Judges Abroad is a series of blog posts written by Brandeis student-athletes who are spending part of their junior year studying abroad. To read more entries in the blog, click here!
Hola desde Argentina!
My name is Sophie Trachtenberg, and I am a rising junior here at Brandeis. I am currently studying Psychology, with minors in Hispanic Studies and Health: Science, Society, and Policy. In hopes of furthering my Spanish conversation skills, exploring a new part of the world, and pushing myself a little bit outside of my comfort zone, I chose to head South this summer to the wonderful city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Through IFSA-Butler’s Advanced Spanish Language and Argentine Culture Program, I was able to take two classes at the University of Buenos Aires, one that fine-tuned my Spanish skills, and another that focused on Argentine and Latin American Literature. Specifically, my classes were taught at the Department of Philosophy and Letters (La UBA - Facultad de Filosofía y Letras), whose very politically inclined students were not afraid to voice their controversial opinions, invite me and other foreign students to their protests and talks, and fill their hallways and classrooms with posters to bring a sense of social awareness to the university as a whole. This setting kept me on my toes, attuning me to the fearlessness of the Argentine student experience. As my ten hour flight back to the United States has just begun, I am taking some time to reflect on my time in Argentina and share a glimpse of my truly remarkable experience living and studying in one of South America’s finest cities.
When I first got off the plane in Buenos Aires, I headed straight to Caballito, a cozy, residential, and slightly slower-paced neighborhood of the city where I would be spending the next six weeks. I lived with a delightful host mom, who provided me with the perfect environment to practice speaking Spanish daily, share typical Argentine meals, and get accustomed to daily life in the city. After a quick homemade milanesa for lunch, we hopped on the Subte, Buenos Aire’s massive subway system, and headed across town to El Ateneo, an old theater turned bookstore and cafe, for my first outing. Next, we made our way toward Congreso, home to Argentina’s legislature, and walked amongst a feminist protest, allowing me to see just how politically active the youth in this city really are. To get a taste of all forms of the public transportation here, we took a Colectivo, one of the city buses, back to Parque Centenario for a quick walk before arriving home.
Although taking the Subte and the Colectivo around Buenos Aires is an exciting and unique experience, city life can be exhausting, so my friends and I took two weekends to travel elsewhere: one to Colonia, Uruguay, and the other to Mendoza, Argentina. To get to Uruguay, we rode across the Río de la Plata via ferry, arriving in a quaint town that seemed like a world away from our constantly busy schedules back in Buenos Aires. After spending the morning embracing the cobblestone streets and learning about the town’s Portuguese history, we ate lunch at our area coordinator’s home on the outskirts of Colonia, having butternut squash soup, homemade bread, fish, and lemonade made with the fresh lemons grown on the property. Following a quick run and workout the next morning, my friends and I stumbled upon the local drugstore and decided to sit outside and enjoy lunch in one of the towns’ many squares. It was here that I drank my first mate, a highly-caffeinated tea-like drink that is very popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. It is meant to be shared and passed around the table so that everyone drinks out of the same cup. Mate, therefore, is more than just a drink, but rather a social experience that starts conversation and brings people together.
The following weekend, we flew to a province northwest of the capital to the breathtaking city of Mendoza, Argentina. This was quite possibly was my favorite experience overall. From touring vineyards and olive oil factories, to eating some of the only vegetarian food I could find in the country, Mendoza was a nice contrast to the meat-filled porteño diet. In addition to the good eats, the Andes Mountains are close by, allowing us to take a day tour that led us almost four hours into the ominous mountain range. We made stops at Potrerillos Dam, el Puente de Inca, and Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Southern and Western hemispheres. At the Chilean border, we turned around and made the trek back to Mendoza city to end the excursion.
Besides exploring the city, traveling, and even a little studying, I was also able to both work out and play basketball during my time in Argentina. Soccer remains at the focal point of athletics in South America. Even though basketball is not as popular, when you can find a game, the Argentines are quite enthusiastic. A park in Caballito holds the city’s lone outdoor court, making it home to a tight-knit community of locals that welcomed me into their continuous 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 games. I was also able to practice at a small gym three times a week, el Polideportivo, as I would hop onto the Subte A Line after my classes each day to get in a quick workout. Whether it was running through Parque Centenario, playing pickup, or getting into the gym, being a student-athlete was both manageable and enjoyable in Argentina.
Despite all of these experiences, my main goal before embarking on this adventure of a lifetime to Buenos Aires was to expand my repertoire as a language learner, aiming to take one step closer toward reaching my ultimate goal of fully grasping another language that is not my native tongue. At first, the thick porteño accent took some getting used to, as all of the “sh’s” and the use of the verb tense “vos” makes Spanish in Buenos Aires sound different than anywhere else in the world. Although taking two classes, both taught fully in Spanish, was a huge factor in my progression over this small period of time, where I really found myself learning the most was outside of the classroom. Whether it was talking about Eva Perón and the lasting legacy of peronismo with my host mom over our nightly dinners, conversing with my taxi and Uber drivers about their Argentine rock bands, or simply asking someone for directions on the street, my language proficiency grew immensely just over these short six weeks. It is hard to describe the feeling one gets after being able to convey your thoughts, emotions, and ideas in a language that is not your own. However, when moments like these happen, an immediate connection can be felt between you and the native speaker, one that cannot simply be achieved across a language barrier. Therefore, such an immersion allowed me to cross that perceived barrier, giving me a chance to connect with porteños in a way that was authentic and true.
As I write this, I am flying over Colombia and saying my goodbyes to this incredible continent. I am beyond grateful to have spent my summer in Buenos Aires and to have taken the time to get to know the fine people of Argentina. While I cannot eat one more choripan for lunch, go for another walk around Plaza de Mayo, or spend my Sundays shopping in a neighborhood feria when I arrive back home in Oklahoma City, it is these kinds of experiences that will always stay with me. A part of me will always remain in Buenos Aires. I hope to someday make my way back to the city that I was lucky enough to call home for the summer.
Ciao, Argentina. Fue un placer. Nos vemos pronto!