Personal Experiences

This page is dedicated to our personal experiences, stories, and observations that we would like to share with the world. Beyond the classroom and academia, we discovered so much about the cultural, social, and political aspect of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is a type of learning that is only made possible through travel, interaction, and experience.

Christian Mera, Class of 2015

Argentine Economist Lecture (Alexis)

Alexis, the Argentine Economist whom spoke to our Learning Cluster group about the importance of housing and Argentina’s Economy presented loads of information that clearly laid out the many crises throughout the country. The lecture was very well delivered; he touched on the failure to abide by Article 25.1 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the concept of inflation and its negative effects on the Argentine Economy and included his own system he believes could possibly turn the world around. In terms of a personal question that arose while I took notes on his lecture, I wondered what would be the best frame of things that could resolve universal poverty and how important would sustainability be for this resolution.

Alexis made sure he introduced his lecture by referring to Article 25.1 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states:

Everybody has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Up to now it is apparent that we aren’t applying the right policies to resolve the problem of housing deficiencies. Argentina is home to many areas referred to as “slumps” and “villas.” These areas are filled with poverty; the people whom live in these places usually don’t have access to water and struggle to obtain food to nourish themselves and the lives of their loved ones stuck in the same predicament. What is interesting to see is how governments overlook these issues and exploit these people instead of attacking the problem head on which could ultimately prove beneficial to the entire state. Politicians especially see this issue of poverty as ammunition for their own business, lying to the poor in order for their votes in any given campaign that politician is running. Not to say the world is corrupt, but it needs drastic change.

Inflation is one of many concepts that is diminishing the possibilities for people, especially in Argentina, to purchase homes for their families let alone even purchasing some land in which to build their own shelters, whether environmentally friendly or not. For example, in Argentina, inflation causes a raise in prices annually by 25%, this causes people to lose their purchasing power because they would be receiving less for their money after every purchase made. Now imagine in attempt to purchase a home, where the cost can range through a wide scale of costs, mortgages are essential when purchasing a home but have proven to be extremely costly, who can qualify? Argentina consists mostly of a standard-middle class whose revenue is relatively low; APRs on mortgages turn out to be 23%, which is extremely unrealistic for the typical Argentine family to maintain steady payments. Right then and there, the flow of money throughout the economy is unstable further leading to more inflated prices on all goods.

Alexis had an idea that seemed promising but would take many years to eventually accomplish, many different cities in which can sustain each other through living and even a proper education to better the entirety of the nation as a whole. In order to convince governments to help is to show persistence and urge people living in poverty to show that they are capable of attacking this issue and are willing to do whatever is necessary. Understanding Economics in this way helps to ensure a better understanding of how the concept of slavery continues to persist and where we need change in order to possibly resolve this issue entirely.

Katy Fetters, Class of 2015

Walking the Streets of Buenos Aires

I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Buenos Aires, but I prepared myself to do a lot of walking. I had just bought new nike running shoes to do all my walking in as much comfort as possible. What I noticed immediately was that the sidewalks were so poorly paved, I had to watch my every step. There were large cracks in the pavement, uprooting trees, large piles of dirt, glass, and concrete just lying off to the side of the walkway due to the constant, ongoing construction. The reason I was so conscious of the sidewalks and streets in Buenos Aires is because I have Cerebral Palsy, a physical condition that affects my balance and coordination skills in my legs. I can get around pretty well, but when I know I have a full day of walking ahead of me in a foreign city, it can feel pretty daunting. As we began walking around the city and seeing all of the different and beautiful types of buildings, I tired easily but I didn’t want to miss out on anything! I just accepted the fact that I just had to do the best I could do with walking, and remain conscious of my physical health. I always had to be extra careful in certain areas where road construction and development was always at work. There were certainly nice areas of the city that I found very pleasant to walk around in, but that was not always the case.

