Meghann in Argentina: A Mix of Cultures

August 14, 2017

Orientation is over and classes have finally begun, which has given me the chance to start meeting other exchange students from all over the world—on only the first day of class, I spoke with people from countries like Japan, Colombia, France, and Norway, to name a few. It is awesome to not only be able to immerse myself in Argentine culture, but to also experience and learn about parts of other cultures from friends and students in class. A couple of German friends from my pre-semester Spanish course have been teaching me a German word a day—leaving Spanish class just to be taught bits of German is a perfect example of how much I have already learned about cultures, languages, and life in other countries I previously knew very little about.

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When cultures mix: some of my first random German words at the bottom of my Spanish homework.

I really enjoy the idea of being able to learn about and adapt to living in Argentina with other foreigners because it provides the opportunity to both find out about life in other exchange students’ home countries and share about my own experiences in the United States. For example, a long wait for the bus outside of campus led me to talk to an English girl about how different commuting to university in England is in comparison to living on campus in the U.S. I am also excited to take the PEL (Programa de Estudios Latinoamericanos) classes that UCA offers for exchange students, as many of the subjects will likely be even more interesting given that the classes are comprised of student perspectives from all over the globe. I am the only American in my Arte y Arquitectura en America Latina class, and I think it will be a great experience to learn about such an interesting topic that is taught in Spanish and coupled with the views of students from several different continents and many distinctive backgrounds.

 

I definitely did not expect my experience in Buenos Aires to be so wrapped up in other cultures (besides that of Argentina, of course), but I am very pleasantly surprised that my experience has turned out this way; there is so much to be learned when you are surrounded by great diversity.

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A group photo of all of the UCA International students that are here this semester.


Meghann in Argentina: Trip to Córdoba

July 31, 2017

Due to the fact that we have almost two weeks of down time between the end of my three-week Spanish pre-semester course and the first day of orientation, some friends and I decided to use this time to our advantage and take our first trip outside of Buenos Aires. We opted for Córdoba, a city located about 10 hours northwest of Buenos Aires by bus (this distance is considered short by Argentine standards—until I looked at the length of bus trips, I didn’t fully realize just how massive this country is!). Córdoba is home to beautiful Spanish architecture and amazing Jesuit churches, and is the second biggest city in Argentina. Don’t let that size fool you, though—Buenos Aires still has about 12 million more people, so in comparison Córdoba seemed tiny.

 

It was refreshing to get a short break from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. We spent the majority of our four days exploring the city, walking through the cobblestone streets and taking in the colonial architecture. We even stumbled upon a baptism in La Catedral (the oldest church in continuous service in the country) and a mass in a beautiful Jesuit church—although I couldn’t quite keep up with religious services in Spanish, it was still a cool experience to witness them.

 

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The Jesuit church where we sat through part of a mass on Sunday afternoon.

 

By far the best part of the whole trip, however, was a daylong biking tour through the Sierra mountain range. Our awesome guide Juan (who we discovered on TripAdvisor and were drawn to due to glowing reviews) drove us about an hour outside of the city to a small pueblo where we began the tour. Although parts of the trip were fairly grueling for most of us (Juan was the only one who had no trouble zipping up the steep hills), the views of the mountains and the historical sites we stopped at were well worth the workout. My favorite stop was a small Jesuit church in the hills of Candonga, an area where travelers coming by mule from Buenos Aires to the north of the country would stop after weeks of travel and switch out their mules—Juan told us that in some older and more colloquial form of Spanish, Candonga translates to “tired mule.”

 

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Juan very much enjoyed taking GoPro pictures of us throughout the trip.

 

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The one-roomed Jesuit church perched quietly in the Sierras.

 

Our day ended back in the small pueblo that we began in. Juan invited us onto the porch of an old couple that he got to know because he biked by their home so often; he told us that their friendly “holas” quickly turned to friendship, and now every one of his biking tours ends with the couple welcoming strangers into their home for mate (a classic Argentine tea that is shared by passing the gourd it is served in around in a circle) and pastries. If this isn’t an example of how friendly and gracious Argentine people are, I don’t know what is. Elsa, the cute old woman, served us delicious cookies and prepared mate for us as she chattered on about how much her pueblo has grown and changed since her childhood.

