Every morning I wake up in my residencia in the center of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I get ready for school along with the 30 other Argentinian girls on my floor, we all sit down to breakfast together, and then I'm off to class. As I walk to my university I pass countless panaderías, verdulerías, tiendas and restaurants. I look around amongst the hustle and bustle of the city streets and I see people sitting down in cafés drinking their morning café con leche with their medialuna, a well-rounded porteño breakfast don't you know! I can't help but admire the beautiful French architecture of the buildings or the countless parks I pass every 5 to 6 blocks. It is nothing that I had ever expected from a Latin American city.
As an exchange student, the expectation is that you live with Argentinians, take classes with Argentinians, and form relationships with Argentinians. To dive into the culture head first, speaking as much Spanish (technically Castellano) as you can in one day. All of the classes you take are in Spanish, at a private Argentinian university. They all meet once a week anywhere from 2 to 4 hours each class. Each exchange student must read, write, speak and listen, all in Spanish. We get the option of choosing classes either with other exchange students or with Argentinian students. It is suggested that exchange students take a mix of these classes, which means about 2 or 3 classes with Argentinians (the minimum classes an exchange student can take is 5). The classes with other exchange students are not necessarily easier (on the contrary, some are quite difficult); they are still entirely in Spanish. Because the program draws in students from all over the world, the majority of students in my exchange classes don't speak English, or for them it is a second language, therefore, many of the interactions you make with other students are in Spanish. I am currently taking 3 classes with exchange students; a seminar of the processes and ideas of Latin American history, a Spanish language class, and Argentinian Literature, and another 2 classes with Argentinians; a Spanish grammar class, and an art history class. Additionally, I arrived a month prior to the start of the semester to take a month-long intensive review course to brush up on my Spanish before the start of classes, a wonderful experience in my opinion.
Although classes are an important aspect of my time here, I can honestly say, that the real learning happens outside of the classroom. This is an immersion program at Loyola unlike any other that really forces each student to learn whether they like it or not. I wake up every morning speaking Spanish, go to class, where I have to read, write, listen, speak and analytically think in Spanish, and even fall asleep with a "Buenos noches" from my roommate. From the little, insignificant conversations on the street to staying up all night wrapped up in a conversation with a girl in my residencia, I use my Spanish, every day, all the time, more than I could have ever imagined. I have experienced all the difficulties of being a foreigner in an unknown country. I have gotten lost, left with absolutely no point of reference, I have stood helplessly as someone on the street speaks to me so fast it seems like gibberish, I have had times where I couldn't understand anything that was going on around me, I have experienced the uncontrollable frustration of not being able to express yourself because I just don't know the words to do so, I have felt the irritation of when people can't understand what I am trying to say, and finally the aggravation when I realize that my Spanish is not yet where I want it to be. Yet at the same time, I have experienced the satisfaction of learning new words, and then being able to use them, of finally being able to keep up in a conversation with the girls in my residencia, of being able to venture out into the city and get things done in a string of successful interactions with the locals. I know how rewarding it is to finally know where I am in the city, and to blend in enough so that someone actually asks ME for directions (and even better when I finally knew how to answer them). These are all lessons that no one can learn in a classroom, and ones that I'm positive my friends in other abroad programs do not get to experience for themselves. I've learned more in these past 3 three months than I could have ever imagined, and still with 2 more to go! It's a learning experience that doesn't stop after class ends, or as soon as the weekend begins, or even when I go on trips, I have to be willing to learn each and every day, all of the time. Quite frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Feel free to send me an e-mail with any questions you might have about the exchange program the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires at firstname.lastname@example.org.