Senior year, it’s come at last and I decide to spend my last semester of my 4 years of my college experience abroad in the southern hemisphere. I went “abroad” my second semester of my sophomore year to New York City for the GLCA Arts program through Southwestern University, and now decided it was time again to be off on another adventure, to Mendoza Argentina. My christmas break turned into a chilly 3-month summer break; everyone was back at school before I knew it and I was spending 3 months of free time at home. February 23 came around the corner in a flash though and before I knew it, it was the night before and I had two empty suitcases to pack for the next 6 plus months. Finally I packed my bright big blue suitcase, and a smaller black one and a backpack and I was off. Called a taxi, who was definitely interested in reminding me that American Airlines would be charging me extra for how heavy my suitcases were. I actually was just one pound over with no penalty, so take that Randall. Flew to Dallas for the group flight to Buenos Aires. About 25 college students soon took over gate D25, we didn’t even know what was to come.
Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires, Argentina!
We finally arrive to Buenos Aires and are told to find a bright yellow IFSA Butler sign as we reach baggage claim when we meet Jaime, one of our program directors. We arrive to the Hotel de las Americas and wait until the rest of
the students who were not on the group flight meet up with us there. In the mean time, we decide to try to connect with friends and family back home using the hotel’s WiFi. Before you know it, there are close to 15 girls in one corner of the hotel sitting on the sofas, speaking english, crowding the room with 30+ bags, each with our laptops out. Way to give in to the typical American stereotype – can’t live without our technology. For the next day and a half we toured the city and took a large bus, which frequently made contact with each curb in sight. We had a fantastic tour of the city, but I thank our tour guide Alejandro for that. I think he won the heart of every girl in our group within the first 5 minutes of his welcome speech to us on the bus, and not to mention there were 34 girls on that bus, but don’t worry he survived. On our tour, we saw many things like La Casa Rosada, and La Plaza de Mayo. What is interesting about this plaza is that every thursday at 3pm, there is an organization of Argentine women who are human rights activists who march together for their abducted sons or grandsons from the Dirty War (1976–1983) and so for over three decades this has taken place and this group of women meet every thursday at the same time to march around the plaza together to reunite with their abducted children.
Our first orientation session was focused on clearing any questions or concerns we had, basically addressing the culture shock that in some cases, were inevitable. Here were a few of the major topics we covered:
1. Personal Space: Unlike the U.S., Argentines do not pay much attention to personal space, or rather they just don’t have any. In the U.S. we are very distant with one another; we shake hands when meeting someone new and even when seeing a friend we greet them with nothing more than a simple hug at times. Here in Argentina, whether they are your mother or a new classmate, you will eventually find yourself in a conversation that is not more than a foot away from you. How they greet one another in Argentina is with one kiss on the cheek, and this goes for whether you are greeting anyone new, or even if it’s your mother coming over for lunch. Both women and men greet one another with a kiss, yep guys greet each other with a kiss as well. However they sometimes don’t touch cheeks, and often just make the sound of a kiss. The 8 boys in our study abroad group had a little trouble during their first practice round they performed when they were told to practice in front of our group. They added an extra kiss on the other cheek, or sometimes kissed the wrong cheek first, but I think they have the hang of it by now.
2. The Staring: Yep, it’s normal to stare at people here for however long you want. Anything more than a glance in the states and you could start trouble. But here in Argentina, you walk down the street and it feels like they are all checking you out for a good full 3 minutes, both the men AND women. Of course it doesn’t help that we have been traveling in groups of like 15 girls walking to class speaking english and lacking the dark argentine glow.
3. The Cat Calls: They’re inevitable girls, so just ignore them. Men, young or old, will say anything and make any noise just to get your attention. Sorry boys, whistling, making the ‘Ssss’ sound, saying “I Love You”, asking to hold our hands, asking to marry us, telling us we are beautiful gringos etc… will not win our hearts. (Not even kidding, every one of those examples has happened in the last two weeks while we’ve been here.)
4. The Bidet: Many of us saw the bidet in the hotel rooms and immediately thought it was a urinal. Nope, they definitely use these things and are found in every household. We even had a lesson on how to use one, thanks José for demonstrating with his chair. To be honest, I still don’t think any one of us have actually used it since we’ve been here.
5. The Argentine Lifestyle: Get used to: eating dinner around 10-11pm, eating steak for almost every meal, coming across people who think of vegetarians as people who just don’t eat steak, and then Thursday through Saturday, get your party pants on and head to a bar until 2am and then start the night off at a boliche (what they call the discotecas down here). Then be prepared to stay there partying until 5 or 6am. When they party, they party hard . The nightlife is insane here, as you can see in this picture from one of the boliches in Buenos Aires.
6. National Beverages: Argentina has a few signature drinks they are known for. One is Mate, an herb drink that they sip out of a small gourd with a special metal straw that filters out the tea. This type of tea is by far the most popular past time to drink in the afternoons, and has become a ritual in households. The first time I tried mate, I thought I was drinking earth through a straw, it is definitely an acquired taste. It has a very organic, unsweetened natural tea-flavor and is very relaxing. Their beers are very good too, they have Quilmes, and then a beer that is home to Mendoza is the Andes beer. I prefer the Andes to the Quilmes, it is just a bit darker and stronger but both very refreshing. Their most famous drink though, is their Fernet and Coke. Fernet is this medicinal-smelling italian liquor that is most commonly paired with its side kick, Coca Cola. Before the two beverages were paired together as a signature drink though, fernet was not popular at all, they used to give it to children for an upset stomach. But its popularity grew once the duo were paired, and by a storm took over the late nights of Argentina. One big plus to this drink is that it doesn’t cause a hangover the next morning, I bet you’re asking for your Fernet and Coke right now. The first time I tried it, I thought I was drinking a pine tree through a straw, and yes funny how there’s a trend going on here with forestry drinks. You’re probably thinking all they do is strain their trees and plants and make them into drinks and somehow enjoy them, but I promise, once you acquire a taste for the two, you will wonder why we don’t have such drinks in the States.
7. Mullets: Yea, I had to save this one for last. I kid you not, there was a slide in our power point orientation session dedicated solely to mullets warning us about getting haircuts here. As long as we were confident enough to communicate to our barber that we did NOT want a mullet, then we would in good hands. It is very common here in Argentina to have a mullet, and the styles vary; there is the traditional mullet with the slightly longer hair in the back, then there is the normal haircut with that one braided long rat tail in the back. Not gonna lie, but mullets scare me. They are just not supposed to happen.
And this was just the first week and a half. We haven’t really experienced much culture shock, but rather just this new different lifestyle that is actually starting to grow on us rapidly. We also haven’t even started school yet and I feel like our entire Argentine lifestyle transformation won’t even start until we are fully immersed with the school routine and mixing and mingling with other Argentine students. Hopefully our study abroad group won’t be too attached to each other by the time school starts because I think the city of Mendoza could use a break from being bombarded by 40 gringos all at once asking for a Quilmes beer or Fernet and Coke.