 

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Talking with Elsa on her porch.

 

Overall, our trip to Córdoba was very refreshing; the small-city feel and our interactions with such kind people like Juan and Elsa made me excited to see what other cities in Argentina have to offer. That being said, I am excited to be back in Buenos Aires and for university to finally start!


Meghann in Argentina: Porteño Politics

July 21, 2017

One thing that I learned very quickly here is that los porteños (what people in Buenos Aires call themselves) love their politics. Most extensive conversations that I have here eventually turn to politics in one way or another—especially with my host parents! After informing them that I am a Political Science major, they always love to hear my opinion on certain topics and express theirs in turn. My host dad told me that here in Buenos Aires it is “common to hear two best friends in a restaurant turn to enemies while discussing politics, and then turn right back into friends when the wine comes out.”

 

The importance of political activism is not only apparent in conversation, but also in daily public life. There are always small, peaceful manifestaciónes (protests or rallies) going on at street corners, but even more interesting to witness are the big rallies that occur every week in front of la Casa Rosada, a famous government building that contains the President’s office.

 

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My classmates and I went and saw the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group (composed historically of women) that march in a circle every Thursday in front of la Casa Rosada in memory of los desaparecidos (Argentines that were “disappeared” by the military dictatorship in the late 70’s).

 

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Social activism is also commonly witnessed in the streets. Here, a group supports the right to education.

 

I am excited to start taking real classes in Political Science in a couple of weeks when the real school year begins. Hopefully learning about Argentine history and politics will allow me to better participate in the never-ending political discussion that seems to take place here in Buenos Aires!


Meghann in Argentina: Exploring the City

July 12, 2017

Only 1 week down out of approximately 25, and I can already say that I love this city. Over the course of the last few days of exploring Buenos Aires, I have been struck by the diversity of the places I have visited. By way of los colectivos (what they call public busses here), I have made my way to more touristy sights such as el Teatro Colon, one of the best ballet and opera houses in the world, as well as to some hidden gems like Bond Street, an old mall where graffiti artists in Buenos Aires have turned the walls into a sort of gallery.

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Beautiful stained glass inside el Teatro Colon, where I had the opportunity to take a guided tour with my Spanish class.

 

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 Some of the graffiti in the Bond Street gallery.

 

Buenos Aires seems expansive and never-ending, especially to someone like me who has never lived in such a massive city before; my host family told me that even after six months here, I will only get to know a small part of it. Whether it is to visit more “typical” sights of the city or just walk around the little neighborhoods, I am excited to explore more in the coming weeks before my real classes start. Riding around on the confusing system of colectivos has also proven to be a great way to practice my Spanish, as I am constantly asking for directions!

 

 


Meghann in Argentina: One More Week

June 26, 2017

Hi everyone! My name is Meghann and I am a junior from Maryland double majoring in Political Science and Spanish and minoring in Healthcare Studies at University of Richmond. On campus, I work as a Writing Consultant, I tutor UR staff members in English through the Bonner Center, and I also intern at the Sacred Heart Center, a Latino community center in downtown Richmond. This fall semester (although honestly it is a pretty extended semester, as I will be gone from July 1st until a few days before Christmas!) I will be studying at la Universidad Católica Argentina, or UCA, and living with a host family in Buenos Aires. Going to school at UCA will definitely be a change from UR—around 18,000 students attend the university, which is located in the bustling, modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero. I have heard only amazing things about Buenos Aires, known as the “Paris of South America” due to its European influences and wealth of culture.

