Meghann in Argentina: Saying Goodbye

January 6, 2018

I’ve been home for a little over a week now, and it feels like I have been abruptly dropped back into a former life: seeing family and friends from home, working, and getting ready to go back to school. I was partially expecting some drastic homecoming where, after half a year, I would feel completely changed and my hometown would look different, but what I experienced was far less dramatic. Not much at home has changed, and I am also pretty much the same, just with a slew of new experiences and memories behind me. It is great to be home in the U.S., but I know that it’s only a matter of time before I start really missing Buenos Aires and wanting to be back again.

 

It is difficult to make a “final reflection” about such a long period of time in which so much happened, but I will say this: if you are a University of Richmond student (or a student from another university, for that matter) reading this, I can’t recommend going abroad enough. I’ve hesitated to call these the “best six months of my life” to avoid running the risk of sounding overly dramatic (and, as many people joke about abroad students who return and rant excessively about their experiences, annoying). But now, looking back, I wonder why I shouldn’t consider this the happiest and most formative experience I’ve ever had? This period of time in my life was unique in the sense that I’m not sure that I will ever again have the chance to drop everything and briefly restart my life in a completely different part of the world. The places that I traveled, the things that I learned, and perhaps most importantly, the people that I met, have shaped me in a way that I can’t describe. So yes, I’ll say it, even if it does make me sound like the stereotypical “abroad CHANGED me” student: these were the best six months of my life, and I am so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to call Buenos Aires home.

 

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Gracias por todo, Buenos Aires!


Meghann in Argentina: The Last Hurrah

December 18, 2017

I’m celebrating my return to a computer and stable Internet for the first time in nearly three weeks by finally writing a new post, having just returned from a backpacking journey that took me through Mendoza, Chile, and Patagonia! I had never done a trip like this before, so as I packed my relatively small hiking backpack at the end of November, I was excited for what lay ahead—my friends and I had a basic outline of what we wanted to see, but very few solid plans. I could write for hours about what I ended up doing, but I figured that due to the length of the trip, it would be easier for me to break it down by the places that I went.


 

Mendoza, Argentina

We began our trip by flying west to Mendoza, a city that is well known in Argentina for its wine districts. We were only there for about a day, but we took advantage of the time by renting bikes and biking around to tour various wineries.

 

Santiago, Chile

From Mendoza, we took an overnight bus through the Andes Mountains to cross the Chilean border and arrive in Santiago. It was interesting for me to spend a few days in Santiago, as it was another city I considered applying to when I began thinking about going abroad. Despite the fact that Santiago and Buenos Aires are both considered to be more modern and westernized major cities in Latin America, to me Santiago was noticeably different due to the fact that it was very American and English-oriented. The malls and stores looked eerily like those in suburban America (my friend and I took advantage of this by getting Dunkin Donuts on various occasions, which we have both missed dearly since arriving in Argentina), and a friend who is studying in Santiago explained to us that throwing random English words into sentences is a very popular practice.

 

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Dunkin Donuts was just one of many American stores and restaurants that we saw in Santiago.

That being said, Santiago definitely still has its own distinct culture, which we took in by trying new foods, experiencing Chilean nightlife, and doing a free walking tour that took us to many of the main points of interest across the city. The walking tour was also fun for me because it provided a refresher on Chile’s tumultuous political history, which I learned about in my First Year Seminar two years ago!

 

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Palacio de La Moneda (the Presidential Palace), where the infamous coup d’état of 1973 that led to 17 years of military dictatorship and state oppression occurred, was one of the most interesting stops on the walking tour to learn about.

Valparaíso, Chile

 

One of my favorite places from the entire trip was Valparaíso, Chile, a colorful port city known for its abundance of street art. We only spent one day exploring Valparaíso, but that was enough time for us to see hundreds of beautiful murals and paintings that lined the streets.

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It is no wonder that Valparaíso is considered an artist’s city—the murals we saw were all unique and carefully crafted.

 

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

From Santiago, we left the bigger cities for a completely different leg of our trip. We spent about a week and a half in both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes that I have seen in my life. Patagonia as a region is geographical diverse, comprised of impressive mountains, crystalline lakes, as well as deserts, pampas, and grasslands. We started by camping several nights in Torres del Paine, a national park known for a hike that leads to three massive rock “towers” (torres) that jut out of a lake. Camping in this area was an amazing experience; our tent was right at the foot of a snow-capped mountain, which meant that we woke up to a pretty impressive view each day.

 

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This sunset in Torres del Paine was definitely something that I won’t soon forget.

