The Academic Rollercoaster: Class at a Buenos Aires University

Grace Worwa
June 3, 2022

My heart skipped not one but several beats the second I read the email’s subject line in my inbox: “Midterm exam grades”...

I clicked on it.

It was my professor, letting us know that the grades from last week’s midterms were posted online. I rushed to my desk, flung open my laptop, and scrambled my way to the university’s online platform. The agonizing, never-ending, high-strung state of not-knowing was finally going to end. I was finally going to find out if I’d passed my first ever real Argentine university test, and if I would get a shot at the final exam. 

After a panicked search through the online platform and several frantic texts to my classmates (I had no idea how to find the grades), I managed to pull up the correct page. My eyes struggled to focus through the fear and anxiety clouding my focus, and… 

I PASSED!!!!! 

That right there was been the biggest sense of pride and relief that I have ever felt after any type of class or exam.

As an IES Abroad student in Buenos Aires, you’re required to take at least one class through a local university, either Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA), Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), and/or Universidad Torcuato di Tella (UTDT). This year, all IES Abroad students chose UCA, and at UCA, you can choose between two different types of classes. The first is PEL, which are courses designed by the UCA study abroad office specifically for study abroad students. Some classes are in English, and some are in Spanish. In a PEL course, all your classmates are study abroad students from different countries. For example, my friends have told me they have classmates from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Poland, etc.

I decided to take the second course option at UCA, which are “facultad” classes. These are actual UCA classes taken by Argentine students who attend the university. “Facultad” refers to a “college” within a larger university, such as the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Facultad courses are more challenging than PEL because they aren’t catered toward students for whom Spanish is a second language. As a study abroad student, you have to take initiative, start conversations with other students, ask for help when you need it, and essentially put in the extra work. 

My class is offered by the Facultad of Social Sciences, Politics, and Communications. Titled  “Introducción al Derecho” (Introduction to Law), it’s a first-year class required for majors in political science and/or international relations, and it takes place on Monday and Tuesday nights. 

For the record, I was absolutely terrified to take a facultad class. I teetered on the fence about it for the full two weeks that I was allowed before finally deciding to take the dive because I didn’t know how I would fare in a class designed for Spanish-speaking students. In the end, the challenge motivated me more than it scared me – I wanted to see what I was capable of! I also wanted to experience an actual Argentine class, not one full of international students, and I wanted to meet more people my age from Argentina. 

Fair warning, a facultad class is not a walk in the park. As a U.S. student, I had to make a lot of adjustments very quickly. One of the biggest shocks for me was the lack of a student-professor relationship. At my small U.S. college, I’m used to connecting with my professors during office hours, chatting with them about their research, and receiving plentiful feedback from them about my work. That is not the case at UCA, and this is partly because the professors there don’t work full-time. They aren't paid for any extra time they spend with students outside of class, so everything has to be done in-class or after. If you need to ask them a question about the material, clear up an administrative issue, or even retake a test, it has to be done during class. Further, I received little to no feedback on my midterm. My professor marked what I got right or wrong, but he didn’t correct my wrong answers. In the past, I’d relied on such corrections to improve my work, so now I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s definitely a very different teaching dynamic than what I’m used to.

Another difficult adjustment for me was the grading system. In Argentina, universities grade on a scale from 1 to 10, where 4 is passing and a 10 (100%) is essentially unheard of. In the U.S., I’d always viewed a 100% as easily obtainable if you apply yourself to the material. Not anymore. My midterm for “Introducción al Derecho” consisted of questions that were designed to trick you, and it tested on specific information in the readings that were never mentioned in class. 

Even so, I’ve found over the course of my study abroad that the more challenging the cultural adjustments, the more rewarding the result. One of my reasons for taking a facultad class in the first place had been to meet Argentine students, and I accomplished just that! My IES Abroad friend (who takes the class with me) and I met Mica during our second week of class, and since then we’ve gone out for coffee and made multiple attempts together (though unsuccessfully) to tour the English Clock Tower near the Retiro train station. Talking with Mica is a great way to practice Spanish, and it’s fun learning about what her life is like as a university student in Buenos Aires. 

I also feel like I’ve changed how I view myself as a student through my facultad class. As I mentioned before, passing that midterm exam was the greatest source of relief and pride that I have ever felt in an academic context. Relief, because I had never been so sure that I was going to fail. I’m just used to 100% being attainable, so if I don't feel like I got something close to that, I’m in uncharted waters. At the same time, I felt immense pride because I’d studied and read for a week straight for that grade. Working so hard, then the humility of feeling like I failed, then realizing that I passed…  It was the epiphany of being torn down then being built right back up. Even if it wasn’t the 90-100% that I usually expect from myself, I passed, and I showed that linguistic disadvantage who’s boss! 

But I’m not done yet. I still have three weeks of class left, and the biggest challenge still lies ahead: the final exam. So far, we know that it’s going to be oral – each student has to stand in front of the course faculty, choose a topic, and present on it for a determined period of time. 

Oh, and whether or not I pass the class hinges completely on this test.

The prospect is terrifying because I won’t be using my native language, but I’ve also learned from the midterm. I have a better idea of what to study, what topics to pay more attention to in the readings, and what vocabulary words to know, so even though I'm still scared out of my mind, there’s hope this time. 

This entire experience might seem absolutely horrible to you, and I’m not gonna lie, you would be justified – the experience wasn’t easy. If a slow but steady lump of pure dread formed as you read this blog, maybe a facultad class isn’t for you, and that’s okay! Better to spare yourself the stress and enjoy your study abroad experience. 

BUT, if you read this blog and felt a mix of fear and excitement, and perhaps some determination and a wild sense of risk, I encourage you to take the dive and choose a facultad class in Buenos Aires. I promise you, the hard work is worth it. Get ready to grow as a person, make Argentine friends, and learn a whole lot about yourself as you go! 

Click here if you’d like to take your own adventure abroad with IES Abroad!

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Grace Worwa

<p>I’m studying for a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I hope to improve my Spanish language skills and learn more about the country’s women’s rights movement. I’m from the U.S. state of Minnesota, where I also attend college and study Spanish, Political Science, and English. I’m on a pre-law track and hope to pursue a career in immigration law.</p>

Home University:
Gustavus Adolphus College
Dayton, MN
Political Science
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