 

Besides exploring the city that I can’t wait to call home, I also hope to travel around Argentina and see some of the diversity the country has to offer. My Argentine bucket list includes Patagonia in the South (home to incredible glaciers, mountains, wildlife, and hiking), Mendoza in the North (wine country), and the Iguazu Falls (the largest waterfall system in the world), to name a few. I’ve already spent way too much time looking at these places on Google Images…

 

Although exploring the country is definitely a top priority for me, my biggest goal is to become fluent in Spanish. I always knew I wanted to study abroad in Latin America in order to improve my Spanish, as my mom’s side of the family is Colombian and I am the only one who does not fully speak it! I’m guessing six months of immersion and a course load that is entirely in Spanish should help, and I can’t wait to be able to speak to my family without stumbling over my words.

 

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A view of Medellín, Colombia from the last time I was there almost four years ago. I hope to return one day in the near future to stay with family, this time with a new knowledge of the language due to my studies and experiences in Argentina.

 

With just a little over a week before I hop on (three!) planes and make my way down to Buenos Aires, everyone I mention it to keeps asking how I am feeling about my trip. My answer is the same each time—excited. I am excited to meet new people, to immerse myself in a new language and culture, to be independent, and to experience everything I possibly can. Six months looks like a long time on paper, but I am sure it will fly by. My only real concern is that I will be headed down in a walking boot, having recently broken my leg pretty badly. I should probably learn to say that I now have metal plates and screws in my leg in Spanish before I go setting the metal detectors off in airport security…My list of things to do before I leave is slowly but surely dwindling down, leaving me with little to do for the last week besides look forward to everything that lies ahead (and figure out how to pack six months worth of my life into two suitcases).

 

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Some of the essentials for my long journey down to Buenos Aires: my passport, some Argentine pesos, and my walking boot!


Olivia in Sweden: A Swedish Easter!

April 17, 2017

Happy (Belated) Easter!

 

I hear that it’s common for many Swedes to travel to their holiday cottage in the countryside for a family celebration.

For those more comfortable in the city, its not uncommon to see these beautiful trees on balconies, or in this case, the city center. (Usually, they are much smaller!)

 

 

Here in Flogsta, we had our own little celebration!

 

 

We all brought meals and desserts that we had prepared.

 

We even put up our own little Easter tree.

 

 

And finished the day with a successful egg hunt, which we had all hidden in our rooms!

 

More spring festivities are on its way! Until next time!


Janus in Singapore: Kuala Lumpur

April 17, 2017

Finally got around to a trip to Malaysia. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t happen – all but 1 of my flat mates had been before, and the rest of my friends in Singapore were already busy reviewing for finals at SMU, which apparently is a bit of a colossal affair. My roommate Loic and I sat down one day and found a three-day period that we were both free of obligations, though, and decided to take a rather spontaneous trip to Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. In hindsight, given that I have four finals in a five days as opposed to the usual two week spread, it probably wasn’t a great time to go. But I wasn’t about to go back home after spending a semester in Singapore without a Malaysian immigration stamp on my passport.

A view from the bottom of the Petronas Towers. Inside are a series of malls full of luxury brands, like fifth avenue or orchard road compressed inside a city block.

The trip was absurdly cheap. I spent just under $120 or 3 days without really worrying too much about my budget, either. Roundtrip bus tickets cost about $30, two nights at a nice hostel were another $30, and the remaining $60 afforded me the opportunity to try anything I wanted from the famous Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market, a 90-minute massage, uber/grab transportation, and a few drinks at the local bar.

A view of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the KL Tower. It’s no New York, but it’s impressive that you can still see tall buildings in what seems to be miles away from the city center.

The hostel was probably the price that shocked me the most, as I expected something much cheaper. My classmates who had taken trips to other Southeast Asian counties like Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia, found similar quality or better lodging for around $5-10 a night, whereas even the luxury villa we booked on our earlier trip to Bali cost about $50 for 4 nights for much more extravagant lodging. But it was ultimately worth it – the hostel was right in the middle of the food street, and was at most a half hour cab ride away from the sights we wanted to see.

One of the many food stalls in the Jalan Alor Food Street. Like in Beijing and Xian food streets, nothing beats the lamb skewers in both taste and value.