The neighborhood we stayed in has uneven sidewalks and I felt like it would be a death trap for someone with CP or any other physical disability that inhibits walking abilities. This awareness led me to really question the attention toward people with disabilities in the city, and if they even have access to easy transportation around the city. Mobility is always an issue for someone with CP, so I began to wonder what type of system was in place for accessibility and mobility for people with physical handicaps. I started to look for handicap signs for parking, or buses, subways ect, and only saw a grand total of 3. Yes 3 handicap signs… I noticed one across the street from our hostel for a larger parking spot, one on a widened bus door, and one on a restaurant’s walkway ramp. With that said, I was not impressed. How frustrating! What type of government can allow such real issues go overlooked? It made me think: What if someone tragically was restrained to a wheelchair one day but had lived their whole lives taking the subte to work, school, and home? They simply could not live in Buenos Aires any longer due to their condition. Part of me was very quick to assume that the government just doesn’t care. They don’t want to invest the time, nor the money to give the disabled community the freedoms they deserve. The other part of me is willing to question if the government and the people of Buenos Aires simply just don’t know about disabilities.Our class interviewed with a young woman who, like me, is also 20 years old and is in college. I asked her how the majority perceived peoples with disabilities and she kind of dismissed my question out of ignorance for any solid answer. Once I realized this, I wanted to know more about any government or social action put into place concerning the rights of peoples with disabilities in Argentina. Here in the United States, we have the ADA, or the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 that gives peoples with all kinds of handicaps the civil right to accessibility, education, service, independence ect… However, the only really solid piece of information that I came across was a conference on international action for disabilities. It was held in 2005 at the US Congress in which Argentine government representatives participated and declared their awareness of issues pertaining to this topic. No action was put into place at that time, and after having gone to the nation’s largest city, I still can’t help but wonder if anything or anyone will ever change.

Alexandra Cline, Class of 2015

Contrasting Architecture in Buenos Aires

From the instant we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the hustle and bustle of the streets put me into a perpetual state of dizziness. Cars zoomed and honked, tail gated and swerved to dangerously close stops. I felt my chest seize with anxiety and tried to mentally block the nerve racking traffic, telling myself that soon I’d be within the safety of our hostel.

Upon arriving at the hostel, I couldn’t help but laugh at the stark contrast of architecture not only outside of the building, but within it as well. From the outer perspective of the building, the hostel looked as if it were the entrance to some magical land. Sardined between two rather modern yet run down multi-story edifices, our hostel managed to fit a massive and heavy wooden door on its small face. The door looked as if it belonged to a classically designed castle from some Disney movie.

Across the street a small market sat nestled between other modern apartments that awkwardly and narrowly teetered towards the sky, and just up the street a bright yellow home (perhaps divided into smaller apartments within) was an eye sore in its outrageously beautiful Victorian styled design. As I looked up and down the street, making a double take here and there, I wondered if the rest of the city was that much of a “mix”. As I have come to recently realize, the entire city of Buenos Aires is one big collage of every type of architectural design imaginable–and this fact is as hilarious as it is fascinating. In a work entitled “Buenos Aires – a cultural history” by Jason Wilson, I recounted a section on “Modernity and Plagiarism” within the city, and Wilson himself describes the city as one that is “constantly mutating” (Wilson, 4). So not only is the city a jumble, but it is a continuously growing and changing jumble. Everywhere you look a modern building of metal and glass can hug the stucco and stone of a building constructed so long ago, that those who built it are long dead.

Finally opening the door to what could have lead to Narnia for all we knew, I was a tad less surprised to see the same mix of old and new, rustic and mod decorating the hostel. Opening our bedroom door with a storybook kind of key, the lock clicked with a dull thud and the heavy wooden door that resembled the main entrance creaked open. Our bedroom consisted of two twin beds and a bunk bed set. My roommates and I found the beds that we would be resting in for the next two weeks and talked and smiled about the funny neon covers of the bed, and the attempted retro style within such a vintage looking room. And then, within a pause of our discussion, it hit us like a wave.

The noise.

The noise of the streets of Buenos Aires is not only incessant but boundless. It is relentless in its efforts and volumes and tireless even when you are desperate to find sleep. Traffic haunts me like a dark shadow, and even in the supposed safety found here in the hostel, I am still tail gated in my most tranquil dreams…

Buenos Aires. A city of everything – including traffic.

Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015

Hanging Out with Commuters in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a vast lively city with people continuously moving around in different directions. Because of this matter, an efficient way of public transportation is necessary. I visited the city with my classmates and professor, and stayed for over two weeks near the center of the city. We constantly used public transportation to get to different places and learned many things about how it functioned.

