By Julia Mösch
I just spent 6 months in South America, more specifically in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a very eye-opening experience and I can only recommend the city for people to visit, it is really a crazy town!
So, to start, I left Amsterdam on the 11th of July because the semester starts on the 3rd of August at Austral University. I left early because I thought that it would be best to have some weeks to get to know the city and the surroundings, meet some people and enjoy some really good Asado (more of that later ;) ).
When I arrived in Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport, I took a bus company called Tienda Leon which takes you straight into the center, close to Retiro station. This Bus company I can only recommend, it costs around 250 ARS which is about 15 € for a trip straight to the airport which is around a 100 km outside the city. Some might call this expensive, but trust me, this is one of the cheaper things Buenos Aires has to offer.
The city if EXPENSIVE! Dutch prices all the way, if not more, and the housing is the same. I paid for my apartment - which I luckily got through a friend of a friend of mine, who is a porteña (people from Buenos Aires) - around 700€ a month, which is considered cheap. However, friends of mine paid around 400-600€ for a room, which let me tell you, was anything but big, and if you’re unlucky, might have a cockroach infestation in the kitchen. But cockroaches are part of the city, just like mice are part of Groningen :).
When I finally made it to my apartment in Palermo, which is the party central and biggest district of Buenos Aires, my porteña friend was already waiting for me with the essentials: toilet paper, dulce de leche - which is a kind of toffee - and most important to get around in BA, a sube! The sube is a card which one loads up with money so as to be able to use the subway - the subte -, and the buses. The buses run the city! There are about 200+ bus lines running in, out, and through the city which makes getting around quite easy… if it is not rush hour. Rush hour in BA is a hell bound trip, stopping for hours on a busy street with thousands of cars and buses honking at each other, as if that would move the traffic along faster. This concert of honking however, is part of the culture it seems, as honking is used for everything: to greet each other, to tell one another to move, to tell someone to get out of the car faster, and what not. Basically, honking is used as much as talking. And yes, you guessed it, Buenos Aires is loud! Not just the honking cars, but the buses, that take us from A to B, make a lot of noise, not to mention the porteños itself, that talk at each other rather than to each other, and whilst that happens both parties try to trump each other by talking even louder and even louder. Apparently they understand each other like that; I’ve had my troubles. This is not only the case on the street with friends, but in the classroom, too. The professors talk, and the students will talk at the professor at the same time, and they will have an argument like that until it is resolved. It is fascinating to watch, although unbelievably difficult to understand.
Another thing that porteños are extremely proud of, is their Italian heritage. Everyone is somehow Italian, and will tell you so. They are a very wonderful, open-minded and active culture. The day usually starts with a medialuna and a coffee, which is a little croissant-type pastry, around 9am. They then work until lunch time, around 2pm, and then back to work. Then tea at 5/6pm and dinner is only around 10pm or later. And dinners my friends, are the bomb! Everything you ever heard about Argentine steak and Asado is true, and a million times better than you think it is. I think I am going to become a vegetarian once I am back in Europe, simply because the excellence of the meat cannot be matched. Everything just tastes bland and chewy against Argentine Asado. My favourite cuts were definitely ojo de bife (Rib-Eye) and vacio (Flank).
What cannot be missed is provoleta, which is a type of molten cheese, Raclette style, and mollejas!!!! which is sweetbread/thyme glands. Mollejas are not for everybody, but I could eat them all day every day. Last but not least, what has saved me from many nasty hangovers, are choripan. A choripan is a type of hot dog, but with a short, thick, juicy sausage in a white Brötchen. It is DEEEEELICIOUS! I will however, never understand how a national that is so proud of their Italian heritage, was able to destroy pizza. The pizza in BA, which the porteños are extremely proud of and they take very seriously, is a cheese-laden piece of gooey bread that tastes like cardboard. Sorry Porteños, but it is an acquired taste.
Now to get to my University. Austral is a private university with 2 campus, one in the city center where the exchange and master courses are being held, and a huge campus á la Zernike around 50km outside of the city, which houses their hospital (UMCG style), the “edificio de grado” where most undergraduate programs are held, and the sports facilities (ACCLO). During introduction day I found out that all the courses I had signed up for in the city (the exchange courses) were not being held, but only in the next semester. So I spent a good week and a half trouble shooting because now that meant I had to switch all the courses I had picked out, get them approved by our Exchange office, and make sure I was qualified to take them. In the end I took Roman Private law and Corporate Law, in Spanish, at the campus in Pilar, and a course called Project in the city center.
Getting to Pilar campus without a car is a hassle. There is a private bus service provided by the university, which is for free for students, however, for international students it is around 100€ a month, depending on how many days a week you need to go. Hence, not an option for me. There is a public bus, however, that takes you to around 2km away from the Campus, on the Autopista. You get off, and then you either walk these 2 km, you take a bus (which I never found), or hire a car service for 90ARS (4€). The walk to the campus is not too bad, until you have to cross a kind of highway without traffic lights. And in Argentina, the car is always right. If you’re crossing the street and inconvenience a car, they will sometimes speed up to make you run faster, honk and yell at you, or be nice and let you cross, because they see the danger of the situation. But mostly one of the first two options. Once you cross that street though, you enter a beautiful park, which is part of the campus, and the rest of the walk to the “edificio de grado” is a beautiful tree lined street with lavender bushes and tranquility.
The professors and students at Austral are a blast, everyone is super nice and forthcoming, explaining things in English when something is hard to understand, and just really nice in general. The dean of the Faculty, Fernando Toller, is a sweetheart that tries to improve his already excellent faculty every day. Once he came into one of my classes to ask the students for their opinion on how to change the semester and exam set up. It was very interesting and refreshing to see how much input the students have in the university and how freely the students speak their minds, both frustrations, criticisms, and proponents of changes. The faculty is excellent, every professor I had was an absolute expert, both academically and in the field. What is hard however, is that mostly they do not work with power-points. They stand at the front of the class and talk to you, in legal Spanish. This was an extreme challenge for me, and I am proud to say that I overcame it.