The experience of studying Spanish and living abroad in Buenos Aires was a truly rewarding and memorable experience. For three weeks, I studied Spanish intensively at the Universidad Catolica Argentina whilst enjoying the breathtaking sights, delicious cuisine and endless entertainment offered in the vivavious city. I enrolled in the program as I was interested in improving my Spanish and wanted to experience living in a Latin American country. Translated in English as the ‘City of Fury’, Buenos Aires is a truly lively, thriving and diverse city. With differing barrios (suburbs) such as Palermo, San Telmo and La Boca, which all have different sub-cultures, festivals, restaurants, cafes and galleries, there’s always something to do, see or eat. As it’s the norm to eat dinner at around 9 pm and 10 pm on weeknights, and around 11 pm on weekends, days are long and eventful and often don’t end until the next morning. From my time in Buenos Aires, I learnt how to speak Castellano (the local Spanish dialect), how to Tango and how to enjoy mate, a grassy herbal tea loved by locals. Although I was enjoying life as a Porteño (a Buenos Aires local) and spending weekends in neighbouring countries, marvelling gigantic waterfalls and exploring nearby towns, my time in Buenos Aires wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Although the Spanish course was advertised as a beginner’s course, it was actually an intermediate level course intended for students who were about to start their semester of exchange at the university and had studied Spanish for about 4 to 5 years. As a near beginner who had only dabbled in Spanish previously through travel and Spanish and Latin American movies and music, the classes were incredibly challenging and proved to be quite frustrating. The three other UTS students who also went on the program were in the same boat, and after the first week, the issue was resolved and a new beginner class was made for us, after having spoken to the program co-ordinator and BUILD staff back in Sydney. A piece of advice I would give to BUILD students is to always speak up and voice your concerns to fellow students or staff if you are struggling or concerned about something. There’s no point in trudging through something you are struggling with, before trying to find an appropriate solution. Buenos Aires was my second BUILD program, as I had previously travelled to Costa Rica where I studied at the University for Peace and interned at a social enterprise. From my experiences, I have found that the best way to gain the most from the program is to explore the country/region before or after the program as this has allowed me to learn more about the local culture/s through travel. I also suggest being open minded and not being afraid of trying new things and things you would never do at home such as solo travel, learning a local dance/activity or eating local delicacies. Learning a bit of the local language (or at least basic phrases) before embarking on the program, whether it’s by downloading Duolingo, watching a few YouTube videos or taking a short course is also a good idea as it allows you to be a little prepared for the culture and language shock. I also advise you to not set any expectations about the country or culture you are travelling to as comparing a country or culture to a differing culture not only sets you up for disappointment, but also leads to assumptions and presumptions, which enables you to stray from being present in the moment and enjoying what’s in front of you.
As a recent graduate, looking back at my time at university, I would not hesitate to say that the two BUILD programs I went on were by far the best experiences I had at university. Each program allowed me to learn something new, whether it was a language, culture or subject, complete an elective, discover a new region and meet interesting people from around the globe, with many becoming lifelong friends.
By Celina, newfound appreciator of Mate.