By Svaja Pakalniskis, ISA Argentina Site Specialist
When living in the electrifying capital of Argentina, it’s hard not to find a fresh and enticing activity for each day. Whether it be exploring one of the many distinct barrios (neighborhoods), catching some live music, or weaving through the crowds of a bustling feria (fair), you’re sure to stay entertained. The endless opportunity in Buenos Aires, cunningly-nicknamed “The Paris of the Americas” for its European architecture and its status as an international hub, makes the city an ideal spot for those seeking to sink into a pool of rich and diverse culture.
Upon arriving in Buenos Aires for my semester abroad in 2016, I instantly felt elated by the thrill that comes with most travel. Through the windows of the shuttle transferring me and a few other students from the Ezeiza airport to the Universidad de Belgrano, I placed myself in the passing, blurry new city. Soon enough, I would be able to explore these busy streets, sit outside in that café, stroll through this park and browse through that market—I couldn’t wait. It was all so close and there was so much I wanted to see, I didn’t know where to start. I suddenly felt overwhelmed.
Luckily, the ISA resident staff made the adjustment much more manageable at the beginning of my time abroad and throughout the remainder of my program. On our first day in Argentina, within the lovely ISA office centrally located on the busy avenue Cabildo, we were provided with delicious empanadas and an enriching “Bridging Cultures” orientation. Along with informing us about cultural norms (i.e. Argentinians do everything LATE—dinners are no earlier than 9 pm, and the nightlife awakens around 2 am on the weekend), safety precautions, and academics, they began to introduce us to the endless amount of discovery in Buenos Aires.
Tango, asado, el gaucho, yerba mate: these are some of the main topics associated with Argentina, and ISA facilitates several cultural activities to help students better understand and appreciate these popular aspects of the national culture. Within their first couple of weeks abroad, students take a tango lesson in a popular tango dance studio, La Viruta. I revisited this studio one night, or, rather, in the earlier hours of the morning (like I mentioned, Argentina runs late), to watch a sea of couples dance the milonga, a quicker and more relaxed variation of the tango. I highly suggest those enthused by tango, or those merely craving an authentic Argentine experience, to do the same!
Students also learn how to properly serve and drink mate one evening at the ISA office, a refined skill that is necessary when living in Argentina. Finally, one of the first excursions, Día del Campo, treats students to traditional argentine cuisine, including asado, while also engaging them with cultural activities like folk dancing and the “Corrida de sortija”, a typical gaucho sport.
Buenos Aires is also bursting with non-traditional cultural opportunities which the ISA resident staff is happy to suggest and that is easy for students to seek out. There are constantly festivals celebrating fashion, music, literature, food, art, and film in the city. As an avid film-nerd, one of my favorite events while studying abroad was the BACIFI film festival. Argentina is historically known for its cinema, and this festival was an excellent way for me to enjoy innovative, independent Argentine film as well as international movies. It also helped me further improve my Spanish.
Another key component in the essence of Buenos Aires is its rich cultural diversity. Did you know that Argentina had 6.6 million immigrants in the 19th century, second in the world only to the United States? The varied ethnic history in the capital city has resulted in several festivals and fairs that celebrate international cultures and holidays, restaurants that serve delicious cuisines from all over the world, and communities that preserve and commemorate their heritage. When walking down the busy Avenida del Libertador on my way to class, there were several occasions where I caught Russian, Korean, French, English, and many other languages I couldn’t even recognize weaving through the conversation of passerby’s.
Studying abroad with ISA in Argentina gives students countless opportunities to immerse themselves in the vibrant and intoxicating Buenos Aires. If studying abroad is on your mind, remember that one of the best ways to celebrate a culture is to be eager to immerse yourself in it. So, step out of your comfort zone and get adventurous!