Random thought

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A picture of three primary characters from the anime Death Note; Light Yagami, L, and Misa Amane. Credit for this work of art goes to a kid in Argentina I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting, who has a lot of artistic talent and I hope continues to draw forever.

On my first day at UCEL, the Argentine university that hosts our program, I saw this drawing in the courtyard that connects UCEL to the neighboring grade school. It caught my attention because as someone who loves watching anime and reading manga, I instantly recognized the characters from a popular anime called Death Note. I took a picture of this drawing not only because of how well-drawn I think it is (shout out to the kid who drew it–you got talent buddy!), but also because it got me thinking. There I was was, thousands of miles away from home, and a picture that some kid drew in chalk had stopped me in my tracks. While most people who pass through this courtyard might see this drawing and overlook it, it stood out to me because it led to my first distinct moment of realizing the “same-ness” between myself and people from here. That sounds kinda weird but I don’t really know how else to put it. It was my first moment of consciously stopping and mulling over the fact that, despite the linguistic and cultural differences, people here are just like me. They do the same things I do, they read the same books I read, even watch the same Japan-imported TV programs as me. It was my first real moment (on this trip) of consciously considering just how similar we all are, in spite of our differences. We’re not the same person, but we’re still all people and we have more in common than we don’t. This picture made me smile and remember, despite all the differences, just how similar I am to a kid on an elementary school courtyard in Argentina, drawing a picture of his favorite anime characters on a blackboard.

Last week, two of my group members and I went on the ferry ride that takes you out on the Rio Paraná. It was beautiful. I had no idea so many people lived on the islands that populate the river. Some people live on them, while others apparently have houses they retreat to on the weekends. We waved at all the people we passed. It was incredibly relaxing, and exactly what we needed. We took the 5 o’clock voyage, which meant towards the end of our almost two-hour cruise, we got to see the sun sink and witness all the beautiful colors it paints the sky and water as it descends.

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That’s a big river.

After class on Thursday or Friday afternoon, a couple of mis amigos y yo went to go see a movie at a local theater. We saw Intensa-Mente! better known in the states as Inside Out! I had already seen it in English back at home, so seeing it in Spanish (without subtitles) was an awesome experience. We went partially because we just wanted to see it, but also because we thought it’d be a good exercise for our developing aural skills. It was super useful that I had seen the movie already–it helped me to focus on really listening without stressing over missing details (a problem I always have with Spanish). I had a number of moments where I was like “Ohhhh, that’s how you’d say that in Spanish…” which was awesome. I was very impressed by my friends, who had not seen the movie in English, who would lean my direction every once in a while and whisper their understanding to me for confirmation. They were normally right on target. So yeah, I enjoyed taking time out from the day to watch a movie. I think I want to make watching the Spanish-language version of movies or TV shows that I’m familiar in Spanish a routine. I think it’s definitely a useful way to improve listening and understanding skills.

This weekend was pretty quaint for those of us who stayed in town. We saw a flamenco show on Friday, which was epic, despite the guy with the blinding camera flash who wouldn’t stop taking pictures. Saturday, a group of us got together to just chill at a bar. We had every intention of attempting to pain the town red, however, everything in town was shutting down early because of primaries the following day. Fun fact, did you know it is mandatory that all of-age Argentine citizens must vote in primaries? It was easy for us to forget when when tried making plans earlier in the day, but our host families soon let us know that everything would be shutting down until late afternoon the next day. Yesterday, it literally rained all day, which sucked–but was useful because I was able to get so much done that I probably would not have had something not kept me indoors. But today is a special birthday and we’re going out to eat!  It’s time to go eat gi-normous fish by the river! TENGO HAMBRE!

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I don’t like taking pictures through glass but I couldn’t resist this time.

