I can’t believe that my exchange is nearly over. It seems like one and a half months flew by in the blink of an eye. I flew into Argentina on June 8th and I could tell that my exchange would be an experience that I would never forget. On the day that my parents and I landed in Argentina, my exchange’s father picked us up and gave us a personal tour of the main sites of Buenos Aires. After the flight I was quite tired, but after spending five minutes on the road adrenaline was pumping through my body at 100 miles per hour. I was amazed and terrified by how the drivers changed lanes without glancing in the rearview mirror or how lane divisions have absolutely no meaning. I can’t fathom driving here. After experiencing the highways, I was not surprised to learn that pedestrians DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY. It is clear that the object that has the greatest mass can pass without a second thought.
We were dropped off at our hotel and we headed out to get some lunch. Even though I knew that I was learning Spanish in school, it was still exciting to realize that it actually worked in real life. But to my disappointment I quickly realized that the Spanish that Argentines speak is actually called Castellano (pronounced ”Casteshano”). Words that have a “y” sound are all pronounced with a “sh” sound. So “ella” would be pronounced “esha”, “leyendo” would be “leshendo” I was at first perplexed by the accent, but after spending more than a month in Argentina I grew accustomed to it and now I find the traditional pronunciation really strange. Not only do Argentinians pronounce “ll” and “y” as “sh” but they also have a different conjugation for the informal “you”. So instead of “tu piensas” (you can) it would be “vos pensás”. Even after studying Spanish for five years I struggled to understand what was being said around me, but after a few days I grew accustomed to their way of speaking.
After spending two weeks traveling around Northern Argentina with my parents, I finally arrived at my exchange’s house. He lives roughly 25 blocks away from Belgrano Day School or BDS. The first morning after spending the night was the most nerve wracking thing that I’ve ever experienced. I did not want to come out of my room in fear of the unknown and what was going to happen. Thankfully, I was saved by my exchange and invited to have mate with his family, which broke down the mental barrier for the rest of my stay.
Mate is a traditional herb that is steeped in hot water in a special cup that is also called Mate. The point of mate is to bring people together because it is usually passed around and shared. By itself, the mate tastes bitter, especially if you burn the leaves with scalding water. I usually drink it without added sugar, but definitely enjoy a little sweetness to the beverage. Most foreigners don’t like the taste of mate, so I certainly surprised people when I told them that I actually enjoyed it.
The food in Argentina is incredibly delicious. The meat is some of the best, if not the best, in the world. A traditional Argentine dish is Milanesa. It’s a very thin piece of meat that is covered in batter and deep-fried in oil. Another dish that everyone must try in Argentina are the empanadas. It is almost impossible not to! They are sold in almost every restaurant and they serve as a great lunch or snack. While the meat is to die for, the vegetables are sub par and salads are not popular at all. So I would not recommend that a vegetarian to apply for exchange in Argentina.
Surprisingly, on my first day of school I was not worried at all. I had no idea what to expect from the classes, from the kids, or from the teachers. I was escorted to the exchange coordinator’s office and was given the run down of BDS. The school is K-12 and is very different from Athenian. The most noticeable difference is that it is situated in an urban area and takes up ¾ of a square block. It was different and a little claustrophobic to have to walk through halls and up stairs to get to a classroom. Unlike at Athenian, the students at BDS don’t move between classrooms to get to their next class. Instead, the teachers come to the class. Starting their junior year, the students choose an orientation: Science, Humanities or Linguistics. My exchange is in the humanities orientation, so he takes Spanish and English literature, economics, accounting, civics, math, history and two electives. In the science orientation, the kids take physics, biology, and chemistry instead of economics, accounting, and history. The purpose of the orientation is to focus on a particular subject area before college or university. I’m not really sure that I like this system because I think that it is important to be a well-rounded student by taking classes in many subject areas. Unlike Athenian, I was astounded by how loud the classroom is. Everyone talks at the same time and doesn’t wait their turn to speak. I took a class called current affairs, which is taught in English. In the class the students analyze news articles and discuss pressing issues that are happening in the world today. I could tell the exact point when chaos broke loose in the class because all of the kids started arguing in extremely fast Castellano. After this class, I appreciate the orderliness of Athenian discussions.
Two days a week the sophomores, juniors, and seniors drive about 35 minutes to a sports field. The boys either play rugby or volleyball and the girls can choose to play either field hockey or volleyball. I chose volleyball and enjoyed playing with the guys. Driving more than half an hour to play sports is something that is really different from Athenian, where we can walk to the gym or the field in a couple of minutes. The good thing about the bus is that there is plenty of time to catch up on a bit of sleep.
There are many cultural differences between the United States and Argentina. One of the first ones that I noticed was that everyone greets each other by kissing each other on the cheek. Everyone does this: girls with girls, girls with boys, boys with boys, old with young. It was really awkward at first, but I got used to it after a couple of days. Another difference is that dinner is usually eaten at 9:30 or later. That is really late compared to the 6:00 or 7:00 dinner times back home. The reason that dinner happens so late is because of a late afternoon meal called merienda. Usually they drink mate or have tea and eat sweets or small sandwiches. Dinner is not the only thing that happens late here. As someone who usually is in bed by 10:30 pm, I was surprised to learn that 10:30 pm and even 11:00 pm is considered extremely early for Argentinians. One night, my host family took me out to dinner. We left the house at 9:30 and didn’t get back until 11:00. Afterwards, my exchange asked if I wanted to watch an episode of House of Cards! I quickly got used to staying up really late to watch films or playing monopoly until I couldn’t stay awake.
I can safely say that going on exchange was one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. I met so many interesting and fun people that I will remember forever. It was hard at first to connect with kids because of the language barrier, but after a few days I got to know them. I am so grateful for their kindness and their open mindedness to having me in their daily lives. I would recommend going on exchange to anyone who wants to experience a new culture and a different way of living first hand. It’s one thing to learn about a culture from a book and it’s another thing to be immersed in it. We are so lucky to be a part of Round Square because of the unique experiences that the program offers. Whether it is exchange, a conference, or a service project I recommend that everyone take advantage of these opportunities.