Foreign Relations

Jessica Duska
November 8, 2017

More than three months in and we're finally catching our groove. I was walking down the streets with Emily yesterday just thinking, what am I going to do when I don't get to see you and drag you to do crazy things every day of the week. At this point I'm too used to someone laughing at all my jokes and accompanying me on excursions without question... I'm too used to hugging my Spanish teacher before class every morning and sneaking dulce de leche with my host dad while my host mom isn't looking ;) This is an ode to all the good people out there; if you were ever curious what the people in Argentina are like, here is the low-down on mi gente: my teachers, my host parents, my people.

Part I: Teachers and Staff

Before coming abroad you hear all sorts of rumors about how school is easy and it's more a process to learn about yourself than it is to learn anything real. You might wonder what your teachers will be like and whether or not you'll be wasting away time in a classroom instead of going out and exploring.

Obviously it is going to be different for every student. Some people come abroad to be fluent in a foreign language and fulfill credits from their home university. Others come to learn the "culture," ie. eat the good food and talk to the trendy, local people. Whatever the case may be, the Argentine school system (at IES Abroad at least) is wildly different from my home university... like wildly different.

Meet Natacha :) Natacha is our Spanish 301 teacher and she is even cuter in person than she is in this picture.

Everyday Natacha lets us 'toma mate' (drink mate) to get that caffeine kick and simultaneously partake in the Argentine tradition :) 

Our Spanish 301 class is 6 people! We fill up probably 1/3 of our tiny classroom and we spend the 2 hours every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday chatting about our weekends, our troubles with the public transportation, and our dream boyfriends. This past week we've been writing our own lyrics to Despacito as part of a class presentation... 

Don't get me wrong, we definitely got super lucky with Natacha. She is the most caring person, she'll ask you every day how you're doing and other personal questions about your life (as all good Argentines do ;)). She is always cracking jokes and trying to get in on the student gossip and if you are really lucky she'll share secrets about her own life with you :P

At the end of my experience in BA I can say two things for sure:

  1. Natacha is a great friend! It is weird to think about your 'professors' that way but honestly I think they prefer it here. You build these intimate relationships with people that actually care about you and want to help you. And...
  2. This style of teaching without 'practical learning' where we just discuss and ask questions has improved my Spanish one-billion times more than any other class I've taken!

Natacha is just one example too... every class I have at IES Abroad is laid back and every teacher has an XXL heart. There isn't a ton of homework and you spend most of the class discussing. In our poetry class, we went over one Borges poem for 6 class periods... excessive? Probably. But I learned so much about "Arte Poética," so you could say I won out in the end. 

Every holiday (including American ones!) we get treats and every day we get smiles and hugs from the other teachers and staff members. Ana gives me chocolate when I'm having a moment and I don't even have her as a teacher! Flor gives me that look when I don't take myself to a doctor ;) I could rant forever, but you get the point... study abroad school is like the kind of school you are learning without even realizing it. You come out with a lot to say and discuss about whatever the topic may be but in the process you aren't wasting time with busy work or boring assignments. They want you to want it... and then you do.

Typical fire drill at IES Abroad... casual stroll down the 12 flights and free medialunas in the street :) Meet Mercedes, another amazing professor and staff member at IES Abroad!

Part II: The host parents

One interesting opportunity you have while studying abroad is to live with a real-life family. I say 'interesting' because for some people having one set of parents is more than enough ;) Here in Buenos Aires, most of us students live with host parents or what I like to call "abuelitas." All of our hosts are between 60 and 75 and most of them are old, single women. I scored with a couple: Juan and Nora :)

What is it like to live with people that are closer in age to your grandparents and that you are not actually related to? This was the eternal question before coming here... What will the food be like? Will they like me? Will I even be able to understand them because I barely speak Spanish? What if they smell funky and then I start to smell funky? The list goes on and on... You never really know what you're getting yourself into here. 

Before coming I had emailed Nora, my host mom, a couple times. Besides these short emails back and forth all I knew about Nora and Juan was their age and that Juan used to be an architect. When I arrived at 8am on that Saturday morning after not sleeping for two days and smelling like a foot, Nora came to get me at the door. There was no turning back.

Juan and I ended up walking for 3 hours that morning (which if you knew him is a lot) while Nora cooked us lunch. When we got back she was super worried that we were gone for so long... the truth was we had gotten lost in the mall not one but five times. We all went to church together that night and after that the nerves were history.

Juan loves to charlar (to chat in Spanish) and Nora loves to make fun of us for eating copious amounts of ice cream. They make me a flan every week because they know I don't consider fruit a dessert, and I get to sit down every night at dinner and chat with them for at least an hour. We talk about my day and their family and they never let me speak English so I can practice ;)

Peep Juan behind our 1/4 kilos of ice cream. We treated ourselves when Nora was out of town :)

For my birthday, I got the whole set up: nice table clothes, fancy meals, and even a present! Spending a birthday (and four months) away from your real family and closest friends seems like it may get lost in the hubbub of study abroad but they made it just as special as any other! Juan gave me a painting he knew I loved from his art class, and I got a tarta too ;) 

The fam and I on my birthday with my new painting and the special table cloth :) 

Some people's hosts become their friends, others are just roommates. Going into it, it is not always going to be a perfect match. The food will be different, sharing a bathroom will be different, and coming home at night to relax and having to speak Spanish will definitely be different. But after living with Juan and Nora for 3 months the benefits to their company and insights drown the discomfort of the first couple days. I know their weekly schedules and I come home every night for dinner just so that I can see them! We all went to an Italian classical concert together, and I've traveled on a trip with their kids now too. Right now my only fear is that my real parents will be jealous of them ;)

In summary, Argentines are like your crazy, fun aunt. They are super fun, super nosy, and super caring. Having teachers and a family and friends of this nature will completely turn your world. You get kisses from strangers and have someone to talk to on your elevator ride up every morning. People work to live around here; they don't seek to further their career but instead to have dinner with family and friends. They spend the weekends on the river instead of in an office and they give you hugs when you come to class instead of bad grades ;)

I've got that What am I gonna do without them feeling really strong right now. Come to Argentina but don't say you weren't warned, you may not want to go back ;)