Classes, new friends, la vida nocturna, & a Portuñol dinner

Class started the second day of our adventure in Argentina. We take two classes a weekday—the first class seems to be centered more around reading and speaking the language (we do tons of discussion and usually some writing for homework), while the second class is a bit more grammar-centered, though both classes are taught almost entirely in Spanish, and the material done in one works its way into the next. The first day was a bit pretty daunting, but as time passes, I am definitely noticing a lot less “Como?”s and “No entiendo.”s as our understanding improves. Not to mention, I think the classes are extremely well-taught. I’m gaining so much more than I could back in the States in this amount of time.

Following our classes, the rest of the Language Learning group and I normally go out to eat or hang out around the university until the Service Learning group returns from the elementary school they teach at, and we attend a lecture about an Argentine custom or tradition. So far, we’ve attended ones about integration in education, the Spanish spoken in Rosario and Argentina, and los gauchos. Similar to the classes, the lecture are pretty much entirely in Spanish. I think I’m getting better and better at this language everyday, and learning new techniques to comprehend even when I’m not familiar with every word in the sentence. That being said, honestly, between classes, lectures, and interacting with my host family and other Spanish speakers as we try new places to eat and go out to the bar, it’s nice to have an awesome group I can turn to when my brains turn to mush from working so hard to understand a language I haven’t quite mastered yet.

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Getting to know Rosario!

I am also noticing conversations with my host mom are becoming longer and more complex, as we are understanding one another more. The first day, as she showed me around the house and we struggled to communicate, I remember thinking “what. did. I. get. myself. into?”, pero I think I’m seeing improvement and learning to convey my ideas better, despite a limited (but growing!) vocabulary. It’s awesome to see the language barrier become easier to traverse as my host mom and I discuss a variety of topics over dinner at nights. Oh, btw, that’s a fun fact to know. Normally, an Argentine dinner will take place pretty late in the day, around maybe 9 o’clock. I’ve eaten plenty of pasta, cheese, and meat since I’ve been in Rosario!

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Drinking mate in the studio!

It’s also been awesome to meet so many of the people who live here. I’ve hit it off particularly well with one of the student ambassadors, Franco, who speaks English fluently and also sings and plays guitar. We’ve jammed out a couple of times and actually, last week we went to his friend’s studio (his friend’s a legit producer who studied in Buenos Aires) and we made our own recording of The Zutons/Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” for his friend who’s leaving for Italy soon. It was my first ever time recording and it was freakin AWESOME!  After leaving the studio, I was blown away by what I saw around me. This might be hard to understand or explain, but I’d literally almost forgotten I was in a totally different country. I’d been having such a great time jamming and recording with such great people I’d forgotten where I was. It was a strange, but a  nice moment of really realizing how music unites so many of us, and remind us how we’re not all that different. Music almost made me forget that I’m miles away from home! It’s awesome to be making music AND friends here!

The night life here is a completely different animal than in the states. Young Argentine’s often don’t head out till after 11 or 12, and the party’s not really TURNT til after about 1:30. For a great deal, the night doesn’t end until about 5 when the boliches finally close. This is completely different from back in New Brunswick where the bars, clubs, and parties often turn down around 2 or 3. I’ve had blast so far. The best night so far has consisted of us attending a tango class (which was hilarious–we were the youngest there and the least advanced) and a visit to a boliche that had an open roof and played all different kinds of Latin and other popular music styles. It was an amazing first Friday in Argentina!

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Pampas y pampas y pampas…

On Saturday, we visited una estancia in the pampas of the Entre Rios province, about an hour away from Rosario. We rode horses (which was frightening for two seconds, and amazing the rest of the ride), watched traditional Argentine cultural dances, drank mate (my new obsession, that I’ll talk about more in a future blog post), and ate asado, empanadas, traditional postres, etc. It was an incredible day, and awesome to see an example of what life in Argentina outside of a big city can look like. (I was also forced to sing for the group, thanks Melina. 🙂 lol)

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Soy un caballero!