The first form of transportation we used was the bus. Buenos Aires has a constant stream of buses coming and going throughout the city for an affordable price depending on the destination. The quantity of public buses was almost in equal amount to cars. The price can range between 1 to 4 pesos per person. If compared to the US dollar, 1 dollar equals 5 to 7 pesos depending on the exchange rate, which means bus rides cost less than a dollar. There are also many subway stations called Subte that reach many parts of the city at an affordable price for 2.50 pesos per person.  Apart from buses and subways, there are also trains that can reach farther parts of the province of Buenos Aires. The prices for these trains are also cheaper compared to the United States. It can range from 8 pesos to 20 pesos depending on the station.

However, there are a few inconveniences with the public transportation. For example, buses do not take bills, and this can be very bothersome if you have no coins or not enough coins with you. Most Argentinians have the bus card called sube which is fast and practical, but for a tourist that isn’t sure if he or she will be using the bus as often it can be impractical.  Also, exchanging bills for coins can be very difficult since most business want to keep their change or simply don’t have. Another issue that presented to us while in Buenos Aires, was the schedule of the subways. In various occasions the entrance to the subway was closed for different reasons. If you aren’t familiar with the schedule, like we were, you might prefer to take the bus instead of the subway. Moreover, buses and subways didn’t have air conditioner and both can get very crowded and uncomfortable, especially during summer. Though, a few amount of buses did have air conditioner. Another small issue is the condition of the subway trains, it wasn’t at its best since there was graffiti all over it, and the seats weren’t very clean either.

Nevertheless, regardless of these issues with public transportation, the usefulness of it outweighs the inconveniences. Many Latin American countries can only dream to have a mode of transportation as efficient as the one in Buenos Aires. Even if at times it may be a bit of a struggle, it is cheap, and gets you to your destination, and that is the most important part.

  Zoe Witt

A Home Away From Home

In October, signing up for a traveling learning cluster seemed like a great idea.  It would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially for a freshman, and the topic in general was just so unique and cool.  However, as our departure date loomed closer, I began to regret my decision to join this cluster.  This would be my first time traveling without my family, as well as the longest I would be without them.  The thought of being separated from my family and friends for 17 nights began to drive me crazy.  Many nights prior to leaving were spent crying, desperately wishing I could somehow get out of taking this trip, and in Houston , I seriously considered not getting on the plane. 

However, upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was completely immersed in the culture and all my sorrows and worries were quickly forgotten.  Tomas kept us busy, taking us all over the city and summarizing the history of each part.  For example, La Boca was a part of Buenos Aires that was built by Italian immigrants and characterized by colorful buildings and raised sidewalks; the financial district was a very ritzy part of the city, with expensive shops and a beautiful mall; and lastly there was Recoleta, built my monks and home to Evita’s grave.  What I immediately noticed upon exploring the city was the kindness and hospitality of the locals to us foreigners.  Everyone was interested in hearing that we were from the states and people were patient with my attempts at Spanish. 

 I met so many cool people on this trip.  There was an ice-cream shop two blocks down from our hostel that I went to almost on a daily basis.  There I met Alan and Derlis, who would help me with my Spanish and soon figured out my flavor of choice- crema orea- and gave it to me for free.  I also met David, a Columbian living near Plazo de Mayo right now, who makes a living off of selling beautiful hand-made crafts at a street market in San Telmo.  David took Caroline and I to a spot where the locals congregate every Sunday evening to dance and drum.  That was such an exhilarating and exciting night, and I could not help but dance along with the parading locals pounding their drums.  Of course, there was Pablo, who so kindly welcomed us onto his land, making us feel comfortable and ensuring us that we were not just there to work, but to have fun as well.  Pablo was always so encouraging, thanking us for all our hard work and commitment to the project.  What I loved most about Pablo was his love for animals and I could not help but to shed a few tears when we had to say our good-byes to him and his playful pup, Flora.  And lastly, there were my fellow classmates.  Prior to this trip, I knew who everyone else was, but none of them were people I considered to be friends.  That has totally changed.  I became really close with everyone on this trip.  We bonded really well and overall, I think we were just a great and fun group of people to be around.  I am so thankful for this opportunity and all the cool people I became close to. 

Being back in Southern California and at Soka feels weird.  I really miss Beunos Aires; it turns out I came to love the city.  Although I am glad to be home, I feel like a part of my heart is still in Argentina and it is nice to know that I can feel at home in a totally different part of the world.    

