Ella in Buenos Aires: Reflection

July 20, 2018

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Wow. I can’t believe that my semester abroad is already over! I had such an amazing time in Buenos Aires, and I will definitely be advocating for other students from UR to choose to study abroad in Argentina–or at least in South America. My semester was so different than what I expected it to be, but in the best way possible. I am truly going to miss my host family, my new friends from all over the world, and the city itself.

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I learned an incredible amount about Argentine culture. I also came to realize that every single country and the provinces within them in South America are so unique and different. Before actually living there, I had sort of grouped all of the countries together under one big category. However, they are truly so distinct and are proud to tell you about how their nation differs from others. Once, two of my friends started playfully arguing about whether Argentine or Venezuelan empanadas were better. It turns out they are made in a completely different way and filled with different meat! This is just another example of something that I would never have expected to be so distinct in every individual country.

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Before I left, I wrote that one of my goals was to improve my Spanish-speaking skills, and I think I definitely succeeded. I am not fully fluent yet, but I can certainly understand people speaking very well, and can come up with a coherent response in Spanish. I credit this to my host mom, who only ever spoke to me in Spanish!

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Another one of my goals was to play a lot of soccer while I was down there. I am very happy with how much I was able to play, and I am so thankful for all the friends that I made through Buenos Aires Futbol Amigos. Above is a photo of a few of my friends and I after a tournament! I had an amazing experience that I will never forget!

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Ella in Buenos Aires: Family in Town!

June 27, 2018

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This past week has been crazy busy for me since it was finals week, the beginning of the World Cup, and my family came down to visit! Obviously, I hadn’t seen my parents or brothers for the four months that I have been down in South America, which was really hard for me. I was so happy to see them and felt so lucky that they were all able to make the trip down. We had such a good time together.


We did so many activities, like a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery! I had walked through the cemetery tons of times but had never done and actual tour. I learned so much about all the different mausoleums within the cemetery. Did you know that real estate companies buy the mausoleums from families that don’t want to maintain them anymore, and sell them to other families who hope to obtain a single place where they can bury all their loved ones? It was so interesting to learn about and observe the tombs of some of Argentina’s most important people. The cemetery is home to many Argentine writers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures, presidents, and politicians, one of the most famous being Eva Perón.

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We also took a visit to the MALBA, one of my favorite museums in Buenos Aires. Here’s me observing a self portrait of Frida Kahlo with a monkey featured in the museum.

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Here’s the whole fam at caminito in La Boca neighborhood! My brothers love soccer and were so excited to see the famous La Bombonera Stadium where the Boca Juniors club plays.

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Finally, we were lucky enough to snag seats at a restaurant to watch la Selección (the Argentine National Futbol Team) play in their first two games in the World Cup! I feel like my family is just as excited as the rest of the country that Argentina is moving on to the round of sixteen starting this weekend!

Chau for now!


Ella in Buenos Aires: A Weekend in Salta

June 25, 2018


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Things have been getting kind of crazy here since finals are coming up! This week I wanted to write about my amazing trip to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. I went with four of my good friends that I met here in Buenos Aires at the Universidad Católica Argentina.

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First we traveled to the cities of Humahuaca and Tilcara, which were absolutely incredible. The mountains were breathtaking.

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Next, we went to Purmamarca, and to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, which went on as far as the eye could see. We learned that the government harvests the salt to sell! I had never seen anything like it in my life. We thought our car looked cool against the barren landscape.

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Last, we went to the city of Cafayate, which is kind of off the beaten path. None of our friends had been there before, so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect but we ended up having such a great time. The bodegas weren’t all open since it is the low season in terms of tourism, but the ones that we found were so cute and nice. I think this is my favorite city I’ve been to in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires. I can’t tell you how calm and relaxing it was! Also, the people we met were so nice and friendly.

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The whole trip was an incredible experience, but the highlight was definitely the hike that we went on in Cafayate. Our guide took us all the way to the top of steep mountain, where we could see the whole city below us. On our way up we saw five different waterfalls, and a whole herd of wild mountain goats!

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Now that I’m back in BA, I really have to hit the books this week so that I’m ready for finals!

Chau for now!


Justine in Russia: My Friend, My Host Mom

June 18, 2018

The hardest part about leaving Russia was not leaving the place itself, but leaving the people. This includes the people in my program, the Russian students I met at the university, and last but not least, my host mom. One of the main reasons I had such a wonderful time in Russia was because of how my host mom treated me.

I remember the first time I met her, I was extremely nervous because I thought I was being rude. However, I really did not have much to say. I only knew about twenty verbs and none of them I could use to describe me. I also had a two month long break from my Russian (only a semester), so I was extremely terrified. I remember sitting in this taxicab with my host mom and she could obviously feel my nerves. She would tell me to look out the window and talk about how beautiful certain streets/monuments were. When we finally got to the apartment, I was really tired and still stressed because I hadn’t spoken many words to her. However, she was extremely kind and accommodating the whole time. Even though I share a room with my grandma at home, sharing a flat with an older person still worried me.