 

El Chaltén, Argentine Patagonia

We then crossed the border into Argentine Patagonia, where we traveled to El Chaltén. This small village is more recognizable than one would imagine, as it is home to Mount Fitz Roy, the prominent mountain that is used in the logo of the Patagonia outdoor brand. Seeing this mountain range in person puts the logo to shame, though—it is enormous, with a huge glacier and lake at the base. The views made the 10km hike through the icy wind completely worth it!

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Trying not to blow off the cliff at Mount Fitz Roy.

 

El Calafate, Argentine Patagonia

Our last destination was El Calafate, a fairly touristy town that attracts visitors to another famous national park, this one known for Perito Moreno, a massive glacier that is unusual in the fact that it is advancing, while most other glaciers in the world are retreating. Apparently it is the size of the city of Buenos Aires, a fact that is almost impossible for me to wrap my head around (when I heard this, I imagined taking my 40 minute cross-city bus commute to university, just on top of a glacier). We took a boat that brought us close to the towering wall of the glacier, which stops abruptly in the water. It was mesmerizing to watch and hear huge chunks of ice crack and fall off into the lake.

 

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Photos honestly don’t do the size of the glacier justice!

 

I was really pleased with how the trip turned out, especially considering that we only had a rough outline of what we wanted to do. I was able to see truly incredible sights with some of my closest friends from the semester, which makes for an experience that I will never forget. That being said, I am happy to be back in Buenos Aires and done with sleeping in 6-person hostel dorm rooms! I fly back to Maryland in just 3 days now, so the mix of excitement to be home and the numerous goodbyes that I will say in the upcoming days has created a very bittersweet sense of nostalgia. I truly cannot believe how 6 months here have flown by… the next time I write I will be in the U.S.! I intend to save my packing for the last minute and make the most of my last few days in this wonderful city.

 

 


Meghann in Argentina: “So, How’s Your Spanish?”

November 26, 2017

I have been asked this question innumerable times by friends and family members from back home since arriving in Argentina five months ago. In the past I hadn’t given much thought to the simple inquiry, but now that the end of my time abroad is quickly approaching, I’ve found myself reflecting more and more on how my language skills have progressed. Back in June when I wrote my first pre-departure post, I stated that “my biggest goal is to become fluent in Spanish.” While this still absolutely holds true, during my time here I’ve come to realize just how difficult true fluency in another language is to acquire. Additionally, by no means does living in a country with a different national language for six months (or however long a period of time, really) mean that fluency will come easily—it has to be worked for. In all honesty, I do still speak English all the time, mostly due to the fact that all of my friends here (even those who aren’t from English-speaking countries) speak English perfectly. Since all of us speak English better than we do Spanish, conversing in English is easier and more comfortable to fall into; for my German or French friends, this equates to beneficial practice of their second language, but for me, it doesn’t do much. It’s frustrating to go on trips with friends (where we only speak English) and to come back to my host family or to class feeling like my Spanish skills have diminished because I used them significantly less.

 

That being said, the prominence of English in the social aspect of my study abroad experience was made clear pretty early on, and fortunately this made me try even harder to improve my Spanish in my homestay, in university, and while out in the city—and it definitely has progressed a ton. Before I arrived in Argentina, I understood a fair amount and could express most ideas/thoughts, but slowly and oftentimes with rough grammar; now, I can understand nearly everything (even the rapid lectures on Argentine politics given by my professors) and discuss any topic as well. Most notably, though, is how much more confident I am with my language skills. I no longer pause when talking to my host mom to think about whether I am using the correct noun or conjugating a verb the right way. I still have a long way to go with Spanish, though. When I return to Richmond in the spring I will take a Spanish literature class, and I also want to try to watch a TV show or the news in Spanish as well, to help ensure that I don’t lose any of the language skills that I have gained here.

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My host family has been integral in helping improve my Spanish. Being “forced” to speak Spanish whenever I am at home has given me the opportunity to discuss many different topics that aren’t commonly talked over at school or on the streets.

While the Spanish learning process is different from what I expected it to be in the sense that my social life almost entirely revolves around English, I can still certainly answer the question “so, how’s your Spanish?” with the reply that it has gotten significantly better. Seeing how my language skills have grown over time makes me even more motivated to continue learning after this experience is over.


Meghann in Argentina: Heading North

November 13, 2017

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to go on a weeklong trip to northern Argentina with my mom. We took a three-hour flight up to the city of Salta, a provincial capital of the northwestern region, and then continued our journey by taking a road trip in a rental car up la Quebrada de Humuhuaca, a beautiful trail dotted with small pueblos. We got so far north that we were less than 100 miles away from the Bolivian border—and you could tell! Both the geography and the culture were completely disparate from anything that I have experienced in other parts of Argentina thus far. While in Buenos Aires I usually can’t see beyond one city block due to the massive buildings, in the north, at literally every point you look out from you can see gorgeous, colorful mountain ranges (many of which are pre-cordillera, or in other words, “mini Andes mountains”). My mom had to do a lot of nervous driving through mountainous, twisting roads, but the views were well worth it.