Hector Castaneda, Class of 2015

Personal Experience

Going in to this project I had one question in my mind, which I intended to answer: How can you make people want to live in a house like this? While it is true that most advantages of ecological construction are self evident, most people are not very likely to make such drastic changes to their way of life just for the sake of reducing their carbon footprint or not having to pay a water bill. At the present ecological construction is, at least in my opinion, only appealing enough to a fringe minority of ecological enthusiasts and artists, but this needn’t be the case. While working in this learning cluster I noticed a few things that would be immediately appealing to most people who would not consider this type of construction a viable option.

The most obvious and persuasive advantage to ecological construction is a monetary one. Never mind the savings that come from the reduced cost of living; this house cost around 600 dollars to build. If that is not a persuasive little bit of information, I don’t know what is. We worked in a city where renting is the norm, so the idea of a whole house for the price of a couple months worth of rent money would be attractive for all who crave that independence. That being said many would rightfully be afraid of getting what they pay for: a cheap little hut.
One of my greatest personal qualms with ecological construction is that the houses that are produced using the techniques are usually very unappealing to those accustomed to traditional building techniques. This might not be a problem for the niche audience of the movement, but if you are trying to sell someone on the idea, the house has to look good, not only be practical. While building the house I was secretly afraid that we would end up with a hobbit-hole, but I was pleasantly surprised that we ended up drawing inspiration from several different construction techniques while keeping the house eco-friendly, with all the benefits that entails. In our case we utilized pallets and beams to build the structure and walls of the house and then we filled them with the adobe mixture. This created a wall that showed plenty of wood on the inside of the house and made the entire structure look much more geometric.

So in the end we had a cozy room where we could all see ourselves staying the night in and it cost next to nothing to make. It was aesthetically pleasing in both a traditional and artistic way. If were these ideas to be expanded to build an entire house or a group of independent structures connected by walkways it would probably look like something that most people would consider moving into. So during this learning cluster I learned two things: how to build a sustainable adobe structure and, perhaps more importantly, how to sell someone on the idea, something that will be extremely important for the expansion of this movement.

Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015

Personal Experience

Growing up in the typical, structured suburbs of Orange County                I immediately was struck by not only the structural but cultural differences upon arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina. No longer was I in a pristine “city” where more cars than people were ever seen out strolling about and making their way through their daily lives and routines. No longer was I in a peculiarly quiet town where every home and building looked to be same, but rather in a place where the constant mummer of buses and people filled the air at all times and the colorful array of buildings immediately captured ones attention and interest. I was no longer in the “bubble” of Orange County.

                Part of our learning cluster was to really assess whether sustainably made homes would be practical in every sense and not only as housing for the general population but those who, as defined by the UN, fall into the category of living in poverty or extreme poverty.  Because of our time constraint we were unable to visit the slums in Buenos Aires but we did have the opportunity to meet with an NGO known as Techo. Techo is one of many NGOs that focus on the issue of housing, per se. Yet despite the fact that housing is a central point in their mission, they recognize that it is but the surface of deeply rooted problem. With this, Techo’s approach is first to attack the problem right off the bat by providing emergency housing for the families that qualify and agree to terms set by the organization as reliance is always a dangerous possibility when it comes to NGO work. Techo sets a series of criteria for the family to meet in terms of self reliance such as asking them to pay part of the price for their emergency home, setting time limit as they must be able to be working in some form or another and be able to build a more stable home for themselves by a certain date.

                Although Techo seemed to be on the right track in terms of not only providing housing but actually looking at the deeper layers of the problem which include lack of education and moral from the community by helping provide programs concerning basic education but teaching them skills to help them find work, there seemed to be an obvious flaw in their strategy: their method of emergency housing. The emergency houses they built for the families were simple, flimsy wooden structures that took a couple days at the most to construct. An alternative to this wasteful and perhaps even time consuming is possible. For example, the small adobe studio we built took but a short 9 days, used minimal materials—most of which was borrowed from the land itself such as mud and sticks—as well as low in cost. Although it was hard work, it would make more sense for the people of Techo to take more time and involve the families in the building of their more sturdy adobe home. This in itself would assist them in improving their living conditions in a more sustainable fashion.

