Monday, May 28, 2012

Activities during the first few days

I know most of my friends back home aren't considering travelling to BA and don't care about my recommendations for a homestay, so here is what I've been up to!

The first day here, Friday, I was really tired, overwhelmed, and kind of wondering why the hell I came to Argentina. But, I did venture out of my room and met my housemate D, who is also in a CEA program. He's been staying in Chacarita (our neighborhood of BA) since January, so he was kind enough to show me around a bit and even invited me out with him and his friends.

We went to this really cool closed door bar called Frank's Bar. I had read about it in my BA research and was really excited to check it out. I took my first ride on a collectivo (thanks again to D, because I didn't have monedas/change for the bus) and we headed out to Palermo to meet his friends and walk to the bar. When we got there we had to wait awhile to get in, but once inside the first door there is just a telephone booth. Customers have to enter a secret code into the number pad of the phone and hidden door pops open to this really posh bar. It has nice wood bar with crystal chandeliers and comfy lounge areas. And there's even a sex shop as you leave in case all the expensive drinks and low lights have you feeling frisky on the way out. Definitely not a bumping boliche, but considering I just flew in that morning it was just what I needed to help me acclimate a bit.

The next day, Saturday, we had the CEA arranged city tour, and I rode the subway and a taxi for the first time with my host mom. We talked about the city and met everyone in our program then walked around a bit to a nice place to eat called La Dorita. I took pictures of everything along the way and the inside of the restaurant because it had really cool chandeliers made of recycled bottles. When we were done, we took a private van around the city, and one of the CEA coordinators, Pamela, who explained all the sites in Spanish. We got an overview of the main neighborhoods: Belgrano, Palermo, Recoleta, San Telmo, La Boca, and Puerto Madero (notice Chacarita wasn't on the tour?). The city is full of beautiful European style architecture, cool street art, and other neat things like statues and tributes to Los Desaparecidos, those who were abducted and likely killed during the "Dirty War".

We stopped in La Boca after admiring the stadium, La Bombonera, wear the fĂștbol team Boca Juniors play. Fans are nuts there and are called the "12th player" because the Boca Juniors couldn't win without them. Then we walked around "Caminito", a small street with a lot of shops and cafes. Its a bit of a tourist trap and is a little shady in the evenings, which I think is why they brought us as a large group with an escort. It's a very artsy neighborhood with a lot of character, although I wouldn't want to be anywhere near it after a Boca Juniors match.

When we were done with the tour we all parted ways and napped like crazy. It is very exhausting trying to absorb all that knowledge being thrown at you in another language, and we did a fair amount of walking too. Later my friend A, also from Southern IL, and I met up and had a "date" at a very delicious pizza joint we happened across while exploring her neighborhood. It was very romantic even if she disagrees (:P). It was interesting ordering without a program assistant to help interpret, luckily our waiter was very patient and amused with us.

Sunday was an off day for the program, a day to relax and rest before the placement exam today. A and I planned to meet up at the university and then go to the San Telmo feria which happens every Sunday. Somehow we managed to miss each other; she got lost coming to the university while I went looking for her, and then I got lost going back to the university as she headed home. I decided to walk home and am still regretting it as my feet haven't quite recovered. I don't even know how far I walked but it took at least an hour. When I got home and conversed with A about our mishap, she asked if I wanted to come back to explore with her more knowledgable roomie, C. Equivalent to my D, C has been in BA for about 4 months already. So of course I did, I can't pass up a chance to soak up someone's knowledge when they're just handing it out. We ended up in Chinatown and then went to see Hombres en Negro 3. That was a trip, because when the cashier asked us, "3D or regular", none of us knew what she was saying. Luckily A & C's host mom came with us, and was able to save the day. She also helped me find my bus stop and ran from one side of the crosswalk to the other with me, so you know she's good people.

Today we had a placement test for Spanish and tomorrow I start my classes from 10AM to 3 PM. We also toured around the university and Belgrano with Nahuel and grabbed some tasty lunch at a nearby mall. A mall here seems to pretty much mean a building with all the really pricey shops in it. After the tour split up, the girls split into groups, some going to get cell phones, others went home, but A and I went shopping! I'm happy with my purchases and the exchange rate on my credit card, but I need to do some more. 

I have a ton of pictures but they are taking forever to load to they might need to be posted State-side.

I don't know yet what tomorrow will hold, but I think my feet might need a break! Buenos Aires is tough on the feet, I will need a pedicure before all is said and done!

(Also, I'm not Not talking about my host family & A's host mom with names and details because I'm rude, I just want to protect their privacy. The CEA people's information is available online so no secrets there.)

First impressions of Buenos Aires

Well, I've been in Buenos Aires a few days now, and I have a few impressions, some original, some not so much.

First of all, the dog poop on the sidewalks isn't THAT bad. It may be because its fall here that it doesn't seem so unbearable, but I think its because the insane about of goose poo that litters my school has given me great feces-avoidance practice. (For those who don't know, there is no pooper-scooper law in BA and a LOT of dogs).

Second, you do need to live and breathe the Guia-T or you will spend all your money on taxis, which is horrible. For example, the other day I took a taxi home rather than take a late night bus ride by myself, and my taxi driver had absolutely no idea where the intersection I asked for was. He radioed the office, stopped another taxi driver, and asked some random people on the street, but STILL was only able to find my street but several blocks away from my corner. My advice is to know a landmark near you, like a busy intersection or a subway station that is within walking distance. You shouldn't give the taxi driver your exact address anyway.

