CAPA Alumni Claire Shrader reflects on why she chose to study abroad in Buenos Aires and discusses what made her fall in love with the city, musing on why the unique characteristics of the city and it's people might just have you falling in love with it too!
“Why Buenos Aires?” was often a question I was asked in the months and weeks leading up to my time abroad. I thought I knew how to answer it before I went, and I did, kind of.
I told people that I had been twice in high school, totally fell in love with the language, culture, and people, and had been dreaming of going back and delving deeper into the relationships I began six years ago.
That answer only just barely touched the surface of why Buenos Aires was the perfect place for me, and there’s so many more reasons why I think it could be the perfect place for you.
Buenos Aires, Argentina is an incredibly unique place, because it’s a city where the vibrancy of Latin America intersects with a European attitude. Sometimes, it feels like a city of dichotomies: it’s a very laid-back city, where cafés stay open into the early morning hours, and you transition from pizza to coffee to breakfast medialunas, without any of the rush that prevails in our North American restaurant culture. The city never sleeps, and if you aren’t sitting in a café trying to solve the world’s problems at 3:00 in the morning, you’re probably dancing in a boliche, or club, with your friends. And yet, though it sometimes feels like no one actually ever goes to bed, it’s a hardworking city, too. None of the stereotypes of afternoon siestas are true in this part of the country: people work long hours, and they work hard, many working more than one job. So, though it is laid-back and relationship-oriented, it is also a fast-paced city of high work ethic.
Because of this, there really is a place for everyone in Buenos Aires!
Every ex-pat I met (and I met many!) in BA had the same thing to say about the city: they visited for a short time, and found they could never leave. There’s just something about the city that draws you in, and makes you want to stay. I think it’s different for everyone, but there were a few reasons Buenos Aires felt like home to me in the four months I got to live there:
1. Opportunities are endless for internationals, if you take advantage of them!
Argentine companies, non-profits, and organizations are often looking to make connections with the United States/other countries, and so are receptive to taking on international interns to help them build those connections. I had the opportunity to work 20 hours/week for an incredible non-profit that serves families and children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, and was able to help in translation, networking, and program development, to name a few things. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and very fulfilling to get to serve such an amazing organization, even in a small way. Even beyond internships, though, Argentine hospitality is world-renowned, and I found myself welcomed with open arms, whether I was walking into my non-profit to intern, a protest to participate, or a hospital to volunteer. Seize any opportunities you can find, regardless of whether you feel like your Spanish could/should be better first. You will be welcomed, and you’ll surprise yourself at what you can do, regardless of your language level!
2. You can go anywhere. (No, really. Public transportation is amazing.)
I knew I would want to visit the part of the city where I had friends from high school often, and was bummed to find out that it was about an hour and a half bus ride from Recoleta, where I was living. I wondered if I would ever get to see those friends.
Man was that a worry for nothing.
Buenos Aires’s public transportation system is fantastic. You can go from your apartment in the middle of the city, on a bus to the train station, and from the train station straight to El Tigre, a town just a 45-minute train ride north of the city, and a gateway to the rivers of the Paraná Delta. It seems insane that in just under an hour you can go from the bustling city of Buenos Aires to the delta, where jaguars once roamed, and now many porteños (slang for Buenos Aires-dwellers) vacation on the remote islands. With apps such as “Como llego?” and even Google Maps which you can download and use without wifi, navigating the public transport system is easy. For me, it was exhilarating to be able to hop on a bus and just go exploring, because the buses, subway, and train really do cover the entire city, and I rode them many, many miles. If you do ever get lost, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I can’t count on one hand how many times I sat beside someone on the bus and had to ask for the exact steps of how to get where I was going multiple times.
Sometimes, the entire bus would notice the lost little yanqui (what they call us North Americans—get it? Yankee?), and when we arrived at my stop, everyone would yell together, “This is it!!” I bowed out of the bus, thanking everyone, and just had to smile at the way Argentines live. I admire them so much. I never once got scared when I got lost, because there was always someone beside me to point me in the right direction.
3. The people.
It was one of my first reasons for wanting to study abroad in BA, and after my semester has ended, it still is one of my top reasons for going. More even than alfajores (a type of cookie filled with creamy dulce de leche, Argentina’s caramel), the people were the sweetest part of my time in Buenos Aires. My bosses at my internship welcomed me into their work family so kindly, even turning one afternoon into a “Fiesta Mexicana” complete with tacos and dancing, because I missed Mexican food so badly. I constantly kept a change of clothes in my bag, because I never knew if a late night of pizza and conversation would just turn into a sleepover. And one dear friend spent four hours on all the mediums of public transportation—the bus, subway, and train—my first week there just to make sure I knew how to get around. Argentines have an insane capacity for loving the foreigner and welcoming them with this kind of radical hospitality that I’ve never found anywhere else. They truly are inolvidable (unforgettable).
My list could go on and on, and often when I talk about Argentina, it does. I hope you find yourself in the enchanting, welcoming, dreamy city of Buenos Aires someday.
Claire Shrader was an official CAPA blogger for spring 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Pre-Occupational Therapy major at Mississippi College, she is studied abroad in Buenos Aires, and has continued to share her post-study abroad reflections on the CAPA Blog.
Read more from Claire's journey.