                After not only meeting with the NGO Techo, finishing the building of the adobe studio, and speaking with an expert Argentine economist, I realized the problem of housing was not only a social matter but one that involved politics and economics. It is an issue that must be addressed from every angle if there is any hope of alleviating the problem of lack of housing as well as dealing with its unsustainable nature.

Howee Wu, Class of 2016

Personal Experience

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was ecstatic. Everything went smoothly and off we go! The ten hour flight was not bad at all. We had personal entertainment systems, pillows, and blankets. I thought to myself how lucky I was. This was my first time in a Latin American country and also the first time I exited the U.S. In nearly 7 years.  After the flight, we arrived in Ezeiza airport. I was shocked by the amount of tourists and people, all conglomerated onto migrations. When we went on the shuttle to the hostel, my first impression was that the drivers are crazy! They would veer in between lines and motorcyclists would drive in between cars. I nearly got an anxiety attack. In less than an hour, we arrived at our hostel! The males in the group, including me, got an air-conditioned room. I felt so lucky and very fortunate since the summer days in Buenos Aires are so hot and humid.

                How is the city like in Buenos Aires? My first impression was that the city is huge: people, buses, cars, and bustling about. It is super busy and chaotic. However, in the midst of the chaos, the natural, architectural surroundings distracted me. Teatro Colon is absolutely stunning. What an amazing theatre and structure to represent the wealth and capability of Argentina? Teatro Colon is a fantastic opera house considered to be the top 5 theatre in the world. The theatre is beside Avenida 9 de Julio. This famous avenue, the biggest avenue in the entire world, was the one that took our Learning Cluster group many attempts to cross the entire avenue. Okay, back to Teatro Colon. The building was built in the early 20th century, and has an eclectic style, typical of that time period. When the doors swung open to the lobby of the theater, I was speechless. Every single detail was thought out and planned. Floors to the ceiling were designed and made from Europe, countries like France and Italy. The main theatre itself is shaped like a horseshoe. Tomas and a couple of our classmate got to sit in the main theatre! So, the seating and level of importance one sits at the theatre matters a lot. The higher one sits, the more power and prominence one has. Also, the chandelier of theatre can hold opera singers and choruses. When they sing, it will sound like if they are singing directly in the audiences’ ears. How cool is that!  

Talking about architecture of Buenos Aires, I noticed that some buildings were aesthetically built, however became run down, with some buildings stained with black goo by the smog of the pollution. It seems like some buildings were very poorly handled and maintained with the decline of its beautiful architecture. It is truly the Paris of South America with all its monuments, statues, and eclectically prominent buildings. The social situation in Argentina is declining. Although the GNP of Argentina has grown 8% every year, the social, economic gap of the nation has grown. I learned a lot about the history of Argentina, especially talking to the economist, Alexis. He explained to us the situation of hyperinflation in 2001. People lost all their savings and the middle class were squeezed and pushed to poverty. The argentine peso, before, was 1 peso to 1 dollar. However, after 2001, many could not withdraw one dollar for one peso. The wealthy were furious with the government. I went with the rest of the group, and Tomas, to witness the anger and result of the people. People were frustrated and attacked the central bank of Argentina so they marched down the main avenues like Avenida de Mayo to protest. The door of the central bank was dented and I witness it.

Overall, this has been such a phenomenal trip and I cannot wait to go back in the future! Thanks Tomas for the opportunity of a lifetime!

Tamara Siemering, Class of 2015

Vegetarian in a Foreign Land

One of our first missions once we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina was finding food. The city of Buenos Aires had a hectic, crazy vibe with a constant flow of speeding buses and taxis. We quickly discovered these cars stop for no one, leaving us pedestrians fending for our lives at every crosswalk. The sidewalks are wavy due to missing patches of pavement and turned over piles of cement. One moment you’re walking on cement, then on a patch of dirt and gravel and then on a board that’s been placed over a ditch.

