Sunday, March 13, 2011

Julia N. - Buenos Aires, Argentina - Spring 2011

“Esto es su casa”

I asked myself three questions as I arrived at O’Hare Airport yesterday afternoon.
Question #1: Are you excited for this?
Answer: yes.
Question #2: Are you prepared for this?
Answer: yes.
Question #3: Are you ready for this?
Answer: I have no idea.

After packing and re-packing, calling the bank, buying extra memory cards, and basically just trying to get all of my ducks lined up in a row, it was finally time to say the final goodbyes. I was seriously dreading having to leave behind everyone that I loved to fly off to a new place where I knew nobody. I imagined teary embraces and big dramatic goodbyes, but the only person that actually cried (at least, that I know of) was my mom. Everyone else was super happy that I was going; wishing me safe travels and telling me to have a lot of fun. My mom told me those things, too; she was just tearing up as she said them. But as that Saturday approached, I noticed that everyone seemed more excited than I was, and I thought I was pretty stoked. I guess those pre-departure nerves snuck up on me, even though I did everything in my power to prepare myself for leaving.

Once the plane landed in Buenos Aires, however, my nerves finally subsided and I was able to let the eagerness take over me. I found out I had to pay for a taxi (guess I should have read my Get-Set-Guide a little closer), but thanks to Mom’s insistence that I bring more cash, I had enough to change into pesos for the cab. Sharing the cab helped, too. It was cheaper and I got to know another student who lives near my host family’s house. There was a potential problem when we realized the guy at the taxi center at the airport didn’t give us our maps back, but thankfully IES called our host parents and got everything sorted out.

Things only got better when I met my host parents. They are an adorable older couple and they don’t speak any English. Or if they do, they are doing a mighty fine job of forcing me to use my Spanish. Anyway, the first thing my host mom told me when I stumbled up the steps (after “cuidado”) was “Esto es su casa” - this is your home. And it is. For the next four months, this adorable apartment with the world’s sweetest grandparents is where I live. This city, filled with history and culture so new to me, is where I live. They say home is where the heart is (so don’t worry Mom, I won’t forget about you), but as of right now, I am ready to make this new place mine. I am ready to explore it, learn about it, and live it. So back to question #3…

Julia, are you ready for this?
Answer: Bring it on, Buenos Aires.


It is March 11th and I have finally registered for my classes the spring semester. This has officially been the longest winter break of my life, and I am totally loving it! Leaving behind the snowy Chicago weather for summery Buenos Aires feels so wonderful. And although having to go to class means less time for my usual aimless wanderings and late nights, I am pretty excited about the classes I am going to take. I have a teaching internship, a class about leadership, 21st century Argentine poetry, and “the making of Patagonia”, which includes a four-day long field trip! All of the classes will be in Spanish, which is really intimidating, but hopefully I will be able to understand it all!

Getting myself adjusted to Buenos Aires has been a bit of a challenge. The first few days were really rough. I came down here not knowing anybody, and although I grew up next to Chicago, I wouldn’t classify myself as a “city-girl”. I walk 11 blocks to the IES center every day because I don’t trust the bus system. They pretty much just show up whenever they want to so you could be sitting at the bus stop for at least 20 minutes before one arrives. Since it only takes me 25-30 minutes to walk, I take advantage of the extra exercise. I’m also not used to all the crime here. Don’t tell my mom, because she’ll freak out, but not only are the thieves here prevalent, they are smart, too. We had a meeting with the US embassy today, and they told us a few of the ways the people here will try to rob us. One interesting one is called the “Mustard on the back” ploy. Someone squirts mustard, or some other liquid, on your back, and then a sweet old lady or woman with a baby stops to help you clean yourself up. Except for they aren’t being nice. In reality, they are distracting you so the other guys can take all your stuff. It is a pretty tricky business. However, it’s been two weeks and nothing like that has happened to me yet (knock on wood). I feel like the longer I am here, the more Argentine I will appear, and then there will be a less chance of my being seen as an easy target. So basically, what I’ve learned so far is that Buenos Aires is a little shady, but as long as you are smart and try not to stand out, it is actually a pretty awesome city, with really rich culture and a pretty crazy nightlife…

Also, if you are interested in reading more, I have another blog at http://blogs.iesabroad.org/author/julia-nelson/.  Hopefully you find it entertaining and informative!

16 Comments:

Blogger Morribizzle said...

