Almost all aspects of day-to-day life as a student here in Buenos Aires are distinctly different than in the United States. Some things do remain the same, such as my contempt for the sound of my alarm clock in the morning, or the amount of times that I press “snooze” (3 times), however most come with their own porteño twist and unique Argentine flavor.
In the morning, this flavor mate. Drunk throughout Argentina, served in cool looking gourds filled with hot water and crushed leaves from the “yerba mate” plant, and delivering a warm and caffeinated punch, mate is the lifeblood of Buenos Aires, as well as an antidote for the “Monday blues” (or any blues for that matter). Mate also curbs the appetite, which helps us students from the United States to cope with the apparent lack of breakfast food to be found in Argentina. Seriously, breakfast is a rice cracker and a banana, if you’re lucky. Nonetheless, after several cups of mate, “breakfast”, and maybe an empanada or two from the corner store, you’re ready for escuela.
Arrival at school brings its’ own twists and turns. As one of several hundred international students from around the world in a student body of three thousand, from the moment you arrive at the 17 floor building that is the University of Belgrano, you are confronted with a barrage of languages and personalities ranging from bearded Italians, to giggling Germans, to American frat boys and hippies, to Spanish-speaking Chinese students, to gossiping locals, to stoic French women, and nearly everything in between.
Most students take a mix of classes taught in Spanish or English, choosing a variety of courses offered by the University’s “Latin American Studies Program”, including topics in political science, literature, economics, history, and the fine arts. Many students who are highly proficient in Spanish also choose to take some or all of their classes with Argentine students. Classes are lecture based, with the exception of Tango Danza, and range from 10 to 30 students. During lectures, rich cultural mixes of students and the varying language abilities lead to many questions and cross-country comparisons to illustrate a given point.
When classes end in the evening, small talk is made outside on the front steps of the University. Evening plans are made over broken English and Spanish, and students return to their homestays or apartments, or retire to a small café to do some homework (or not). After a delicious dinner, usually enjoyed around 9:30, it is again time to heat up some water, put some yerba in the gourd, and enjoy some mate among friends and host-family. During this time, evening plans made on the University steps earlier in the day either come to fruition, or fall apart - to be executed on another day, perhaps. In the wee hours of the morning, the mate begins to wear off, and the cama begins to beckon.
Buenos noches, Buenos Aires.
Mathew Cerf is the CEA MOJO in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently a Junior at the University of San Diego.
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