A little over a week has passed in Buenos Aires and I am finally starting to settle in after a pretty turbulent several days in the city. My overall impression: while it may not appear so on the surface, Buenos Aires is an incredibly diverse city; it finds itself at a crossroads of European and Latin American cultures (not to mention, it’s huge – 30% of Argentina’s population lives here).
In fact, relating to my personal experience, I am reminded equally of both my trip to Italy in 2015 and my trip Bolivia in March of this year as I travel the city, view the architecture, see how the people interact, and learn about the overall cultural climate of Argentina.
On day one, last Sunday the 21st, I arrived at the airport around 7:00 in the morning. During my flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires I met a man named Matt from Illinois on the flight who was traveling for work, and he helped me find the taxi after baggage claim (which would have been way more stressful had I tried to find it by myself). From there, it was a 40-minute taxi ride from Ezeiza International Airport to my homestay in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where I met my host mother Cristina.
Cristina is one of the biggest highlights of my trip so far. When I first met her and she spoke in extra-fast Castellano (the dialect of Spanish Argentinians speak), I had almost no idea what she was saying. However, now that just over a week has passed, I can sit down at the dinner table and understand nearly every word of our conversation – my level of comprehension, at least with Cristina, has definitely improved over the past several days. And Cristina, like many of the Argentinian people I have met so far, loves to talk for hours about everything from politics to food. She has been extremely welcoming and accommodating. Luckily she speaks a little English, as well.
Along with Cristina, I am also living here with another Pitt student named Matt (different Matt than the one on the plane) who I knew prior to this trip. I must say, while I am probably a little less immersed in the culture always having an American friend to speak English to and travel the city with, it has made my transition to this city a little more comfortable. We’ve been trying our best to encourage each other to only speak in Spanish while we’re at the apartment, but the temptation to speak in English is definitely strong.
After becoming accommodated to my new six-week home on Sunday, we had our first visit to the Universidad Austral on Monday. The University is only a 15-minute walk from my apartment, and it provides a pretty nice route through the relatively affluent Recoleta neighborhood. The University’s downtown campus is right on Cerrito, an avenue that runs directly adjacent to the widest avenue in Argentina (and supposedly Latin America, as well), La Avenida 9 de Julio (or Avenue July 9th, named after Argentina’s independence day).
At the Universidad Austral I am taking an International Economics course with Professor Luis Argüero. Professor Argüero has dedicated most of the course to a Latin American perspective, which has provided valuable insight on the economic, social, and political factors effecting Argentina today. I feel like this perspective is very important as I start to live and work in the city, because it provides a better idea of the struggles and highlights of the Argentinian culture. This knowledge will prove to be especially valuable in my internship…
In addition to the International Economics class at the University, last week I started a marketing internship for a Buenos Aires nonprofit organization called Pilares. Pilares is a group that serves the extremely poor communities of Buenos Aires known locally as the Villas (specifically Villas 21-24). The Villas are Argentinian “shantytowns,” areas that show a clear class divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Pilares attempts to provide opportunities for the people that live in these poor areas through various programs that improve their health, education, work, and life. Most of their programs focus on family development, targeting children and their mothers. I look forward to being able to work with Pilares to develop strategies that will increase recognition and awareness, and furthermore, attract donors to fund their programs. At Pilares, I will also be working with another Pitt student named Christina. Later this week, Christina and I will travel to the Villas to volunteer, see the programs, meet volunteers, and grasp a greater understanding of these areas that face so many challenges with health, living conditions, crime, and integration into the larger community.
So, it appears I have quite a journey ahead. There are a few other places that we visited this past week that I will write about later. But, for now, I’ll leave it here. I can’t wait to see what I learn from my classes and my internship, the cultural and social nuances of Buenos Aires, and anything else the city has in store!