Why did you choose this program? After looking at the study abroad program options, I knew that I wanted to go on a SIT program because I liked the idea of having a themed semester where I could study a topic in-depth. SIT programs also have an independent study research option, which was something that I wanted because it's difficult finding opportunities to do undergraduate social science research and I wanted the freedom to study a topic of my choosing. I initially had it narrowed down to the SIT South Africa program and the SIT Argentina program, but when I started doing more research on the countries and the culture, I realized that SIT Argentina was the program I wanted to do. The theme of human rights fit perfectly with my curriculum here at IU and with my future plans as a lawyer. The program also allowed me to practice my Spanish and learn more about the blend of influences that make up Argentine and Latin American culture in general. It offered the perfect mix of all my interests.
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. One of my favorite classes abroad was my History of Human Rights in Argentina class. Not only did I enjoy the subject because it involved discussion of diplomatic and international relations, political influence and social justice, but the class was also interactive in the sense that we were able to visit historical sites and talk with members of organizations that worked with these issues. A typical academic week would involve a lecture by an Argentine professor one day, a discussion session with an Argentine activist that worked with human rights the next day, and another day where we would visit an organization and learn firsthand what human rights in Argentina looked like. For example, a major point of study in the class was the Argentina dictatorship and the "Dirty War" that involved putting political enemies of the regime in concentration camps. We were able to visit an ex-concentration camp that is now a museum about this time in Argentine history, which really helped me understand the consequences of that event for Argentina.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? Throughout my time in Argentina, I stayed with my host-mom. Everyone on the program stayed with their own host families while we were in Buenos Aires. My host mom had a two bedroom apartment in the eastern portion of Buenos Aires, and I was able to take a half an hour bus ride to my classes everyday. Her apartment was also ideally located next to a large shopping center in Buenos Aires and close to the subway, so there was always an easy way to get to where I needed to go. During our excursions, we either stayed with host families, such as during our visit to an indigenous community, or in hostels with the other students in our program.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? My first piece of advice would be to really research and plan your study abroad experience to make sure that you make the most of your time. Before you go, make a list of all the sites you want to see and things you want to do because it is easy to get caught up in living life abroad and miss out on something important that you wanted to see or do. I would also try to not put too much pressure on every moment abroad. Just like a semester here at IU, there will be good moments and bad moments, and some days that will just feel ordinary. Every moment studying abroad does not have to be this fantastic, life-changing experience-but, when you come home and reflect on the entire semester, you will realize that even those ordinary moments were important to your experience.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? My best memory from study abroad was during the month of my independent study project when I was interviewing environmental activists for my project. It was an important moment in my experience because I felt like it was the culmination of my time in Argentina and demonstrated what I had learned. I was able to have a conversation with local activists completely in Spanish about the impact of agribusiness on their communities, the role of the government in environmental policies, and how they worked everyday to change these circumstances. It was an experience I would never be able to have during a regular semester, and I was able to take a lot away from that conversation both academically and personally.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. The biggest shock in terms of Argentine culture for me was the openness and directness of the people there. Unlike here in the United States, where most people usually keep to themselves when they are around strangers and definitely avoid controversial topics around those they don't know, Argentines like to get personal very quickly with people who they just met. I would get questions about where I was from, my political opinions and my family from strangers on the subway, on the bus, and even walking to class. It was definitely something that I had to get used to in the beginning, but toward the end of my semester, I came to appreciate the honesty of Argentine culture.
“If I could do it over, I would…” If I could do it over, I would make more of an effort to speak Spanish as much as I could. I would try to talk to more local people and find out more about the culture and practice my Spanish, and try to encourage my American friends to use Spanish to so I could get a better grasp on the language. I was able to improve my Spanish immensely through the program, but I can only imagine how much better I would be if I engaged more with the language.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? I wish someone had told me that no matter how overwhelming the experience can seem at first, anyone can do it as long as they keep an open mind. I had never lived in such a big city before where I didn't fluently speak the language, and it really helped to remind myself that not only were there 19 other people there with me at the moment who were experiencing the same thing, but countless others before me who had overcome these challenges. It's comforting to know you're not alone.
What was your greatest challenge? My greatest challenge was overcoming whatever roadblocks I had constructed in my head and forcing myself to try new things that I normally would not do at home. I had to constantly remind myself that I would probably never have these opportunities again, so I should take advantage of them while I could and not let the unknown stop me from truly experiencing the culture and environment.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? I think people would be surprised to learn the diverse environments that Argentina has to offer. While some parts in Northwest Argentina have more of a colonial tradition in terms of architecture and lifestyle, the Patagonia region is perfect for those who want to enjoy nature. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, is a large urban center that has more of a Spanish and Italian influence. It's easy to stereotype all of the countries in Latin America the same way, so I think people would be surprised to learn the variety of influences in Argentina and that no matter what type of sites and activities you're looking for, there is probably a region that meets those needs.
How did you find scholarships for study abroad? I found out about the Hutton International Experiences Grant through the Hutton website, and was able to apply through the information I found there.