I have been in Buenos Aires, Argentina for 10 days, and already, I have been to five different barios (neighborhoods), slept in four different beds, cried at least three times, learned mate etiquette, and found my home away from home.
I left Omaha, Nebraska in the afternoon on the 20th of July. After a giant cheeseburger and a few delays, I boarded my flight from DFW on a humid Texas summer night and flew straight into “winter” 5309 miles away. On the 10.5 hour flight, I sat between an Argentine woman who fed me Starbursts and a woman who moved to Buenos Aires from Germany after WWII, at only 8 years old. She talked my ear off about her children and grandchildren until I took a few sleeping pills and said hasta luego.
I arrived in Buenos Aires on the morning of July 21st with a large group of other students from my program: CIEE Liberal Arts. Luckily, there was no missing luggage, so me, my one backpack, one carry on suitcase, and one medium/large checked bag (I packed very light) carried on. The program bussed all the students to the Lyon Hotel where we would all spend one night and drop our luggage. Next, we went out for a lunch with all the professors and students making a group of around 70. The tables were filled with empanadas and tortilla española, some real traditional comidas. Unfortunately, I ordered the veggie wok and received a bowl of mostly cabbage, but others had delicious plates of milanesa chicken coated in cheese with sides of potatoes. Following lunch, all of the students headed to FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales aka my Uni) for orientation. We met all of the directors and connected to some WiFi before returning to the hotel. Quickly, plans started to form for an evening out, but after two days of traveling, a little pizza, and a glass of wine, I was safely tucked into bed way before any Boliche (nightclub) opens. The day was overwhelming in just about every way imaginable. From trying to memorize everyone’s names and navigate the very busy Calle Corrientes, I fell asleep exhausted, excited, and a little frightened for what was to come.
On the 22nd of July, orientation continued. There were sessions on safety, public transit, and insurance before sitting down to take the written placement exam, full of the subjunctive. At the end of a long day, all 60 students piled into the hotel lobby with all our luggage to meet our host families. My host mother María came to pick me up with her mother. We took a taxi to their apartment in the Bario Norte de Recoleta. The apartment was in a nice older building, and the family had three small levels. The main living area had a kitchen table and a tv room. There was a small kitchen off of the room. A very steep spiral staircase led up to the bedroom of the host mother and her 11 year old daughter on the second floor, and on the third floor was a small apartment for me. I had one small common room with a mini fridge and sink, a small bathroom, and a small bedroom. Everything was a little dirty compared to my usual U.S. standards, but I thought that I would just have to make do. Dinner was at 9 p.m. every night, and the first night, my host mother made empanadas. Following dinner, I went back up to my room and called it a night.
The following day, Saturday the 23rd of July, I walked my ten minute “commute” to school. I had an oral exam, and then began taking the COPI placement exam which consisted of me speaking to a computer for an hour, all in spanish of course. Following the test, I went on a tour of Puerto Madero with a group of twenty students. The tour lasted from 11 in the morning until the sun was down. Puerto Madero was absolutely gorgeous, similar to the meat packing district of Nueva York. All of the warehouses have been renovated into million dollar apartments, fancy restaurants (with the exception of TGI Fridays and McDonalds), and night clubs. I went back to my homestay following the tour. When I got home, I met my host sister Luli for the first time. She was very nice and stayed pretty occupied on her cellphone. We then ate a dinner of french fries, ham, and salad. After dinner, I met some friends at The Temple Bar in Palermo at midnight, which was about a 20 minute taxi ride. The environment was extremely cool, lots of young professionals and other young people just meeting up with friends. I was in bed by two in the morning which makes me lame according to Buenos Aires standards. In BA it is not strange to see an elderly couple going to dinner at midnight, or going to get ice cream with your grandma after midnight. It’s crazy to me, and I’ll keep heading to bed at a reasonable hour, so don’t worry mom!
Sunday morning, the 24th of July, I slept in, ate some pan for breakfast, and then headed out on a run. I ran through Recoleta, past the famous cemetery to a street frequented by runners because it spans many of the neighborhood’s great parks. Add a few leg and arm presses at an outdoor playground/gym and 6 miles in brand new running shoes (ouch!), and I completely exhausted myself. On my way home, I walked through the Recoleta Cemetery that was extremely deserted, apparently it takes a little while for Argentines to wake up on Sunday mornings. Following my run, I went back to my home stay to shower and get ready for tea with a few other host families in the area. At this point, I realized that the shower was broken and only had ice cold water, along with terrible water pressure and a sink that barely worked. After that shower I decided, that I couldn’t continue living in that environment; even the facilities at my summer camp are nicer. I planted the idea in my mom’s (real mom, not host mom) head, that I needed to move and she supported me 110% after I mentioned that there was no hot water, heater, the house/dishes/bathrooms were dirty, and that they didn’t clean up after the dog went to the bathroom in the house. Aside from the cleanliness, the host family was not very inviting, and I really wanted to feel part of a family during my semester. I went to the tea party very determined to move, and luckily ran into the housing director for my program Ines at the tea. She promised me that I could move, but it might take a week. I calmed down a little bit, enjoyed some dulce de leche with Michael, Rosa, Julia, and Will, knowing that everything would be resolved shortly.