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In northern Argentina, the mountains can change from red to green to yellow to purple all within one stunning view.

Even more surprising than the differences in geography, though, was the distinct culture we encountered in all of the little pueblos that we visited (some of which had only a few more than 100 permanent residents). The city of Buenos Aires is well known for being very European; from the architecture to the food to the people, sometimes it feels more like I am in Spain than Latin America. I am really interested in more indigenous cultures, so being exposed to this way of life in the north was a unique experience for me. In many of the pueblos that we visited, the primary way of earning a living is to sell small artesanías, or handicraft work, to visitors. I loved looking at all of the beautiful colors and designs that seem so much more bright and colorful than what I am accustomed to seeing in Buenos Aires.

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In the small town of Purmamarca, a market with artesanías opens up every day around the main plaza. Among the most common things I saw were alpaca clothing, tapestries, and tiny wooden carvings.

My favorite day was one that took us from the smallest pueblo we visited to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, of Jujuy. My mom and I went with a guide who explained how the salt flats formed and how the industry is important for the indigenous people that live near them (this salt, once iodine is added, is used for human consumption all over Argentina). The best part of the tour in my eyes, though, was that the guide brought his four llamas out into the flats to help carry a picnic for the three of us.

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Walking with four cute llamas through a picturesque landscape provided many excellent photo ops.

I feel as though I say this every time I go somewhere new in Argentina, but once again, I am awed by the diversity of this country. Going to the north (and befriending llamas) was definitely another unique experience that I won’t soon forget.


Meghann in Argentina: Flavors of Argentina

November 3, 2017

I can’t believe that I have made it over four months here without writing about (in my opinion) one of the best parts of traveling: food. Argentina has not let me down in terms of food—even ordinary weekday dinners with my host parents have a certain indescribable Argentine flare. I have also definitely taken advantage of the culinary scene in the city. Every Saturday night when my host family does not provide me with dinner, I go out with friends to a cute area of the city called Palermo, which is filled with different types of restaurants and bars.

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Choripan is a very typical Argentine meal. The word is a combination of “chorizo” (a spiced sausage) and “pan” (bread), and it is topped off with a sauce called chimichurri. You can buy choripan as street food from carts or vendors (as seen in this picture) or also in nicer restaurants.

Photo #1. Caption: Choripan is a very typical Argentine meal. The word is a combination of “chorizo” (a spiced sausage) and “pan” (bread), and it is topped off with a sauce called chimichurri. You can buy choripan as street food from carts or vendors (as seen in this picture) or also in nicer restaurants.

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Perhaps one of the most classic foods that Argentines can’t seem to live without are empanadas. There are empanada shops with huge varieties of flavors on almost every block, and most are sold for just 11 pesos (about 60 cents)!

 

Photo #2. Caption: Perhaps one of the most classic foods that Argentines can’t seem to live without are empanadas. There are empanada shops with huge varieties of flavors on almost every block, and most are sold for just 11 pesos (about 60 cents)!

 

It has also been fun to cook with friends from different countries. We have done “cultural” food nights at friends’ apartments where everyone makes something from their home country, so I have also had the chance to try everything from homemade French Canadian to German food here. Some of us also tried our hand at doing our own asado (barbeque), another Argentine culinary tradition. Although I can’t say that I was too helpful with grilling, it turned out pretty well for a group of foreigners!

 

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Our attempt at homemade asado (barbeque).

 

The only downside to the Argentine diet is that it is generally pretty bad for you—I have even found myself missing the salad bar at Dhall. I’m amazed at how healthy the population here looks considering a pretty high percentage of the usual diet is red meat, wine, and a very large variety of deserts. I’m guessing that people can stay healthy due to the amount of walking required for getting around the city. Even though the public transportation is great, I still probably end up walking over five miles every day.

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One of the best and most famous deserts are alfajores, cookie-ish deserts that vary based on region in Argentina. These are fancier coconut alfajores filled with dulce de leche, but you can also buy them in corner stores (there are probably over 50 kinds of pre-packaged alfajores).

 

While the food here has been great and I am still enjoying trying new things, after six months I will definitely be happy to return to foods that I am more accustomed to in the U.S. (and to finally eat a few vegetables)!