Lastly, Buenos Aires is not all cosmopolitan and crazy night life. I live in a almost totally residential area in a neighborhood called Chacarita, where the streets are quite and empty at night (hence the taxi home). If you go with a program like CEA and want to be in a homestay, request that you be in at least Belgrano, if not Palermo. My host mom and family are great, but CEA was out of their minds to place me a homestay that is so isolated from everyone else in my program.

I'm going to write another post about what I've been up to because I don't want this one to be too long, but keep this in mind if you are considering a study abroad to BA!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Primero dia en Argentina


I am listening to my host family laughing and singing and it is making me a bit homesick. My host mom only speaks Spanish, which is great, but its a little overwhelming.

Now that I've arrived and gotten some proper sleep, I need to venture out and find an ATM and some food, but I feel very weird in someone else's house. I feel like I should creep around like bulgar. I know they do this all the time and everyone has been very friendly, but I've never even had a roommate so living with others is a totally new experience. It feels much safer in my room but I will not get to experience BA like that.

Just a word (ok, vent) about my flight before I go exploring:

I had a pretty uneventful flight, but I don't recommend flying through Dallas if you will have a layover of any length. They have a great selection of food, but you cannot convince me that an airport that busy can't afford free wifi and a outlets scattered about. They have a few "charging stations" with uncomfortable little stools that are packed but not a single outlet in the comfort lounge.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Packing and other last minute details

It is amazing how big life changes like moving to another continent don't seem real even the day before getting on the plane. I've been packing, checking things off my list, and yet as long as I get up and go to work in the morning it seems like nothing is about to happen.

But it is! And just in case you are also feeling a little underwhelmed before your travels, here are a few things you should consider while preparing to go to Buenos Aires:

1. Buenos Aires is in Argentina, not Brazil. It is amazing how many people have said to me "Wow, Brazil!" I've gotten into the habit of saying Buenos Aires, Argentina, and so should you. Also, people will look at you funny if you whip out a world map & point to your destination...

2. The seasons in Buenos Aires are approximately the opposite of the weather in the midwest. For example, it is currently 82F and sunny in St. Louis and quickly becoming a sticky, hot, summer, but in BA is only 63F and becoming fall.

3. Argentina collects a $140 receprocity fee from American's entering through the international airports in Buenos Aires, EZE and AEP, but you only need to pay it once every 10 years. So be prepared for that.  There's a few ways to avoid the fee, by flying in elsewhere for example, but that just creates more ways to lose your luggage in my opinion.

4. Pack light. I know this is in every travel advice column, but really, pack light. If you're staying for any length of time you'll want to fit in with the locals, so buy some clothing items there and leave enough room in your suitcase to bring back your cool new stuff!

5. When traveling with American Airlines you get ONE 50 pound checked bag, one carry-on (45inches) and one "personal item" which can also be 45 inches. Since you could theoretically have two small carry-ons, consider packing a collapsible duffel bag in your suitcase to carry your purchases back in.

And lastly here is another blog about Argentina, this one is focused more one living like a local: Tourist 2 Townie. It also has information about other South & Central American countries.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leaving in about 48 hours!


In less than 48 hours, I'll be at the airport, checking into my flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I can't believe the time has flown by so quickly. I had big plans to write a few blog posts about the process of getting ready in real-time, but life has other plans, and so it goes.

Instead, here is the quick recap: I’m coming to the tail end of a Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a specialization in International Business. Damn the luck, this degree comes with a requirement to study abroad! What better way to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and foundations of curiosity and adventure than to ship off to another country for as long as financially possible! I also will graduate with minors in Spanish and Peace Studies, so it was important to me to study in a Spanish-speaking nation.

Originally I thought of Spain. Who wouldn’t want to sit on sun soaked beaches & eat tapas? But, as a business student, I of course had to consider the exchange rate. And it was not favorable. Although inflation is high in BA, the exchange rate is about 4 pesos per 1 US Dollar, and that is doable.
I chose Buenos Aires because it is a large, cosmopolitan city, and pretty much the opposite of everything I’m used to in the States. The nearest city, St. Louis, has a population of a mere 320,000 people, while Buenos Aires has around 1.3 million people. It has large Italian, German, and Japanese populations and is a veritable melting pot of culture.
Some of my favorite resources for travel information are:

Matador Network is a great place for candid articles about language learning, traveling, and life in general. They have a great community and it’s a good place to go to ask questions.

Gringo in Buenos Airesis a blog by an expat in BA. He has published an eBook of his blogs and it covers a huge range of topics, from public transportation, to safety, to where to shop and eat.

LonelyPlanet may not be as up-to-date as a blog or a community driven site like Matador Network, but it’s a good place to get an understanding of what Argentina (or any country) has to offer.

The program I’m traveling through is CulturalExperiences Abroad(CEA). I really haven’t been all that impressed. They are expensive, payment options are limited and have hefty fees, ridiculously quick due dates (if you indicate you’ll be paying cash), and they are slow to get information to you. But, they provide airport pick up, arrange excursions, provide on-site support, and handle getting your transcript to your school. Most study abroad offices should be familiar with them and they provide a number of programs all over the world. Tuition for the four week intensive language program at University of Belgrano, with deposits and fees, is $4,440, and airfare is another $1,200 - $1,500.

 Research your program, because you can direct-enroll in some of them through the host institution. Mine, for example, is through the Universityof Belgrano, and I recently found the same program listed on their website. I’m not sure if it’s less expensive, but it probably does not offer pre-arranged excursions.
Well, I’ll leave you with that for now. I need to pack, so next time I’ll offer some advice on packing and the process of getting to your destination!