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A Day in the Life of a Study Abroad Student

June 26, 2010

My alarm on my iPhone (which I brought solely for use as an iPod and alarm) goes off. I wish I could sleep for 4 more hours but not wanting to be late, I drag myself out of bed. I shower, get dressed and make myself a light breakfast of bread with cream cheese and jam and coffee. I’m out the door by 9:00 or 9:15 for my walking/subway commute to school…

My class starts promptly at ten. For all that they say the Latin American countries are more relaxed about tardiness, Buenos Aires seems to follow more of the general attitude of any big city in the U.S., meaning you are expected to arrive on-time and lateness frowned upon (although we do technically have a 15-minute window before we are considered “absent” for that day). The intensive language month is, well . . . intense. Five hours of Spanish back-to-back with just two short breaks is a lot, but I am also learning incredibly quickly. I go to a bakery during my lunch break to buy empanadas and little tiny desserts to-go (so delicious), after which class is much more enjoyable.

Starting next week I will be commuting to my internship every day to work for another three hours of work, but thus far my afternoons have been spent exploring. Some days I meet up with my friends from my study-abroad program and other days I decide to go solo. But I have forced myself to stay out of the house until at least 6PM or 7PM every day so far, not that it has been difficult. 🙂 To the contrary, there is so much to do that I can hardly decide! I generally find myself in the center of the city, walking for hours along Avenida Santa Fe or throughout Palermo. I window-shop, sightsee, and usually stop for a coffee around 5PM or 6PM.

The hours I spend in cafes are some of my favorite of the day. As in most European cities, cafes abound. There is one on nearly every corner, and in some areas three or more on every block! Some are bright and open; others are dark and cozy. Some have WiFi; others just have amazing baked goods (try the medialunas if you want a bite to eat with your coffee). Whatever your tastes, there is a cafe (or a dozen) in Buenos Aires that will suit you perfectly. I generally order a cafe con leche (sort of like a latte) and bring my journal or a good book to indulge in an hour or more of pure me-time. When was the last time you stopped to have a long coffee and read a book or chat with a friend? One of the great things about Buenos Aires is that this is a normal part of many people’s day! Because they don’t eat dinner until 9PM or later, stopping for a coffee or meriendas (snacks) around this time is a very common practice. Personally, I’m determined to visit a different cafe every time, at least until I find one that I can’t resist going back to again and again.

During the week I usually come home around seven or eight and do my homework, check my email, blog, or read for a couple of hours. Family dinner is usually around 9:30 and is not to be missed, unless you are eating out with friends in which case you must call or text your family to let them know you won’t be coming home. I love the ritual of sitting with my host family for an hour or more each evening, enjoying a great home-cooked meal and talking about our day. This is where I get a good amount of my language practice in, for one thing. And in general, I just think it is a wonderful ritual that enriches people’s lives so much. It is one hour of your day in which you are obliged to put aside your work, homework, or anything else you are doing and just enjoy time with your family or loved ones. After only a few days of this I have learned something of incredible value: everything else can – and does – wait.

After dinner I help my host family clean the kitchen and then I typically read or work on homework some more before going to sleep around 1AM or 2AM. And in the morning I start everything over again.

I can’t really say much about weekends yet because I have only experienced one here so far. But I will definitely keep my blog updated with fun things I discover to do over the next few months, so keep an eye out for some suggestions! In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts/observations to keep you entertained . . .

Differences between Buenos Aires and the U.S.

  • The doorknobs are usually handles, instead of doorknobs and the keys are really old-timey looking (think keys to a treasure chest). Oh and most doors are locked with keys, even from the inside.
  • A LOT more skin is shown on TV. In fact, I don’t think there has been a single night that the television has been on when I haven’t seen girls dancing around in little bikinis or skirts that show wayyy more than would ever be considered appropriate for public viewing in the United States. Despite the fact that I’ve experienced a similar lack of taboo about nudity and sexuality in other countries, I still can’t help but laugh out loud at the antics much of the time (really mature, right?)
  • The elevators are tiny – typically allowing up to three people at a time – and are entered by pulling a door open and then sliding a sort of gate aside, then closing them again behind you.
  • Counterfeit money abounds. You have to be very careful about where you use larger bills (50 and 100 pesos, which equal around 12 and 25 dollars, respectively). Oh and oddly enough, there is a coin shortage in Argentina. But you still have to use coins to ride the collectivos, or busses. This is resolved by a) stockpiling as many coins as you can whenever you get them in change, which is rare; or b) going from bank to bank, exchanging a few pesos for change until you have enough to last you for a few days or a week.
  • There are enough cafes, shoe stores (more boots than you could ever buy in your life) and book stores to satisfy twice as many people as live in this city.
  • Purses are worn slung over your body and backpacks are worn over one shoulder, or in front of your body. This is mostly to deter pickpocketers and thiefs, but it seems to have become somewhat of a fashion statement (or at least a status quo) as well. Heels aren’t common, but flat boots abound. I’ve seen very few women in dresses or suits. Although porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires) are well-dressed it seems that practicality almost always takes precedent over appearances alone. I will probably follow up with an entire post about fashion and how to dress in Buenos Aires once I have been here for a month or two.

That’s all for tonight! It’s almost dinner-time and then to meet my friends out on the town.

Settled and happy,
Maki (Porteños are famous for assigning people nicknames, and this one was given to me within days)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2010 3:01 pm

    Sounds amazzzzzzing!!! You must be having soooo much fun! Your pictures and blog make me want to go to Buenos Aires so badly!

  2. Nick permalink
    June 28, 2010 6:19 am

    Love the post, Makena! Glad you are having a great time… I bet the city went crazy during the game today. Must be a great time to be in Agrentina.

    I can really relate to that feeling of being in a new city by yourself or with a few friends and being able to just go explore… no other feeling quite like it!


  1. Some Things I Love About Buenos Aires (and Argentina) « Study Abroad Bryant – Buenos Aires

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