Julia!!! Hey I just read your blog post and its nice to hear that you are slowly settling in Argentina. Have you met a lot of new friends and when you starting your classes?
-Morrison

8:49 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Morrison! I actually start classes today - my schedule is pretty awesome. No class on Friday and I don't start until 3 on Mondays. And we have a bunch of days off for all these random holidays so that's pretty cool. I have met a lot of great people through my program just doing orientation stuff. They are all from the US and although it is nice to have people going through the same things as me and people to go do the touristy stuff with, I don't use Spanish very often with them, and since learning Spanish was one of the main reasons for coming to Argentina, that's a little disappointing. However, I have a class on Wednesday at UCES (I'm not sure what that stands for but it is on of the local Universities) that will consist of me and a bunch of local students. (The rest of my classes are through IES, not at an actual school). So I'm excited for Wednesday because hopefully I'll meet some people who will help me with my Spanish and also teach me the tango... :)
-Julia

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Megan Leonardo said...

Hello! I will be traveling to Spain hopefully in the fall and am a little worried about the whole theft thing too. Barcelona, where I'm going, is the capitol of pickpockets. Do you have any suggestions on how to blend in to another culture or how to carry personal belongings safely?
Thanks,
Megan Leonardo :)

11:18 PM  
Blogger alexandra_gavrilovic said...

Hi, Julia I am glad you're having a great time in Argentina. I hope you are safe and having a great time. I am planning on going to Spain next year and I was was wondering if you started your classes in Spanish yet? I really want to take all of my classes in Spanish because i think that would be a great way to really improve my speaking and writing skills but i am a little concerned that it will be too difficult. I would like to know how your classes are going. I hope you're enjoying every day of your stay in Argentina.

Alex

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Megan -
The single most important thing I brought with me from home is my money belt. After the first week, I was so paranoid about all the theft. And although when my mom first got me the money belt I thought there was no way I would ever wear it, it has become my best friend. When I go out at night I don't have to bring a purse or anything. My money and copy of my passport is in my belt (where no pickpocket-ers will be going near), my keys I keep in my shoe. My phone is the only thing that is vulnerable, but that is pretty replaceable. So I would highly suggest making good use of a money belt, or at least one of those things that go around your neck and under your shirt. Other than that, don't wear anything too flashy and try not to use your map out in the open. Also, when you are carrying a purse, keep it in front of your body, not flapping around behind your back. I should probably post a longer blog about this, because there is a lot you can do to prevent things being stolen, but the truth of the matter is these guys are really smart and unfortunately something is bound to be stolen from either you or someone you know during your time abroad. But that shouldn't keep you from going out and enjoying the city - Barcelona is beautiful and a lot of fun, you are going to have a great time!

Alex -
I actually just started classes this week and I was super nervous that my Spanish would not be good enough. All of my classes are being taught completely in Spanish, with the exception of my Teaching Internship Seminar, but that is because I am going to be teaching English to students here in Argentina. So far, though, I haven't had too much of a problem with the classes. I am taking two literature classes so there is a lot of reading, which takes me a while, but as for understanding the professors it is really not too bad. It does depend on the professor, though. My poetry professor, for instance, speaks really clearly and at a nice pace. On the other hand, my other professor speaks really fast and mumbles. So its a lot harder to get what she says all the time, but I generally feel like I can get the main idea of what she's trying to say, even if I don't catch every word. But I definitely suggest taking as many classes in Spanish as possible, and really trying to talk in Spanish outside of class too. You definitely will learn a lot faster. I don't know if you are staying by yourself or with a host family, but I am with an older couple who don't speak any English. The fist few days were hard, and they still talk to me like I'm a deaf child sometimes, but they keep saying I am improving, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I only speak to them in Spanish, watch TV in Spanish, and take most of my classes in Spanish. So don't be afraid of it being difficult, you will be surprised how quickly the language will come to you.
-Julia

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Julia. I loved reading your posts about Argentina. I'm going to be spending 6 weeks there this summer para estudiar espanol a la universidad de Buenos Aires. I'm really excited but I feel like I'm going to be freaking out once the time comes to actually leave for the summer. Spending that long a time on another continent, in a country where they don't really speak English is a scary thought. But knowing that you're doing well and enjoying yourself makes me feel a lot better. If you have any tips on how to adjust to Argentina I would love to hear them.
-Hillary H.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Hillary -
That is so exciting that you will be in Argentina! When will you arrive? I was also very scared and intimidated with the thought of being on another continent for such a long time, but after a few days it doesn't feel like it is that far from home. Obviously it is geographically, but skype helps a lot, and the friends I have made here make it less daunting.
The first time I actually felt like I belonged in Buenos Aires was randomly during dinner one night. I went out by myself to find somewhere near my homestay to eat after a long week of orientation. I was sitting there, eating and writing in my journal, and it just kindof hit me. I was able to take a breath, take control of my life (even if it was just for a short while), and just enjoy being on my own in a foreign country.
But I think some other things that helped me reach that feeling was that I continued to do things that I would normally do at home, like running in the morning and reading a book (in English) before bed - I highly suggest bringing a nook or kindle. Also, my friends and I are planning a trip to Mendoza, and somehow that has also helped make Buenos Aires feel like home. Like making the destination somewhere besides the new place makes the new place the old place... I'm not sure that made sense, but it's worked for me.
Finally, just going into your study abroad experience with an open mind, not taking yourself too seriously, and taking time to reflect and center yourself should help you adjust to your new surroundings fairly quickly.
I don't leave here until the end of June, so maybe I'll see you in Buenos Aires! If not, have a lot of fun - there is so much this city has to offer!
-Julia

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Angela Crawford said...