The environment of my first homestay:
The next morning, Monday the 25th of July, my mom urged me to move out of the apartment and to check into a hotel. I decided to take her advice. I had already packed the night before, so I quickly told my host mother that I was uncomfortable and allergic to the dog, hoping it would make my leaving a little less awkward. Five minutes later, I was in a taxi. I went to class all morning and afternoon, very unsure of what was next. After my final intercultural workshop of the day, the housing director Ines took me to tour a new homestay and have tea with the host mother. We took a thirty minute taxi to Palermo Hollywood, where I met Alexia. Her apartment is extremely cute, clean, and heated (yay!). She told me that I was welcome to move in with her, but things would be a little strange for the first two weeks. First, her nine year old daughter, Antonia (Tony) was visiting her father in Lima, Peru for two weeks. Second, her cat Om just had surgery on a broken leg so most doors are closed and blocked to keep the cat from moving around to much. And third, her housekeeper was on vacation for two weeks, and so the house wouldn’t be as clean as normal. I had no reservations about moving in with Alexia, cats and all. After tea, I went back to my hotel for the night, took a hot shower, ate some delicious pizza and a crepe of dulce de leche knowing that every little thing was gonna be alright.
The following day, Tuesday the 26th of July, I went to my morning orientation sessions and then grabbed my suitcases and a taxi headed home to Palermo Hollywood. Alexia welcomed me with a beso and a big hug and let me unpack and unwind. Because Alexia is a morning person, just like myself, we eat dinner much earlier than the majority of Argentines. At eight we sat down for Ravioli and wine and began discussing everything about ourselves to the other. Alexia is so absolutely cool. She paints, meditates, runs, and totally loves her cats: Om and Dharma (very good vibes). She spent years of her life in South Africa, India, and Nepal, and she just got hired to revamp the Buenos Aires planetarium. She has such a positive outlook on everything, and I am in awe of her constantly. She immediately made the apartment feel like a home for me. Following dinner, we both retired to our rooms to watch a little Netflix before bed (aka we get along wonderfully). I fell asleep warm, with a full stomach, and a happy heart.
Wednesday morning, the 27th of July, Alexia cooked herself two eggs soft boiled, and I cooked myself two over medium. We said our goodbyes, trying to avoid Spanglish, which is tricky because Alexia is fluent in English as well. My new morning commute is a 10-15 minute walk to the Palermo subte (subway) stop. I then take the subte for 20 minutes to school, packed like a can of sardines. The subte is always full, I haven’t ever sat down or even had room to move past the entryway on the Green line. It’s a little toasty, but really makes me feel like a real Porteño. Upon arriving at FLACSO, class continued with more orientation and consisted of lectures on cat calling, body language, and options for different cultural activities in the city and country. I appreciate all the information and feel like I am starting to understand the culture of the city, but three weeks of orientation was not what I originally expected. After class, I took the subte back home just before dinner. Outside of my apartment, I saw an elderly gentleman who let me in. I told him I lived with Alexia, so he didn’t think I was a burglar or something. He quickly confirmed that he knew me, and he was Alexia’s father. I was lucky enough to spend the evening with this kind gentleman on his 85th birthday. We talked about philosophy, the presidential race, an appropriate age for me to get married, and absolutely everything in between. We shared a bottle of wine, some chicken stew on rice (with Sriracha Extra Hot) and chocolate mouse + tiramisu for dessert. The conversation was absolutely fabulous, and I was so thankful to celebrate with such lively friends.
On the 28th of July, a Thursday morning, I went to apply for my student visa. Imagine the DMV without the lines, it was fabulous and insanely easy. Following filing for my visa, I went on a scavenger hunt with a few other students. We were sent to a park in Recoleta, the Obelisco which is like a mini Washington monument, a cathedral near the city center, and finally to El Cuartito for a feast of pizza. I returned home for a nap and dinner before heading to a tango clase in Palermo Soho at La Viruta. The majority of the students in my program came to learn the six step patterns. It was a surprisingly fun class; every minute or two, you would switch partners, and I can confidently say that every Argentine man I danced with had more skills than those of the United States. After the tango class, we once again considered a night at a boliche, but instead settled on nachos and a reasonably early bedtime.
The 29th of July, I had the entire day open. I slept in, walked two miles to the Alto Palermo Mall, realized that Zara is ridiculously overpriced like all other clothing stores in Argentina, but bought some black ripped skinny jeans anyway. I met a few friends at the mall, shared some gelato, and took the scenic route home. I stopped for a quick lunch close to my home, and accidentally ordered half of a giant chicken. I returned home, watched He’s Just Not That Into You (Netflix in Argentina is much better than the USA btw), and got ready for a Friday night out. At around eleven, I met a few friends at Caracas Bar in Palermo Soho before heading to a house full of international students from Mexico, Switzerland, England, United States, and France in Villa Crespo.
On my tenth day in Buenos Aires, July 30th, I took time to reflect. I spent the day reading, writing, napping, and eating empanadas. I am already 1/15 done with my program. Almost 2 weeks out of 21 have passed by so quickly. I’m realizing that I’m gonna be okay here. I’ll try my hardest to not get my iPhone stolen, to not spend too much money on taxis, and to get out and see the country. This blog is a gift for myself, to keep my sanity and to protect memories. It is also for friends and family. I want to share my experiences, and I know I can’t do this program without leaning on loved ones. Here’s to ten days on the other side of the world, and 140 left to make a lot of memories, learn about myself, and about the spanish language.