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
Reflection on a lecture by Alexis Dritsos, Argentine Economist
|Photo By K. Fetters|
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.
|Photo By K.Fetters|
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 etc., 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.
Contrasting Architecture in Buenos Aires
|Photo By A. Cline|
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.
|Photo By A. Cline|
|Photo By A. Cline|
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.
|Photo By A. Cline|
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 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…
Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015
Hanging Out with Commuters in Buenos Aires
|Photo By K.Fetters|
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.
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.
Hector Castaneda, Class of 2015
Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015
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
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 theatres 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!