Julia!
I'm so glad to hear that you are adjusting well and and loving your time. I was very interested in your leaving emotions of nervousness. I have been experiencing nothing excitement, but as the time comes closer and it gets more real, I am getting nervous and uneasy about paper work and legitimately getting everything done on time. Do you have any suggestions on being able to effectively get everything done to prep for the experience with out going crazy?
Angela Crawford

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Angela -
I know it feels like there is a ton to do before going abroad - I felt so overwhelmed the last few weeks before leaving - but it really isn't too bad. I'm a big list person, so I made a huge checklist that I took everywhere with me. Sometimes it seemed that I was adding more things to the list than checking things off, but eventually it all got done. I think a little bit of the stress was just displaced nervousness about leaving for so long. I don't know what program you are in, but I am with IES, and I stress out a lot about getting things in on time, too. But IES didn't really care and I found later that deadlines were extended for a lot of people. So I would worry about the Elmhurst stuff first, then maybe scholarships if you are going for any of those, and then finally your program things. I also made sure I had everything that I had to send to IES together in one packet because in all honesty they can be a little disorganized; they update their information at the last minute and they misplaced my teacher recommendation once. Maybe try to keep a binder or folder with all of your information, lists, and keep copies of everything you send in, just in case. If you stay organized, everything will fall into place.
Also, Alice really knows what she is doing, and can probably help you with anything you might have questions about - visas, money, all that good stuff.
But don't stress out about it too much, I had to take a lot of mental breaks! Once you arrive and you have everything together, it will feel so good not to have to worry about it anymore!
Good luck!
-Julia

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Megan Leonardo said...

Hey! Sorry to bother you again but you definitely have the closest program to mine and I love your writing! I was wondering if you could give me a couple tips on selecting classes in another country.

Thanks,
Megan Leonardo

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Megan,
Thanks :) I'm assuming that since you are going to Barcelona most of your classes will be in Spanish. I don't know what level of Spanish you have, but when I started thinking about classes the first thing I did was try to get a copy of the course syllabus. If there was a lot of reading or if it was something that I had zero interest in I didn't take it because it is pretty hard to focus and understand everything in a foreign language, and even harder when they are boring. So choose the classes that you genuinely like and don't worry about credits transferring - usually most classes will line up fairly well with the classes at Elmhurst. Talk to your adviser about potential classes before you leave, though, just to be sure. But don't worry too much about classes being taught in Spanish. I have found that it is a lot easier to understand than I initially thought it would be. It just takes me forever to read in Spanish so I chose classes with lighter reading requirements - like poetry. Also something to be aware of, the grading system is different wherever you go, so that is something you might want to look up or keep in mind. Good luck!
-Julia

4:29 PM  
Blogger alexandra_gavrilovic said...

Hi Julia!

Thanks so much on your advice and answers to my previous questions. I hope you're still having a great time! I was also wondering, now that more time has passed, did you make a lot of friends? Was it easy to get to know people or are they more reserved when it comes to making friends and opening up. I would like to know about your experiences when it comes to that. Thank you!

Alex Gavrilovic

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Hey,
sorry I haven't checked this blog in a while - as for making friends, I have found it much easier to make friends with the other international students. we are all going through the same thing, culture shock, travel plans, classes in a new language, so i feel like i have bonded really quickly with everyone in my program. its harder to make friends with the argentine people. they are all really nice and i know of a lot of people who have made good friends with them, but in general i've found it a bit hard to do find people that want to hang out with me outside of class. that sounds really depressing but in general the girls here are a bit standoff-ish and harder to get to know, and the boys are sometimes really forward and creepy. but i like the people in my university class and tango class, and i've gone out to dinner with some of the locals i've met through that. i think though that if you are going to put yourself out there and try to make friends, you will have no problem meeting some really cool people.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

What happened to you hen you just arrived that you had to pay for the cab leads to a very good tip that people should have: always carry cash in Argentina because most of the places you go only accept cash. I did this trip to, I got one of those Buenos Aires apartments with a host mom and dad and they were really sweet to me, besides, the apartment was great, my room was very spaciuos. And one more thing, do that Patagonia trip, you will not going to regret it!
Kim

11:14 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hey Julia!

Sound like Buenos Aires is quite a different atmosphere but a really great experience. Do you feel like being immersed in the Spanish language really helped you learn it? I hope you were able to travel around down in South America. I've always wanted to go to Machu Picchu down there! Hope you have a great summer.

Caroline G

1:24 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:43 AM  

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