I arrived safely to Buenos Aires on Saturday, but of course, with my luck, not without some difficulty. The Chicago airport wouldn´t let me travel without a visa, and told me I´d have to cancel my flight or pay an extra $600 on top of the $1,000 ticket to take the flight to New York. Even after talking to the director of my program, who had the Argentine and US laws in front of her, they still said that their information dictated that I needed a US visa (which isn´t possible, because I´m a citizen). Thankfully, after some crying (and some threatening), a woman decided that she`d let me bypass the rule.
The flights were alright; the plane trip to Buenos Aires is 12 hours, and of course that was on top of the 9 hours I had already been in the airports. Suffice to say, it was a long couple of days.
Anyway, my host mom is super nice. When I first saw her outside the bus window, I knew I wanted her to be my host mom. Well, she is almost 70 years old, but she is super active.
In fact, since today was El Dia de Amigos (the Day of Friends, which occurs every Monday), she came back pronouncing she was drunk! It was so funny. Anyway, her name is Neli (short for Nelida), and her friends call her all the time, and her son and his family live in the apartment next to hers. I met them, and they are all nice as well, but the youngest granddaughter (15) knows a lot of English and we talked about castellano (the language they speak in Argentina, kind of like a sect of Spanish), school and even Lost!
I live in Belgrano, a nice neighborhood right in the heart of Buenos Aires, and only a short walk from my university. As I said before, I´ve worked in a city, but I´ve never lived in one, and it´s nice to see all the shops and people about as I walk home. My apartment building is pretty similar to the ones that you´d see in America, except that the elevators have two sliding doors instead of one automatic door. Also, my room is entirely blue (the walls, the dressers, the bed, etc.) and I felt like I was in a room I would have designed myself. :)
There are about 100 people in the ISA program, though we are not all in the same classes. ISA offers a lot more options than Knox does, including classes in English, Spanish classes with other international students, Spanish with Argentine students, do an intensive month where you enroll in a local internship. In the Knox program, you can only study Spanish with locals. Everyone is really nice, and they´re from all over the US. I´m also really glad that I got to meet new people instead of falling back on the few friends I had in the Knox program.
About 20% (roughly 2,300 students) of la Universidad del Belgrano comprises of international students, and most of them seem to be from the US and Europe. However, there are about 10,000 students total, so it´s definitely bigger than Knox...by about 9,000 people. It`s a private university that was established in 1964 to honor Manuel Belgrano, a major figure in Argentine history.
Unfortunately, I`m doing a lot of boring things right now like attending orientations all day, filling out migration forms, applying for a student visa, and learning about swine flu. Seriously, it´s a big thing here. The university is actually closed to local students, but it´s open to international students. I don`t know if that means they think we`re safer or something, but I`m glad it`s open either way.
We did take a city tour and I got to see the the Plaza de la mayo (where the famous Madres de la plaza march), San Telmo, la casa rojo (equivalent of the white house), the Congress building, the famous Florida Street, a complex of cathedrals and tombs, and many other things.
Also, I should make a remark about the food. Because the food is the soul of a people, ¿no? It`s similar to most Western countries, but it`s more heavily influenced by Italian, Porteguese, and Spanish foods. It`s interesting to notice, however, how they`ve managed to take the same ingredients and make totally different foods. For example, what we think of as tuna salad is actually that here: they add some lettuce, onions, mayo and tuna and it`s good to go! Breakfast usually consists of toast, orange juice, tea, and maybe some fruit. Lunch and dinner are always later in the day (like 2pm and 9pm), but you get used to it pretty quickly.
As I thought, my Spanish is not the best, but I like to think of it as functional. I can communicate basic things, and when my friends are switching back and forth between Spanish and English in conversation, I don´t miss a beat. The Argentine lingo is very different from what we learn in the US, but I think I`ll get the hang of it eventually.
Anyway, I´ll talk more about Argentina later, but for now, ¡hasta luego!