Meghann in Argentina: Weekend in Uruguay

October 24, 2017

This weekend, after almost four whole months in Argentina, I finally left the country to spend the weekend in Uruguay. It’s funny to see other friends that are studying abroad leave their home country nearly every weekend to travel to other countries; while Argentina is so expansive and has so much diversity within its own borders that I definitely have not had a lack of things to see or do, it was nice to get a new stamp in my passport. I went with sixteen other students from my university to rent a house in the countryside of Colonia, a small colonial town located right on the water. Colonia is just a short one-hour ferry ride away from Buenos Aires—in fact, if the weather is nice, you can faintly make out part of the skyline near where I live.

 

We started by taking advantage of the beautiful weather by heading to a small, hidden beach that the owner of our rental house told us about. You could walk out almost a quarter mile with the waves only going up to your waist, which was peaceful to do under the sunset with no one but our group around. Being totally alone in the water and seeing my friends on the beach as tiny, ant-like figures, it was crazy to think that Buenos Aires was less than fifty miles away from where I stood.

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Our own “private” beach outside of Colonia. In the distance, you can see a small island that many of us swam out to.

The next day a few of us ventured two hours southeast to the capital city of Montevideo. While my host parents have told me that Montevideo is “un Buenos Aires chiquito,” or “a tiny Buenos Aires,” there was still a lot to see in the city. We explored markets, plazas, and the Ramblas, which is the longest sidewalk in the world that stretches across the entirety of the beautiful coastline of Montevideo.

 

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The architecture of Montevideo did not fail to impress—this building in Plaza de Independencia towered as tall as many of the structures in Buenos Aires.

Our final day was spent in the city of Colonia, which was definitely my favorite place in Uruguay. We walked around the historic quarter (a UNESCO World Heritage sight) by an old lighthouse and convent ruins, relaxed in the sun on a dock by the waterfront, and explored the cute cobblestoned streets where the Portuguese and Spanish influences were inescapable. I can’t say I ever imagined that I would be sitting on top of 17th century ruins while eating gelato as the sun set on the water in Uruguay, of all places, but sharing that experience with some of the great friends I’ve made here is something that I’ll never forget.

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Everywhere you look in Colonia, you see cobblestone streets and palm trees.

 

 

 

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Spending our last couple of hours in Uruguay in the historic quarter.


Meghann in Argentina: The “Study” in Study Abroad

October 10, 2017

Based on all of the stories and pictures from my adventures around the city that I share with my family and friends from back home, many of them have joked that I don’t even go to school here—contrary to popular belief, however, I am indeed fully enrolled at la Universidad Católica Argentina (better known as UCA). UCA is a private university with an enrollment of around 18,000 students, located in a very modern neighborhood called Puerto Madero, which translates to “wooden port.” This name is fitting, as UCA is situated right on the water—the views of the river from a few of my classrooms are beautiful (albeit distracting), especially during my evening class when the sun sets over the water.

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My morning view of the river and city skyline while walking to school.

I chose to enroll in four classes in the Latin American Studies Program, which is a group of classes taught primarily for study abroad students. All of my classes meet once a week for three hours and are taught in rapid-fire Spanish. By the end of such long class periods my brain is always fried, but hearing so much Spanish (especially about specific academic themes as opposed to regular conversational Spanish) has definitely been a huge help to my language skills. I am enrolled in Peronist Argentina (Peronism is a political movement/ideology that is highly relevant in Argentine politics), Latin American Art and Architecture, Political and Social Processes in South America, and Argentine Civil Society, and so far I have really enjoyed all four classes. Argentine Civil Society, which is about Argentine Non-Governmental Organizations and their comparative efficacy, is definitely my favorite class. The professors bring in a lot of guest speakers that work for local NGOs, and it is interesting to hear how such organizations (and the problems that they seek to address) differ from those in the United States. We also did a class trip to Plaza de Mayo, a famous plaza outside of la Casa Rosada (the Argentine equivalent of the White House), where unfortunately many homeless people gather to sleep at night. There, we helped cook dinner and distribute clothing with a group that aids the homeless population in this area every week. It has been awesome to have the ability to be engaged in and learn more about the community through my schoolwork.

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Friends from my Latin American Art and Architecture class. Like Richmond, classes here in the Latin American Studies Program tend to be very small!

While sports teams, clubs, and activities in general associated with the university are not common here like they are at Richmond (which is something I definitely miss!), I have also had a couple of fun experiences through UCA outside of the classroom. A few weeks ago, classes were cancelled for a daylong tradition called las Olimpiadas de UCA, or the “UCA Olympics.” The different majors/schools at UCA form teams for a variety of sports and activities that take place in a massive sports club on the outskirts of the city. I played volleyball for UCA’s team of international students—although it was difficult to understand volleyball terms in Spanish, it was still a very enjoyable experience. In typical Argentine fashion, at the end of the day, everyone gathered for a huge asado (barbeque).

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Enjoying the asado after volleyball!


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