What if I made too much noise after 9pm? What if I came home late too often? I remember over our first dinner, she was speaking 90% of the time and I did not really talk much (only because I really could not understand most of the things she was saying). I managed to pick up a few things about her family, but I forgot a lot of important details. Towards the end of the program, I asked her things like what she used to work as, etc. As she retold me all of this information, it hit me that she did tell me all of this information, but my vocabulary was not big enough for me to understand half the words she was saying.


In my second week, there was a power out in our apartment complex for about three hours, but we still managed to have dinner in the dark.


My host mom always treated me like I was one of her own, not just a student living in her house. Every time she made a meal, it was for us to share and we always talked about our day. She would divide our food in half, but always snuck an extra scoop of rice or extra piece of cutlet. I always felt bad whenever I called home and let her know that I would not be home for dinner, but most of the time I just went home and stuffed myself anyway because I did not have the heart to call her thirty minutes earlier. Every morning, I would tell her when I was leaving and she would either tell me I was overdressed or underdressed or that I forgot to bring an umbrella. She asked me if I was wearing a new shirt or if she has just never seen me wear it before. She asked me about my friends and about my plans everyday. She wanted me to have plans. She was happy whenever I stayed out late because “I am young and I should”. On her birthday, she hosted a dinner party with her friends and I. She was young at heart, even though she had just turned eighty one years old. We lived on a fifth floor walk-up. She walks everywhere and goes skiing every Saturday in winter and early spring. She told me she’s been to Brazil eight times. She has been to many places. She talks about her daughters and her grandchildren.


The dinner table (that she set up in her bedroom since the kitchen only had room for approximately four people).

Sometimes I came home from school late and she would have left a note for me telling me what she had prepared for me to reheat. I would always wait for her to come home before I went to sleep (once that was around 1:10am, but it was a Saturday). She always supported my decisions and never questioned what I did. When I was sick for that one week in March, I told her I did not want to go back to the doctor anymore and she did not push me to do anything crazy besides sleep. I told her I was going to Kazakhstan and Ukraine for travel week and she told me they were great places to go. I told her I was going to hop on the midnight bus to Helsinki and come back eighteen hours later because I did not want to pay for accommodation. However, all she did was laugh at me and said that she would look forward to seeing me home Sunday morning at 5am (she was asleep when I came back, but woke me up at 9am for breakfast).

I remember when I was packing my stuff up the day before I had to go, she would pass by my room and laugh at my lack of progress. I usually am a fast packer, but knowing this was the end of my study abroad made it a lot harder. I know I will return to Saint Petersburg to visit her, but I would no longer be the person living in that room. I no longer had the keys to her apartment. There would be someone else living there. I know she will let me in and make me tea like she always did. She will yell at me because I would have brought her a souvenir from somewhere (I always brought her back something whenever I left Petersburg). The day I left Petersburg, she was going to fly to Greece that same night. I assume she has returned, but who knows, she could be anywhere right now. I am currently writing a letter to her, but I haven’t finished yet.


Packing on the day before my flight.

I remember us hugging goodbye as my Uber driver patiently waited for us to say our last words to each other. When I finally got into the car, my street was full of traffic, so my host mom stood by the car for another two minutes. My driver was a kind Uzbek man from Samarkand. He asked my host mom if she wanted to come to the airport too and she smiled and said that I would be alright. When we finally drove away, my driver could obviously tell that I was sad and started asking me questions. He asked whether she was my grandmother and I smiled and told him that she was my host mother. I spent the rest of the ride telling him all about her and how much I looked forward to coming back here (might have shed a few tears along the way).

As I sign off for the last time, I can’t say до следующего раза (until next time) anymore. The last thing I said to my host mom was увидимся! (I will see you) and I hope this statement holds true, wherever my life takes me next, to Saint Petersburg, to my favorite pasta bar, to the Central Asian market, to the 24-hour flower shops, to the 181 bus to Smolny, to Russia, to my host mom.





Justine G.

no longer Жюстин, but Жустин (Джастин, on official documents).

Ella in Buenos Aires: Soccer in BA – Round II

May 27, 2018

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Hello!!! This week, my awesome host fam brought me to watch a professional soccer game of one of the “big five” clubs of Argentine futbol. RACING! Racing Club plays in the top division of the Argentina league system.


Here’s what their logo looks like. I didn’t have a jersey of theirs when I attended the match, but I made sure to wear light blue and white. Everyone there was completely dressed in Racing gear. It was amazing!

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I loved seeing how all the different neighborhoods and areas of greater Buenos Aires made signs and banners with their neighborhood names. Other banners had phrases on them such as “Racing, I love you so much it hurts.” Everyone sang and jumped throughout the whole game. It was such a different culture than that of soccer games in the US.

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Also this past weekend, I played in a co-ed soccer tournament with the soccer organization that I joined here, Buenos Aires Futbol Amigos! It was an insanely fun tournament. Each team played about 6 games, 15 minutes each. I was super tired by the end!


When my team got eliminated, the team that beat us asked me to join their team to play in the championship since one of their girls got injured! The matches were really competitive but friendly afterwards which I appreciated.

See you next week!