Dinner at home on Saturday was awesome. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that my host mom also hosts two Brazilians tenants who are studying medicine in Rosario. The family of one of the fellas visited and made a Brazilian meal for all of us. Over the pasta, I was impressed to see the communication taking place between the group. I asked the group how they were able to communicate (even though Portuguese and Spanish are very similar, they are still very much different languages) and they responded “Portuñol,” which is basically a blend of Portuguese and Spanish, not unlike “Spanglish” is for Spanish and English. The conversation between my host mom and her son and the Brazilian family was conducted almost without a hitch. What an ingenious and creative way to overcome linguistic barriers. It was amazing to be present for such an occasion. They often stopped to explain something to me and tried to get the sister of my house mate to practice her English with me (she was the only other English speaker present, though she was not yet fluent). My host brother’s father smartly pointed out there were three native languages at the table, but that we were still all managing to understand each other, one way or another. This dinner is definitely one for the books!

Ok, this post is really long but hey, I like to jump at every opportunity to write free and informally. Hopefully you’ve been somewhat intrigued by this post! I guess I’ll close out this one by mentioning how much I love my group. They are literally all so awesome. They always keep my laughing and motivated. I think the fact that we’re all out here together has really pushed us to become really close really quick. I don’t know how I’d be making it in this big city without them! I excited to be spending two more full weeks getting to know this group, the big city of Rosario, and the beautiful language, people, and culture of Argentina with them!

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Cuties.

This post is late, pero this city is great

So originally, I intended to post a blog a couple days into being in Rosario, & then another one at the end of the week. But there’s so much to do in this city, it’s been a struggle to manage my time! Amongst all that’s going on in this big city, it’s kinda hard to make time for sitting down and writing a blog post. But after spending a week here, I think I have better idea what to expect from this city and how to be smart about prioritizing my time here, and making time for the low-intensity activities, alongside the high-energy ones. I’m gonna use the next two posts to describe the majority of things I’ve gotten into since we started trying to live like rosarinos!

Flying was an experience. I was supposed to fly alone, but one of the members of my group (hi Damaris :).) even up being switched onto my flight at the last minute. Even though I didn’t bump into her until just moments before customs at Ezeiza in Buenos Aires, it felt good to know I wasn’t totally “alone” on that 10+ hour flight.

At the airport in Buenos Aires!

At the airport in Buenos Aires!

Aside from being stuck in one position for hours at a time, miles and mile up in the sky, the flight was pretty nice. I was seated next to an Argentine woman who I ended up talking with for a large portion of the flight. Despite being born in Buenos Aires, she and her husband are currently living in Dublin for his work.We spoke for an extended amount of time about an assortment of topics. I told her I was headed to Rosario in order to study Spanish, which initiated a great conversation about language. I was greatly impressed by the fact that she speaks Spanish, English, and German fluently, which, as an aspiring multi-lingual, I was greatly impressed by. She told me how when she and her husband travel through Europe on the weekends, she is often asked by people whether she’s from Spain or Italy, which is unsurprising due to the Spanish and Italian culture and ancestry prevalent in the people and culture of Argentina. As our conversation went on, we realized that I should probably be trying to work on my Spanish with her, so we’d try to speak in Spanish at various moments in our conversation–which was a challenge! She gave me my first unofficial language lesson of the trip. She taught me to use “Como?” which has literally become one of the most useful phrases I’ve learned in Spanish yet. It’s a quick, easy way to get someone to repeat what they’ve said, not unlike “Huh?” or “Come again?” in English.

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First meal out in Rosario!

After landing in Buenos Aires, finding my group, and an almost 5 hour bus ride, we arrived in Rosario at the university that hosts our program, UCEL. I was extremely nervous to meet my host family. I looked around the room like a lost puppy for my host mom, but she spotted me first, greeting me with a kiss on the cheek. After a brief welcome, my host mom and I walked home since the house is not too far from the school. Although my host mom knew some English words, enough to help me out when I couldn’t understand, it was a struggle to communicate as she showed me around the house, how to operate the shower, etc.

