Academics in Argentina: Learning to Question What I Thought I Knew
Coming from a liberal arts college, adjusting to the academic system here in Argentina was challenging initially. In total, I have taken three program courses with IFSA-Butler, two courses at the national public university, and three courses at a private university here in Mendoza. Across the board, all my courses have been lecture based with minimal discussion directed towards questions for the professor. At first, it felt difficult to be engaged in classes when I felt as if I was being talked at as opposed to being treated like a capable, critical thinker allowed to share my personal insights. However, I grew to appreciate all the lectures because of the opportunity to improve my listening skills without the added pressure of having to speak before my classmates as I still lacked confidence in my language skills within an academic setting.
Since my initial impressions, academics in Argentina have shaped me greatly. My Political and Social Ideas of the Americas class particularly represented one of my most difficult but growing moments while abroad. Though many students highlight the lighter workload during study abroad, my first semester in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language did not grant me the same luxury. I struggled to understand course material so much that I worked with tutors. In this third-year political science course, I was studying ideas and political processes I was unfamiliar with, particularly the process of independence that Latin American countries underwent. I struggled to understand lectures and contribute to group work because I had no point of reference for a large portion of class content. Though the class required me to seek out a tutor, (these sessions were all in Spanish too) I enjoyed the different frame of reference the class had in comparison to history classes in the U.S.
Compared to a country such as Chile, that in many ways reminds you of the U.S. i.e. food chains and similar store brands, Argentina is very different. In my time here, specifically in the classroom, I have witnessed how critical Argentines are of the United States. Initially I held my breath when my country came up in lectures, but when my tutor better explained the history of U.S. intervention into national affairs and elections in a large number of countries in Latin America, I developed great respect for this viewpoint. In some ways, I sided with my history lectures here more than I did back in US history classes. I’ve never enjoyed history classes because of its one-sided nature. Why did I have to leave my own country to hear institutional critiques of US Imperialism and Jim Crow that represented more than just our teachers’ personal opinions? At times, I feel like history classes in US schools are taught as truth without analyzing the merits of actions taken. This course in Argentina provided me with a space to look at my country differently. I learned of other viewpoints and now feel more comfortable critiquing US foreign relations. While I am aware that there is a lot to learn, I am more open to participating in discussion around these issues.
Deciding to study abroad for a year has also given me insight into the huge difference around conceptions of the present and future in the United States and Argentina. Though I grew up in an immigrant household and am first generation American, my family has adhered to US values of working hard in the present in order to have a better life in the future. For these reasons, saving is my first instinct, I constantly think about the implications of my actions for my future, and often use the phrase “One day I will…” While this is US culture, Argentines live by the mantra, “Carpe Diem.” Their conception of time is more directed toward fostering connections with family and friends and may include spending time at a café or sharing a meal for hours. Those dream vacations families in the US will save up for over the course of years, Argentines decide to take immediately once they work and save enough. They believe life should be enjoyed in the present because no one knows the future.
Though I am a product of one culture, I plan to return to the US with some aspects of Argentine culture that have stayed with me such as sharing mate, the Argentine tea, with friends. Before I came abroad, I was very absorbed in the “work hard for the future” mentality. This year has taught me the importance of investing in myself and realizing that life should be enjoyed. With senior year ahead, I plan on working toward my future but not at the expense of my happiness.