I arrived here in Buenos Aires on a Saturday morning to start my exchange at Belgrano Day School (BDS). The line to get through customs was very long because everyone was returning from their winter vacations. When I finally got through customs, I met the Vice Principal and Round Square Coordinator of BDS and his daughter. We then drove the forty minutes or so to the house where Vicky, a student at BDS, and her family live. I stayed with Vicky for two days, as the family I was going to stay with for the rest of the time had not returned from vacation yet. (Coincidentally, they were in a town in Argentina called San Francisco.)
The next day, Vicky and I went with Michaela Baker and Lucia, the girl she is staying with, to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, or “Malba.” The line to get into the museum was very long. The main exhibit while we were there was “Obsesión infinita” by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It was very interesting and there was one beautiful room that was dark and full of mirrors with little balls of colored light hanging down at different heights all over the room. There was a walkway in the middle and pools of water around the edges. There was another part of the museum that was originally a completely white room with white furniture, white paintings on the walls framed in white, fake white flowers in white vases, and white books on white bookshelves. When you entered the museum they gave you a sheet of circular stickers of various sizes and colors to decorate the room with. The walls, floors, furniture, and everything else were mostly covered with colorful dots. It was quite stunning.
We also went to an outdoor fair in a park where people were selling lots of different types of arts and crafts. They have a traditional drink here called “mate” that is kind of like an herb tea. One of the main things they sold at the fair were the special mate cups and straws. I saw people drinking it everywhere. I tried it with sugar and it was pretty good, but I would imagine it would be very bitter without sugar. There was also a lot of jewelry and leather belts and bags.
On Sunday night I went to stay with Valentina and her family and I will stay here for the rest of my trip. BDS is pre-school through high school, so it is very different from Athenian. Also, it is the middle of the city. It takes up one square block and has three stories. They have three “orientations,” or areas of studies: science, linguistics and humanities. Starting their Junior year, each student chooses one area to study. Valentina is in the science orientation. They also have classes that everyone takes such as math, philosophy, a civics class, and electives. Michaela and I are taking a mix of the three orientations. Half of the classes are in English and half are in Spanish. The Spanish they speak here is very different than the Spanish we speak in Spanish class at Athenian; it is called “Castellano” and is a whole different dialect. After a philosophy class in Spanish first thing Monday morning, Michaela and I realized that the classes in Spanish were going to be very difficult. We chose to take plenty of classes in English and are avoiding Philosophy, Spanish literature, and Civics, all of which are in Spanish. It is very demoralizing to sit through an eighty-minute class and understand maybe one in ten words. I wanted to come here to practice Spanish, and I feel confident that even though I am taking less than half of my classes in Spanish that I will still have plenty of opportunities to learn. All of the students speak to each other in Spanish and we speak (mostly) Spanish at home.
Two afternoons a week, we get on school buses and drive about half an hour to sports fields for P.E. Girls can choose between field hockey and volleyball and boys can choose between rugby and volleyball. I wanted to try something new and so I chose hockey. I am really enjoying it! There are three teams based on skill level who all practice at the same time. I was, of course, on the third team. All of the girls are so nice and are eager to help me learn how to play. In the first scrimmage, the ball went through my legs on more than one occasion, but I get better each time I play. This past Thursday we had a match against another school, and I played for about five minutes. Luckily BDS had already scored several goals and would go on to score several more, so my fumbling did not negatively impact the outcome. Almost all the students here have been playing hockey since elementary school. Yet everyone is so supportive and complimentary even when I pass the ball directly to the other team or take a big swing and miss. My current challenge is figuring out how to hit the ball with the correct side of the stick, as you have to use one hand to flip the stick around as you dribble.
The food in Argentina is delicious. I would say that beef and dulce de leche are the two most-consumed food groups here. The beef is very fresh and you buy it from a butcher at a stand in the market where all they sell is beef. They cut it and weigh it right in front of you. It would be a little difficult to come on exchange here if as a vegetarian. The other food they eat a lot of here is dulce de leche. It is similar to caramel sauce but more spreadable and more widely used. Anywhere we would use peanut butter, they use dulce de leche–I have not had any peanut butter while here–and they use it in lots of other things, too. One delicious dessert is chocotorta, which is chocolate cookies dipped in milk layered with a mixture of dulce de leche and cream cheese. You put it in the refrigerator instead of baking it and it is delicious. Alfahores are another yummy dessert. They are shortbread cookies with dulce de leche in the middle, sometimes dipped in chocolate. I also love empanadas, which are pastries baked with meat filling inside. The Safarians, the family I am staying with, are of Armenian heritage and so we also eat Armenian food, which I also really like.
But the biggest difference with regards to food is when it is eaten. We eat a very light breakfast, usually tea and a piece of toast with dulce de leche, and then we eat lunch at school. In the late afternoon we have tea time, usually around 5:00. Then we eat dinner around 9:30 or 10:00! The first day I got here, when I was staying with Vicky, we ate dinner at 11:30! Another day I went out to eat at a restaurant with Valentina and a friend of hers at 11:00. No one can believe it when I say that I am used to eating dinner at 7:00 pm!
Last Friday, I went to the (sort-of) wedding of Valentina’s cousin. We went to the “civil,” or the legal part of the wedding, and then to a party at her cousin’s grandmother’s gorgeous house about forty minutes outside Buenos Aires. The actual wedding in the church is in October. At the party I got to meet Valentina’s extended family. When we got there around 4:00 in the afternoon, there were people passing around hor’derves. Over the next few hours they passed around the equivalent of a full meal, there was a toast to the bride and groom, and we ate cake. In the evening there was music and dancing. Around 9:00 Valentina and I went to go to the bathroom. I saw a table full of plates and silverware, and I asked Valentina what that was for. She said, “Oh, that’s for dinner.” It turns out everything we had eaten earlier was lunch! We left the celebration around 2:30 a.m., and Valentina said the party would go on for several more hours.
I also visited “La Casa Rosada,” or “the pink house,” the Argentine equivalent of the White House. It is historically pink because it used to be painted with bull’s blood for color. Argentina is having elections for Congress this coming Sunday and so on most corners of busy streets there are stands promoting different candidates. Here in Argentina everyone ages twenty to sixty five is required to vote and it is optional from sixteen to seventeen. The penalty for not voting is a fine. Also, candidates are not allowed to start campaigning until one month before the primaries.
Someone asked Michaela and I what classes we were taking next year, and when Michaela said she was taking Gay Pride and explained what it was, no one could believe it. It seems like everyone in the school now knows that Athenian has a class about the history of gay people. Gay marriage is legal here in Argentina, but there is much less exposure to homosexuality than in the Bay Area.
I can’t believe I am already almost halfway through my time here. I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time!