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Study Abroad Blog

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Walk and Talk like a Porteño: My Spanish Learning Experience

The biggest reason I chose to study abroad was to improve my Spanish speaking skills. I wanted to be completely immersed in the culture and language in Argentina. As soon as I was asked by CEA if I wanted to live in an apartment or a homestay, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I jumped at the opportunity to live with a host family and this was one of the best parts of my entire experience. 
Zain2Dinner at home with my amazing host mother, Hebe

My host mother would have hours of conversation with my roommate and me at the dinner table every night. We’d talk about our days, how everything was back home, and have intellectual and political debates, which always got very interesting. She’d tell us stories about her days as a youth, and where she had traveled to in Argentina and Brazil. The first night our Spanish was very broken. My roommate and I didn’t possess the vocabulary to convey exactly what we wanted to say to our host mom. After a few weeks, our speaking ability was faster. We knew a whole new slew of terms, and we also picked up on a little Argentine slang. Our host mom joked with me and my roommate one night, “Antes, cuando hablo con ustedes, ustedes no entienden lo que digo y yo digo como ‘ciao ciao chicas’! Pero ahora, ustedes hablan muy bien!” Which translates to, “Before when I talked to you both, you wouldn’t understand what I was saying and I used to say bye-bye!" (You say “ciao ciao” when you’ve given up talking to someone.) But now you both speak very well.” We were ecstatic to hear this and had a warm feeling of accomplishment.  
Zain3Dinner with my host mother's beautiful family 
Zain4A sweet lady I met at the San Telmo market who was selling beautiful vintage journals Zain5This wonderful street vendor at San Telmo engraved my name into a  traditional mate gourd

Stepping outside of the homestay and into the city was a whole other learning experience. I learned how to do laundry, order food at restaurants, and tell taxi drivers where to take me in the city. I took every opportunity I got to interact with someone. The San Telmo street fair was my favorite place to go, I met so many different types of Spanish-speaking people coming from all different parts of the world. It was so amazing to hear their stories and backgrounds, about how they came about hand making goods and selling them at the fair. It was fulfilling to learn so much about a culture I adore. 
Zain1One of my last nights with Hebe 

The overall experience I had in Argentina was surreal, and I enjoyed every second of being completely immersed in the culture and language as a whole. This experience was the absolute best way to make sure I got the most exposure to the language in all different types of settings. My advice to anyone who is thinking about taking this trip is, don’t be shy and make sure to interact with locals! My host mother played a huge role in my learning experience and made my stay a pleasant one. I met some of the most amazing Porteños (the term people who live in Buenos Aires use to identify themselves), during my study abroad, and all of them definitely had an impact on how much I loved everything about Buenos Aires!

Zainab B. is a CEA onsite student in Buenos Aires for Summer 2018. She studies Biology and Spanish at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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