Chris Victorino arrives in Argentina
My first flight from SFO to MIA was fairly easy; people spoke English, there was food, it was only five hours, and there was nobody in the seat next to me. I got off the flight in Miami airport and attempted to walk to my gate. Little did I know that didn’t know how to read the posted signs and I got lost. Soon, the airport staff were calling my name over the loudspeaker for my flight to Buenos Aires. I was the second to last person on the plane. Nobody on that flight spoke English and it made me realize just how bad my Spanish was. Eight-and-a-half hours later, I arrived in Buenos Aires. It was 8:00 in the morning and pouring outside. I had stressed about doing my Customs Declaration form because it was in Spanish, but luckily the people at security were just trying to get paid, so I slid right through. Baggage claim took me 30 minutes and got to the point where I worried that my bag got left in Miami, which would have been a disaster. Fast forward to me getting lost again. I walk out the double doors into the crowds of people holding signs with names on them. My exchange student, Dante, his mom, and his dad were right at the front waiting for me. They attempted to introduce themselves, but I understood one in ten words and so I just stared at them blankly. Imagine their disappointment when they realized that the kid who was staying in their house for a month didn’t understand anything. Luckily, Dante speaks English, so we could talk as we walked to their car. As we got into the car, I recall thinking to myself, “Wow, their accents are harder than my Spanish teacher said…”
My first day of school was the hardest it has ever been for me to communicate with people. Their accents are extremely difficult for a non-native speaker. It doesn’t help that Dante had the flu on my first day, so I was alone after his mom dropped me off. But everybody was nice and inclusive, and they were fine with talking to me in English. They were super chill and after a couple of hours I felt like I had been going there for years. I have improved on my Spanish quite a bit. All the other students force me to converse without English, and it has taught me more than any classroom could. I have made tons of meaningful relationships and I’m looking forward to the rest of my exchange.
Colegio Norbridge is very different from Athenian, despite the similarity in size. My class is tiny, 25 other kids in the entire grade. Although there is a uniform, it is not very strict and there are two “casual” days where you can wear whatever you want. Our school day goes from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm. There are two 20-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with an hour for lunch. Despite being in school for this long, I feel like few of the kids that have been going there since they were very young learn very much on a day-to-day basis. Not only do the teachers not try very hard to teach their subject, they threaten to leave the classroom and go home at least once per period. Unlike Athenian, all the students stay in one classroom all day and the teachers go to them. I find it hard to concentrate on just about anything by 4:00 pm in the afternoon, and I’m sure many of the other students agree with me on that. I am currently in the 4th year, equivalent to 10th grade, or sophomore year in the U.S. Every Friday is our “gym” day. The entire morning is filled with athletic events. First we warm up. Then if it’s raining or wet outside, we play basketball, and if it’s dry, we play rugby or soccer. Everything is gender-divided. Boys and girls line up separately, eat lunch separately, and have gym separately. Despite all of these differences, I did not find it that difficult to adjust to their everyday life.
My host family is amazing. They are so nice and include me in their family dinner conversations, to the extent that I understand. Dante and his family live in a gated community about 20 minutes away from the school by car. He has an older sister that goes to the university in the capital and a pug named Cooper. Dante and his sister, Agustina, speak decent English, but their parents know very little. When I don’t understand a word or phrase, Dante or Agustina jump in and help me out, which has improved my vocabulary a ton. One of the hardest things was adjusting to their eating schedule. They eat four meals per day; breakfast, lunch, something called merienda, and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are around the same time as in the United States, but merienda is around 5-6 and is a quick snack with tea. Dinner is around 9-10 at night, and is always delicious.
Another very difficult thing is the accents. Understanding somebody speaking Spanish normally is hard on its own, now let’s add an accent that makes “ll” sound like “j.” It changes everything. “Silla” turns into “sija,” “yo” into “jo.” At first it was impossible, but I think I am getting the hang of it, slowly.
Overall, my exchange has been amazing. I am stoked for the rest of it.
Chris Victorino reflects on his time in Argentina
My time in Argentina felt both short and long. In my last days, I both wanted to leave and wanted to stay longer. Buenos Aires is an amazing place to visit, but unless you know some Spanish, I would deter you from going. The people in Argentina speak English, but Spanish is definitely their preferred language and they talk in Spanish regularly, so you will have a very hard time if you don’t understand what they are saying.
One of the biggest differences I noticed between Argentina and California was how open people were to talking with me, even if they didn’t know me. People in Argentina are all around much nicer people. There was very minimal bullying at both of the schools I went to. Almost all of the classmates were very close friends and treated each other kindly. Another thing I noticed was the difference in food. In Argentina, people eat much more beef and meat. My favorite thing to eat there for dinner there was empanadas. They are basically folded bread with something inside like meat or cheese. In Argentina, laws for driving are more like recommendations; oftentimes, you see people swerving past other cars, driving in the middle of the road, running red lights, and honking constantly. The police seemed nonexistent. In my eight weeks in Argentina, I think I saw two police cars. Despite all of these differences, Argentina was not very hard to adjust to.
I found my host family extremely welcoming. They had a poster in my new room that said “Welcome Chris,” with pictures of my family surrounding it. They were all very nice, and when I didn’t understand, could translate (roughly) into English. My exchange partner, Dante, attends a school called Colegio Norbridge. They have English in the morning Monday to Thursday and Spanish in the afternoon Monday to Friday. Friday morning is “gym,” where you play sports or run. The class was small, only about 25 kids, and they were all super nice. Within the first couple of days, I had made friends, both inside and outside of school. The question they all asked me was whether or not I supported Trump.
One of the biggest challenges was adjusting to the food schedule. In Argentina, people do not eat dinner until 9-10 pm. Between lunch and dinner, there is the merienda, where people eat something small, such as toast with tea. Another challenge for me was the school. Their school day is from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. Compared to our school day, this was impossible. The first couple of days of school, I came home and slept until dinner. The number of hours sitting in the same classroom made my brain hurt. I didn’t understand how people could concentrate for nine straight hours.
My favorite parts about going on exchange in Argentina was being able to experience a different part of the world without my parents, meeting new people, and being able to live a completely different life and see the cultural and social differences. I also loved the people; everybody was super nice and inclusive, which made it easier to adjust.
Overall, I would recommend coming to Argentina on exchange, but only if you have taken some Spanish. Without Spanish, it would be extremely hard to make friends and communicate with anyone.