Justine in Russia: The Final Week

May 22, 2018

I started writing this the beginning of this week, but realized it was much harder for me to put my words together as I waited for days to pass.

The last week was not so stressful for me because I took it as a final week to take in my entire semester here. I admit, I did not really study for my finals nor did I really think about doing so. The saddest part about leaving was that our finals ended, only for us to be forced to leave the country within the next two days.

I spent my last week saying goodbye to my favorite places and visiting all the places I haven’t been to before. We were also blessed with amazing weather. The last three weeks ran from being 65 degrees to 85 degrees. It was blue skies and beautiful sunsets almost all of May.


Amazing sunsets every single night.


Flowers were at a bloom at the Botanical Garden.

I did not skip any of my assignments, but I took a lot of my time trying to enjoy my last nights out. I would take walks for over three hours and come home at midnight to get ready for the next day. There was no feeling of dread to go home, but more of a feeling that there was so much left for me to do in Petersburg. However, I knew that I was not going to throw away my entire semester the last week and had to power through. My oral exam for conversation did not go as well as I anticipated, but I have high hopes for my grammar exams.


I was really happy I found the time to visit the Hermitage one last time.


I returned to “the beach” to watch the sunset one last time.

I like to say that I grew a lot on this study abroad experience. It is not the matter of improving my language skills or becoming more immersed in the culture, but becoming more aware of myself. I am from New York and I am extremely proud of it. My city is extremely diverse, but I slowly feel less and less welcome here. I’ve had an identity crisis my entire life. I struggle to fit into the mold of being Asian-American, which makes no sense to me. What exactly is American? I also do not fit into being Chinese because I have spent my entire life in the United States. I feel stuck. Being in Petersburg made me feel a little less lost and helped me start to accept myself. No one cares about you in Petersburg. I live unnoticed and I have never been so happy to be unnoticed. I think it is a feeling I have been hoping for, for the past 21 years of my life. I never thought I would be able to find it here, but I did. In a country where I barely speak the language, I found home in myself. I cannot call this place home, nor will I ever be able to, but the past 18 weeks here really made me feel like I was home.

There are people and places that I will forever hold to my heart and there is no doubt that I will return one day. It will not be the same considering that I will not be a student (maybe), but I know I will return. There are places I will never be able to let go and Saint Petersburg is one of them. My host mom is one of them, but I think I will dedicate my last post to her.


A final goodbye to Smolny Sabor (church right in front of the university).

До следующего раза (until next time)

Justine G.

Жюстин, usually Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.

Justine in Russia: Victory Day

May 22, 2018

I waited a bit to write this because I do not think it is fair for me to put any of my opinions about this holiday, but I wanted to share my experience with it.

Victory Day also known as День Победы is celebrated on the 9th of May. The day is recognized to celebrate the German surrender of the World War II. The rest of the world celebrates it on 8th of May because of timezone differences. The day also is to commemorate war veterans and family members who died during wartime.

What usually happens on Victory Day is a military parade in the early hours, but I decided to avoid that and took myself to the sea to reflect a little.


I decided to spend my morning at Primorskaya, where there were some groups of friends and families relaxing on the grass. 

I later decided that I will never have this kind of opportunity to see this parade again, so I decided to go down to the city centre to see the rest of the parade. I got to the city centre around 1:00pm, so the military parade was over.

The second parade of the day involved people bringing pictures of their deceased family members from the war and marching down the main boulevard to pay their respects.


People marching down the main boulevard with photos of their deceased family members. (not a protest)

What made this experience even more powerful was that we were in Saint Petersburg. Many of the people who died and were being commemorated during this march were people who died during the Siege of Leningrad. The Siege of Leningrad lasted for about 900 days and over 1 million people died from starvation. At one point, I was trying to cross the street to reach the metro station, but I got sucked into the parade crowd. I decided to do the walk for the next thirty minutes, but I felt a bit disrespectful since I wasn’t there to commemorate any of my family members. There was a feeling of unity in this crowd, since there were people from all parts of the former Soviet Union. People were carrying flags from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, etc. People were chanting about the end of the war and how their family members would forever be remembered.

I eventually ducked out because I had to go home and prepare for my exams the next day, but there were going to be fireworks later that night.


The entire city was decorated with flags and flags to commemorate the end of the war.


This pillar is only lit up once a year and it burns for 24 hours on Victory Day.

I have to keep mentioning this, but I know and am fully aware that I am a foreigner. I felt like a bit of a spectator and a bit disrespectful throughout this entire day because I had no connection to this holiday. However, I felt that the entire city was in a complete unity and everyone held the same feelings of respect that day. We gathered with the rest of the city and waited for the fireworks to start.


I was a little too excited to see people with a Turkmen flag.

No doubt, these were the loudest fireworks I have ever heard in my entire life. I started screaming when they began, but the sky was clear and it was nerve-wracking, yet peaceful.



I wish I could say more than “it was an interesting experience”, but I really have no right to give anymore input especially as a foreigner. I do not know their culture or their feelings towards the holiday, so all I can do is observe.

До следующего раза (until next time)

Justine G.

Жюстин, usually Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.

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