Today officially marks the end of my first week in Buenos Aires. I’ve learned quite a bit about the city in the past seven days: I can now navigate with relative ease using the colectivos (buses) and el subte (the metro). I spent the first couple of days going through a fairly intensive orientation period, with several two-hour sessions each day where I, along with the other 90 students in my program, were inundated with information ranging from safety precautions to how to enroll in classes to the intricacies of Argentinean Spanish.
Safety is a very serious topic here. The rate of violent crime is very low, but the rate of petty theft is incredibly high, and if you want your wallet, phone, camera, etc. to remain in your possession for the duration of your time here, you must adhere to the mantra of Mad Eyed Moony: constant vigilance. Women walk the streets and ride the subways with their purses clutched tightly under their arms or clutched in their laps, zippers zippered, buttons fastened and snaps snapped. It’s not unusual to see someone walking along the sidewalk or riding in the subte wearing their backpack on their front; it’s the best way to keep sticky fingers out of the pockets. I’ve never lived in a city before, and such diligent exercises of caution are foreign to me, but I’m starting to adjust. I can’t help but feel terribly paranoid clutching my bag every time I walk out the front door, but I’m gradually realizing that it doesn’t have to be paranoia motivated by fear, and I’m growing used to my heightened level of awareness whenever I’m walking the streets by myself.
In our first orientation session, I realized that I had very little idea of how my program was structured going into this. I was vaguely aware of the fact that I might be enrolling directly into the University of Buenos Aires, or UBA, and knew that there was a Literature Concentration option that sounded interesting. The program has a wide variety of options that I didn’t know about before I got here, however. We have the opportunity to enroll in any number of classes at 4 different universities: Universidad de Buenos Aires, Universidad Catolica Argentina, Universidad Torcuato de Tella, and the Universidad del Salvador. In addition, IFSA Butler itself offers several classes geared towards study abroad students that provide broad overviews of certain aspects of Argentinean culture.
In the Literature Concentration, I’m already locked into three classes: Tópicos de la Literatura Argentina Contemporánea, Castellano Avanzado y Cultura Argentina, y Metodología de los Estudios Literarios. In the last class, concerning methodologies, I have the choice to either do an internship at a small publishing house or magazine or participate in a workshop, of which there are several to choose from. At this point, I’m leaning towards a workshop on poetry translation. Outside of these three classes, I can choose one or two at any of the other universities, and a daunting task it is to sift through the hundreds and hundreds of class options at each school. I’m glad that I only have to choose one or two!
Classes don’t start until mid-March, luckily, so I have plenty of time to research before I make my decisions. UBA is one of the largest universities in the world, and enrollment is free. This creates, from what I understand, an interesting classroom dynamic, with incredibly crowded classrooms full of enthusiastic students, many of whom take classes at UBA for years without ever obtaining a degree, simply for the love of learning: and why not? It’s free! It seems as though it’s a more gritty sort of experience than the others schools, and I’m still undecided as to whether I should take a class there. The down side is that I cna only take one class, because each class is 6 credits, whereas at the other universities I could take two 3-credit classes. On the other hand, it seems like an experience worth having.
Outside of the orientation sessions, I’ve spent a great deal of time making new friends in my program, lounging on the warm grass in sunny parks with said friends, watching passersby and sampling some of Argentina’s most renown products: beef and wine. As I continue to consume enough of both to approach expert status, I will be sure to begin evaluating and advising; for now, all I know is that I heartily enjoy an empanada con carne and una copa de vino tinto.
This Wednesday, my entire program is taking a 45-minute ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay, where we will spend three days sight seeing and, among other things, enjoying a traditional asado at the weekend home of one of the directors of the program. My friends and I then have plans to extend our stay through the weekend, which we will spend camping and lounging on the beach. I will be sure to report on our adventures when I return!