is getting rather lengthy and I doubt many readers have made it this far, I’ll end here and post later this week with some more details of my Northern Argentina Adventure.

Chau!

“Researching” San Telmo

August 25, 2011

This post first appeared on July 18 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Our latest class assignment was to explore one of the 48 neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and give a presentation about the barrio to the class.  My group and I decided to explore San Telmo, the smallest barrioin the city.  Therefore, I spent last week exploring the various sights in this small corner of Buenos Aires.

Back in the 17th century, San Telmo was an industrial area home to the city’s dockworkers and brickmakers.  Later on, in the mid-1850s, the neighborhood started to improve with the addition of better housing, cobblestone streets, running water, lighting and the addition of the still popular wholesale market in the center of San Telmo.  These improvements drew the well-to-do porteños to San Telmo until a yellow fever epidemic struck in the 1870s, pushing the wealthy to Barrio Norte and Recoleta [for a previous post about the Recoleta Cemetary, click here].  During the wave of immigrants in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the large old buildings were converted to tenement housing that was home to communities of British, Greek, Italian and Russian immigrants. Beginning in the 1950s, San Telmo began developing the bohemian reputation that it still maintains today.  San Telmo’s multi-cultural history, cobblestone streets and artsy vibe makes it a wonderful place to go for a walk or sit in a café and people-watch.

The well-to-do history of San Telmo is obvious in the beautiful architecture that fills this small neighborhood and the narrow cobblestone streets can lead you to believe that you’re strolling through Rome (or at least, what I imagine Rome is like).  In the center of the barrio is a small antiques, produce and meat market that is always full of interesting things for sale. I even found a store that was selling a U.S. dollar bill – good thing I know where to find one of those now.  All joking aside, the market is filled with beautiful antiques, old record and poster shops, and some of the most delicious looking meats and cheeses I’ve seen.

On Sundays, many of the streets in San Telmo are closed for the feria – the artisans street market – where everything from jewelry to mate cups to underwear is peddled.  The feria gives San Telmo a very congested feeling on Sundays that causes many of the residents to flee, but it is a nice thing to visit once or twice.

My classmates and I certainly preferred San Telmo on days other than Sunday.  One Saturday, we went to a café called Bar Federal on the corner of Peru and Carlos Calvo (in case anyone’s in the area).  It was by far one of my favorite places so far.  After standing around awkwardly waiting for a table to open up, we pounced on a table in the corner by the window before the mozo even had a chance to clear it (that’s just how things are done here).

Our site director Gaby, a San Telmo resident, told us that Bar Federal is known for its “finger food” so we decided to go with an aperitivo platter – the Gran Federal, I believe.  After ordering some cervezas and Cokes for the table, the waiter brought us a heaping basket of various breads.  No one in Buenos Aires is ever in a hurry and this café was particularly relaxed, but about an hour later, the Gran Federal arrived.  It was a large wood cutting board covered with jamón, Roquefort cheese, bite size pieces of tortillas españolas, salami, olives, more cheese, pâté and hearts of palm.

After chowing down and resisting the urge to lick the cutting board, we decided to order another course.  About 2 and half hours had passed since we first arrived so this was already one of the longer lunches of my life.  Campbell and I decided to share a dish of papas fritas (French fries) covered with pancetta and fried eggs while Kenzie and Steph ordered a Spanish tortilla with chorizo and cheese.  Another 45 minutes later, we got our food and it was as delicious as we had imagined.  All told, the lunch was about 4 hours and we all had a fantastic time.  This café seemed to really echo the bohemian sentiment in San Telmo and it was, of course, necessary “research” for our project.  Even though the presentation has come and gone, we still have a list of places in San Telmo to explore.  And, after hearing all the other presentations, I have a list of places in other barrios to add to my to-do list.