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El Monumento Nacional a la Bandera

The next day we had an orientation where we learned even more about the city and details about the next three weeks. We met some of the instructors we’ll be working with and the ambassadors (UCEL students) who’ll be helping us become acquainted with the city during our stay. Then we went on a tour of Rosario. Despite doing some research into the city before arriving, and knowing it was one of Argentina’s largest, I still did not know what to really expect: which is a big, beautiful city. A city that effortlessly dwarfs Newark–New Jersey’s largest. We saw so many parts of the city on our bus tour, passing through various parks and important streets, stopping to explore the areas around the bridge and the Plaza 25 de Febrero and the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera . I really enjoyed the tour and seeing the way in which Rosario blends the antiquity and architecture of an old city with the modernity and style of a new, contemporary one. I’m still finding new streets and marveling at the way in which different parts of the city look so remarkably different from other parts, depending upon where you are. Some streets, with high rooftops and covered in commercial activity, resemble those you might find in New York; another, covered in palm trees and near the river, might make you think more of Miami. Other streets look right out of a different time period.

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Plaza 25 de Mayo

My host mom came to pick me up at after my first full day in Rosario. As she tested me to make sure I remembered how to get back to the house, she mentioned to me that my Spanish was already better than it had been the day before, which I think had to do with being a lot less anxious the second day around. Here’s to improving more and more each day!

First (real) post (…finally)

I’m not sure what I’m feeling but it’s somewhere in between excitement and jumpiness and straight up nervousness. I’m currently in bed channeling all that energy into my leg, which is shaking erratically. I promise you, ever since 10pm, every extended moment I spend in my thoughts I find myself  doing math, thinking “in less than 24 hours”… “less 23 hours”… “22 hours”… “20”… “19”… and now, “in less than 18 hours I’ll be in a plane somewhere over some great watery expanse (prob) on my way to Buenos Aires, Argentina.”

I’m still trying to find that perfect word to explain how I’m feeling. Excited? Emocionado? Ansioso?

I  can’t believe the day’s finally arrived. Two weeks ago I remember thinking “yo. when will the 25th arrive?” And now it’s here and I literally can’t even remember what these last two weeks have been like. Truthfully, they’ve consisted to work, shopping, and a day-trip to the Poconos, but it all kinda feels like one long, blurry day because I’ve been so focused on today, these next three weeks, this trip.

This is it. My first trip out of the country. And even cooler, I’m studying abroad. That two birds with the same trip 🙂 More than simply trying to get a couple credits to graduate, I’m hoping to improve my Spanish fluency. This program was ideal for me because it has a Language Learning track intended specifically for beginner/intermediate speakers, like myself. I think I have a pretty decent working knowledge of Spanish but I have so very little real world use of that knowledge, and I can feel the effects of this whenever I have to actually use the language beyond reading and writing. I want to overcome that insecurity that makes me say “Did I say that right?” or “Does that make sense?” every time I say something in Spanish, even when I know I’ve said it fine. I am excited to have the opportunity to improve my Spanish in an immersive setting where I’ll have no choice but to improve or struggle.  This is the first year the Language Learning track has been introduced, so I’m really excited to be a part of the first class and to see what this program has to offer.

I can’t wait to meet my host family. I spoke to my host mom over email and she seems sooo great! I can’t wait to see Buenos Aires, the pampas, the Rio Paraná, and, of course, the city I’ll be living in for three weeks, Rosario. ¡Estoy listo!

For real though, the furthest I’ve ever flown is to Florida and back, and I still can’t believe when I get off the plane I’ll be in a totally different country. A different hemisphere! WUT I’m getting tired now, so I think this is enough for a first post and a night! I would say I need my rest for the trip but tbh, I’ll prob be asleep the majority of that 10-hour flight!

Oh! One more thing! A huge thanks to all those who made this possible! Every donation I got, well-wish, whatever, it’s all incredibly appreciated! This trip would not have been possible for me without the help of many, so I thank you all for helping me achieve this goal. 🙂

Good night!

Oh, I think I found that word I was looking for to describe how I’m feeling: ¡Listo!

Argentina, nos vemos muy pronto!

LaJuan