It’s easy to pass up the restaurants, shops and hostels that line the streets. Every store and restaurant lives up to the phrase “hole in the wall.” Eating out every meal, we became quite familiar with the restaurants of Buenos Aires. Among our group of students we ate at places that served burgers, pizzas, empanadas, pastas and barbeque. We were introduced to traditional Argentine foods including “choripan” and “empanadas.” As a group we observed that for the most part Argentines eat two things: bread and meat. It became apparent to me that finding vegetarian food in Argentina was going to be a challenge. The empanada was a reoccurring meal throughout our trip. An empanada is a doughy pouch, generally filled with meat and cheese, baked until delicious and warm. At first the empanada seemed like a revolutionary food product to me, however minus the meat it is simply cheese and dough, which will do strange things to one’s stomach. Needless to say, I had trouble adjusting to this new diet. Aside from empanadas, there was the choripan, a chorizo in a bun, sort of the Argentine version of the hot dog. Let me tell you that choripan without the chorizo is a sad state of affairs indeed. 

From day one obtaining meals in restaurants was an obstacle. The fact that I don’t speak enough Spanish to even understand the menus made for a surprise every time my meal arrived. Each time I could only hope I had managed to avoid meat. The words “pollo”, “jamon” and “pescado” ended being my tools for restaurant survival. As a vegetarian in Buenos Aires, I mainly ate carb filled foods: breads, pastas, more bread, cereals. Eventually I discovered the wonderful markets that sold fruit and vegetables for just a few pesos. The nature of our trip was so fast paced, it led to eating out more than anything else. However, I am sure that if I had the confidence to make meals for myself I could have created something that didn’t involve the Argentine favorites: bread and meat.

Caroline Sell, Class of 2015

Explosion of Beauty

It was the midnight before a ten hour flight to Buenos Aires Argentina. I still hadn’t figured out what heels would go best with my drinking-is-legal in Argentina outfits. Random piles of categorized clothes lay next to my bed;
An unopened package of Men’s white V-neck and Men’s white wife-beaters
(both purchased for this trip to be worn, torn, and thrown away)
Assorted black running shorts
Pair of tennis shoes purchased for my 7th grade track-and-field season
I only knew two things about the extracurricular activities of this sustainable housing oriented learning cluster; I am of legal drinking age and it is summer on the other side of the equator. What I knew about the service project, it was going to be dirty, and hard work.
Which shoes to bring…
Traveling is a chance to observe.
Observe people, reactions, body language, cultural practices etc. all based on a way of life that is nearly intangible to me until I find the heart of what I am looking for, experience it.
Experience is priceless.
There have been educational theories insisting that first hand experiential learning is a necessity of education. I agree.
Immersion is key.
 To surround oneself in the lifestyle of the culture, the various lifestyles of the culture, is to experience its heartbeat.
It was a three hour flight from Los Angeles to Houston. Layover in Houston allowed for a cigarette break and a last phone call to my little sister in Austin. I asked her what she kind of gift she wanted.
Something you can only get in Argentina.
I had flown internationally only twice before, to India, a fifteen hour flight. This one was only ten hours, with personal televisions and an all inclusive movie, music, and media selection. There is a particular kind of sick that awaits me on long flights; a mixture of dehydration, lack of oxygen, and a relentless dry throat; seemingly incurable and absolutely intolerable.
This too shall pass. We landed in Buenos Aires.
We were here to do work, to observe, to experience, to immerse.
The observation of different cultural mores is a favorite pastime of mine; especially witnessing the youth at play. I find myself surrounded by my peers more often than not, watching and listening. Irrespective of how similar they may seem to my own experience, cultural differences are powerful and influential. It’s the people; differences and similarities.
Es lo misma para mi.
For the first few days, maybe week, I was unsure about Buenos Aires; I felt ungrounded. I have a slow and casual walk; I like to meander, if you will. This city is fast moving. I couldn’t keep up and my feet never seemed to have time to touch the ground.
It took me ten days to find the culture I had been searching for.
It was Sunday and I was walking down San Telmo, a craft market that stretches at least 10 city blocks, looking for a gift for my little sister. I stopped at a booth, struck by the intricate metal work jewelry. The craftsman was tall and black with a kind face. We started talking about music and dancing; he told me to come back that night and he would take me to a drum circle. I bought my little sister a gift. (what gift?)
I was going to a place where the youth gather; to observe, experience, and immerse myself. 
It was on a hot summer night somewhere in Buenos Aires near the Playa de Mayo, the market was closing, the streets were emptier, and the city was calm. I walked with a man named David, from Columbia; tall and dark with dreadlocks that fell to the middle of his back.
I followed him first to his hostel so he could drop off the work he had been selling that day. I followed him through the streets, unfamiliar but full of things to look at. We passed a corner café with tall red doors and gold letters, “La Poesía”. As he led me, I wandered after him, allowing myself to observe this new part of Buenos Aires.
In the distance I could hear music, los tambores.
We walked past a large outdoor stage full of couples salsa and meringue dancing. Their music contrasted nicely with the still distant sound of drums. Watching women spin and twirl around the dance floor I was struck by their general age group. Older women, 30’s to 50’s dancing with ease and grace, obedient to their partner’s guidance. When I walked around the corner, there was a very different seen that lay before me.
A gathering of people filled a small street. There was drum music coming from the center of a mass of people dancing. I could see hips moving, people being twirled, people sitting, people drinking, people smoking, and a group of boys were juggling. Wandering through the crowed I looked at the people around me, una mezcla muy hermosa.
At the end of the street were the drums. I started to make my way over, the rhythm and beat was already making me smile. The music was being played by a group of men. They stood in 4 lines shoulder to shoulder, following the wand of the conductor who stood at the front. It did not by any means look professional, but it sounded organized, rhythmic, melodic, and made my hips sway.
I listened with my eyes closed, allowing the music to be my only point of focus. The people around me moved with the beat, the walking and talking became harmonies. I opened my eyes and saw an organism, pulsating with a steady beat. The people traveling from space to space gave the organism blood. The friendly smoking and passing of various herbs gave the organism breath. I was surrounded, completely immersed in the night life of the youth.
I had found the youth; I had found the heart.
Claudia Ahumada, Class of 2015