When Loic and I found ourselves complaining about the price of the hostel as we sat outside the hostel eating lamb skewers and drinking sugar cane juice, we stopped for a moment and laughed at the absurdity of it. Back home, $15 a night for housing, especially of this quality, was nothing. We felt like living in Asia had given us a different conception of cheap and money. It was a realization that my classmates from the first semester and I had, too, towards the end of our stay in China. It’s probably one of the things I appreciate the most from spending so much time abroad – you get a better appreciation of money. If people can live off of x amount, it’s harder to justify spending at the rate you do when you’re back home in the U.S. on luxurious things.
There were five big places that we experienced – the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower, the Batu Caves, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, and of course the Alor food street. If TripAdvisor and my flatmates’ advice were to be heeded, these were the must see spots in Kuala Lumpur.

The outside of the Batu Caves. There are about 250 steps to get to the caves, with perhaps just as many wild monkeys to greet you on the way up.

The towers were absolutely gorgeous, though to be honest it felt like they didn’t fit in their surroundings. What I liked about Kuala Lumpur was that that there was a very nice and not too stark contrast between the old and the new. Like Manila, there were many worn down and dirty buildings, and interspersed among them were newer, cleaner, taller buildings that served a variety of purposes, from government buildings to corporate headquarters to residential areas. But they were never TOO clean, TOO new, TOO tall, so as to be strange – it just seemed like a city that, like many others, was growing up. Like Singapore, there was a lot of greenery in the metropolis that helped smooth out the edges of old and new, too. Parks flowed seamlessly into untamed jungle, and this somehow made the abandoned shacks or construction sites next to bank buildings seem natural, too.

We were wondering where the lights came from as the inside of the cave was well lit, and we were treated to this view after about a minute or two of walking inside.

But the Petronas Towers were just… too different. It wasn’t just the fact that the Towers (and the 30m shorter KL towers) were over 100m taller than the next tallest buildings, though that definitely played a big role. There was something about how the towers looked that made it seem distinctly not-so Kuala Lumpur. Its metallic silver color and the layered outside texture gives it an almost violent feeling that makes it seem like a ripple in the much more relaxed and low-key set-up of the rest of the city. Maybe that’s why it’s such a famous building – not just for its size, but for the emotions you get when you look up from the earth in Kuala Lumpur and see something so alien.
The KL Towers, unfortunately, didn’t impress quite as much. It wasn’t so much the fault of the building – it, too, is quite tall, standing at 420 meters, though aesthetically it’s quite plain outside of the sphere-like structure at the top of the tower. It was the fault of the view, really. The sky and observation decks of the the tower, which are its main attractions, offered a great vantage point to view the rest of the city. But that was just the problem – there really wasn’t that much to see. Besides the Petronas Towers, most of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is quite unimpressive, though it was surprising to see just how far out the city stretched. The view, though, did cement the contrast that I talked about previously – sometimes you would see two buildings next to each other that looked identical, only one was a cleaner, newer, and taller version of the other.
The Batu Caves were the the highlight of the trip, for sure. The site’s main attraction is the series of cave and Hindu temples inside. When my flatmates who had been before talked about it, it sounded like they weren’t too impressed: they said they didn’t really understand the religious significance or what was so impressive about a bunch of caves. To be honest, I don’t either – it seemed just like any other Hindu temple that I’d seen. But it’s one of those things where once you walk up the stairs, past all the wild monkeys eating fruit and drinking from bottles left behind, and into the damp, naturally light caves and see the monuments and altars scattered around, as if they were just left behind by their creators, there’s a really strange and almost magical feeling you get inside you. This place just seemed so remote, so far away from society, so serene – and especially in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the moment of quiet is special.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Currently under renovation, so we couldn’t go inside – but the outside served for a good enough background photo.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was just a pretty thing to look at, to be honest. We didn’t spend much time there at all, but my flatmate and I did end up relaxing in the green just across from it. It had a very country club feel to it – there were a few fancy restaurants and a beautiful white marble forum right next to it – but somehow, there were very few people in the green itself, even though we were there during what I would imagine to be peak hours, just after people would start getting out of school or work and just before it got dark.
A really interesting place. I don’t think Kuala Lumpur is a must-visit by any means, but I’m really happy I made the trip out .


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