Several Ways I Learned About the History and Culture of Buenos Aires

Jun 28, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Nora Callahan

Nora CallahanNora Callahan is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An International Affairs and Math major at Northeastern University, she is studying abroad in Buenos Aires this semester.

In this week's post, Nora shares several ways she has learned about the history and culture of Buenos Aires through classes, tours, and museums.


Classes are such a cool part of studying abroad. We take classes with local professors at Universidad Austral's Buenos Aires campus located right on one of the widest streets in the world—Nueve de Julio. I'm taking Spanish and Global Cities which have 3 and 4 students total respectively so we get a lot of attention to ask questions about the city's history or practice our language skills. We are able to focus the class discussion on things we are especially interested in and continue our discussions with peers outside of class since there are so few of us.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Summer2018_From Nora Callahan - Global Cities Class Tour of Recoleta CemetaryOn a tour of Recoleta Cemetery with my classmates.

In a recent class period while learning about the coups in Argentina and the political turmoil they triggered, we got to talking about the differences in the ways we experience the political moment back in the U.S. and the differences in the culture around protest in each country from our own perspectives. [Note: Protest and political speech is a huge part of the culture here and interesting to observe or even participate in, but safety is also super important especially with respect to our heightened visibility here as foreigners.] This discussion was incredibly interesting and one that may not have developed in a larger, more structured class.

One of my classes, Analyzing and Exploring the Global City, is all about culture, architecture, the history of the city and the country, and the global city as a living and breathing environment that people move through. This class is heavily lecture- and discussion-based, but we also got to go on 2 walking tours of the city. This portion is really what made this class special for me. Of course, I did my own exploring and tried to actively observe the city and the buildings and sights around Buenos Aires in my free time, but it was really helpful to have a guide pointing out buildings and bringing to life the information we received through our in-class lectures. We got to point up at a building and guess the relevant stylistic influences as we walked past it, and then get the feedback and comments from an architect. Our architect guide was super friendly and pretty young. She almost seemed like a peer, but a peer with a post-graduate degree in architecture and extensive knowledge of our host city. I loved this class in particular because even though I am not pursuing a degree in urban planning or a similar subject, I am really interested in the topic. It was so cool to get to take a class that counts toward my degree at home on a foreign city, in that city, that included lectures inside and outside the classroom from 2 incredibly knowledgeable scholars.

CAPAStudyAbroad_BuenosAires_Summer2017_From Elizabeth Withers MALBA 2Visiting MALBA in Argentina.

I also visited the MALBA (Museo de Artes Latinoamericana de Buenos Aires) with a friend outside of class time. The MALBA was my absolute favorite museum in the city and pro tip: a foreign student ID can get you in for free. I learned a ton there and encountered art and political symbols I was completely ignorant of before my visit, but also found that some of the exhibits really complemented the material from my class lectures as well. They had an extensive photo exhibit by photographer Sara Facio documenting the period between Peron’s 1972 return to Argentina from exile and his death in 1974. The photos show the crowds in the streets at various times, political speech in the country as well as the city, the overwhelming post-mortem use of his iconic second wife Evita as a political symbol and also capture the emotion on the faces of 1970s porteños up close in the midst of this tumultuous time. Walking among these 2 years in photos in chronological order with just bits of explanation here and there was such a vivid and unforgettable way to absorb the information. A helpful suggestion: complement this exhibit with a trip to the Evita Museum which offers tons of information on her life and work.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - On a Bus Tour of the CityAn art installation of Eva Peron in Buenos Aires.

The MALBA was excellent in its entirety, but the second exhibit that I lost myself in and found really enriched my understanding of my class was one that showed pieces on cities and maps. There were pieces depicting the skyline in ways that showcased the chaos and speed of the city, but other very geometric pieces that focused on the structured and inorganic, synthetic aspects of city life. There were maps annotated with the history of U.S. interference in Latin America, as well as pieces on city life in Latin America highlighting the black and queer experience(s) particular to this place. Both the urban geography exhibit and the Peron era photo exhibit are well worth a visit and continue to strike my interest over a week after my visit!

My Global Cities Class Eating Parilla in San TelmoEating a traditional Parrilla (barbecue iron grill) in San Telmo
with my classmates, professor, and our architecture guide.

The great thing about studying in Buenos Aires is that there are so many ways to learn about the culture and the city’s iconic past. There is so much here. Austral is also a great home base from which to be taking classes. It’s right by a few key cultural sites and there are lots of other students to talk and catch up with during breaks or after class. A lot of us are in different classes too or some are even doing internships around the city so it’s really fun to hear what everyone is up to and expand your horizons that way as well!

Thanks Nora!

Nora's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.

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Topics: International Education, Buenos Aires, Argentina