Personal Experience

I like to think of myself as a very adventurous person. Until I realized that it was only in theory. 
Someone once asked me if I had ever gone camping, my answer was yes. Until I realized, I actually hadn’t. I had never slept in a tent in the middle of nowhere nor had I been to a camping site before. I guess I had only dreamt of it. It must have been a really crazy dream too because I thought it had happened in Mexico! Anyway, how does this relate to this LC you ask? Well, one day when we were getting ready to leave from the constructing site in a rural area in Argentina to return to the busy city of Buenos Aires, four of us decided last minute to stay behind to work on the floor of the adobe studio. I was skeptical in staying, but a night under the stars while getting to know some of my classmates more was all the more exciting, not to mention, I love working outside and doing hands-on work. So, nailing the wood floor down was a dream come true!
Once the others had left, I felt nervous for it would be my first time camping outside in a tent, a legit tent, one that was a bit broken so we used tape to hold it up. Regardless, I felt safe and a bit relieved because I had two other friends I would be sleeping with in the tent, Katy and Tamara, and Andrew that would be nearby, who slept in Pablo’s humble home. I have two older sisters and thus felt reassured and in high spirits because I was reminded of them.

Prior to this trip, I had experience building homes with wood, nails, cement, bricks, and working with mud and hay was a completely new experience. It would be my first time building an adobe studio from scratch too! Up until this point, I still was uncertain of how this was going to turn out. We had only put up the logs that would be used as the structure, but within a few short hours we had a floor to walk on, and a new floor to sleep on as well!
The next morning when the white bus pulled in, I was happy to see everyone! But, I would miss the night before when we ventured out to the local stores and restaurant where Pablo, the artist and whose property we were working on had taken us after having finished the floor. It was an astonishing sight to see, it was a small community that was made entirely of recyclable materials. I had never seen something so well made from recyclables, and if I had, I hadn’t taken the time to realize it. That is one thing I can thank Argentina, this Learning Cluster, and Tomas. I take my time when speaking with friends and loved ones, and noticing the small things—taking the time to appreciate everything. 

Well, now I can say I’ve done many things, as I went camping for my first time, went to travel to Uruguay for the first time, I met an Australian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, and Germans for the first time, I met new people both from Soka and abroad, I had my first SGI meeting in Argentina and then my second one in Uruguay, I helped built a sustainable adobe studio, I helped lead the group a few times which was a new experience for me—I’ve always relied on others as I am the youngest of my family. Excuses excuses, I know. But now, I have many new and beautiful stories to tell. 
I am thankful for this adventure of a lifetime and I look forward to the many I have to come. 

I thought I was adventurous, until I realized I have yet to sky dive! 

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