My name is Vickie and I studied abroad with ASA in Buenos Aires during the spring of 2011. Now that I’m back and interning at ASA, I’ve put together some helpful tips and suggestions for those of you who’ve decided to study in one of the best cities in the world.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience, but you can only get as much out of it as you put into it. Every culture has its way of doing things, whether its table manners or the way they greet strangers. But if you find yourself constantly comparing things to the states, then stop! I get it, things are different, but you need to learn to embrace it rather than obsess over it. While abroad you need to be respectful of whatever country or culture you’re in regardless of the customs. You also need to be responsible. You’re thousands of miles away from home and completely out of your comfort zone. Buenos Aires is a huge metropolitan city, so you need to be responsible and know where you are at all times.
The Language Difference:
Not all Spanish is created equal! It seems as though no matter how you learned Spanish, you need to relearn it whenever you cross the border into another Spanish-speaking country. As many of you may know, Spanish has many regional dialects. Argentina is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before (unless you were taught by someone from Argentina). They speak the dialect of Castillano, which has a more Italian and French base to it. The accent is more sing-songy, and seems more like a poem than a language--two ll’s is a y and a y is an s. For example: yo is pronounced sho.
Fluency is not going to happen overnight. Don’t get frustrated if after a week you’re not completely fluent or if you’re still struggling to talk to your host family. Learning a new language takes time and A LOT of practice. The more you practice and the more mistakes you make, the more you’ll learn. The best thing about being abroad is that it will enhance your motivation to learn! You’ll find yourself actually wanting to study and learn as much as possible! It sounds dorky, but just embrace it. When I first got to Argentina I didn’t speak a word of Spanish; I couldn’t even communicate with my host family without Google Translate. But there is hope! After a lot of hard work and hours of talking, and more importantly listening to people speak Spanish, I was able to take my semester classes in Spanish after the intensive program! If I could do it, then so can you!
There’s really no great way to avoid it- but every time you withdraw from an ATM the bank charges you 16 pesos, then an additional 1% exchange fee. If you use your credit card you don’t have to pay the withdrawal charge, but you still get charged the exchange fee. It might not sound so bad right now, but 5 months down the road when you want to go on a trip or buy some souvenirs, that $300 is going to be crucial.
My advice: Every time you take money out of the ATM, take out a large amount. This way it will last you longer and you’ll avoid silly surcharges. From this bulk amount of cash, allow yourself a certain amount each week and store the rest in a safe place.
The weather in BsAs is very similar to the Mid-Atlantic Region of the US. There are seasons, and yes it does get cold there in the winter (but you’re not likely to see snow in BsAs). As for packing, think layers! Buenos Aires is a trendy city, so leave your college sweatshirts behind and pack a stylish hoodie or wrap instead. For guys, make sure to bring a nice pair of khakis shorts or pants and a nice polo. Some night clubs have a strict dress code for guys. Here are some other key things items to remember:
Peanut Butter. If you can’t live without this American staple, make sure you load up your suitcase, carry on, and pockets with a couple of jars. It’s very difficult and expensive to find in BsAs.
Tampons. If you’re picky with your brands or refuse to use tampons without the applicator, then make sure to pack enough of your favorite brand to last you. Though you can find pads in any local grocery store or drug store, it is nearly impossible to find tampons WITH applicators. However, they do have OB tampons, which means that there is no applicators.
Tabasco Sauce. If you can’t live without some heat on your food- you’re going to need this!
Things to do:
BsAs for the Nocturnal: Every night in BsAs is a weekend night and there is always something going on. If you choose to take part in Buenos Aires’ night life, don’t expect to go out until 2am or come back until 7am. It’s common to take a taxi home from a club while people are on their way to work. Some advice: You’re going to have to pace yourself if you want to keep up. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
BsAs for the Artist: One of the first things you’ll notice about BsAs is that there is art everywhere! With tons of museums to check out, as well as some of the best graffiti/street art, it’s hard not to take notice. One of the coolest things I did was take a graffiti tour of the city. If you’re looking for an interesting way to get to know the city and its culture better, check out grafitimundo.com. The weekends are also always full of outdoor events that showcase local talent. Every weekend there are tons of outdoor artisan markets. Two great ones to check out are Recoleta (Saturday and Sunday) and San Telmo (Sunday).
BsAs for the Sports Fanatic: While futbol (soccer) often gets most of the attention, some other sports to check out are Polo and Rugby. But if going to a soccer match is on your bucket list, two teams to keep an eye out for are Boca Juniors and River Plate (which was my choice).
Food & Drinks:
Café, as it’s called, is a MUST. Argentina has some of the best and strongest coffee. Served in tiny cups, most places serve espresso and not the filtered coffee we’re used to. The lingo:Café con leche (50% coffee, 50% steamed milk) Café cortado (75% coffee, 25% steamed milk).
Red Wine. In Argentina you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Red. It’s both cheap & some of the best in the world. Anything over 20 pesos is considered good quality wine. The regional grape is Malbec, and is a bit stronger than what you might be used to. MUST: Latitude 33 or Santa Julia (try it in a Malbec). BEWARE: Some Reds stain your teeth and lips purple.
Fernet. Made from a number of herbs and spices, it is very common in bars. It is best paired with Coke or Pepsi. Another interesting combination is Fernet Menta (Mint Fernet) with Club Soda.
Beer. Try Quilmes, the national beer.
For breakfast don’t expect a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Similar to Europe, breakfast is small and simple. The typical Argentine breakfast is mate and a medialuna (croissants). But, if you’re craving some good ole’ American carbs, a MUST TRY is Cook Café located 4 blocks from school on Fredrico Lacrozz. Their waffles are to die for!
If you’re in a homestay, you’re on your own for lunch. For a quick/cheap fix grab an empanada (3-4 pesos each). If you order a salad, don’t expect lettuce. Most salads don’t contain this green leaf… or dressing (they mostly use oil and vinegar).
Dinner is LATE and BIG. The typical dinner will start at around 9:30-10ish. Argentina has a very distinctive mix of Spanish, Italian, and French culture which is reflected in it’s food. A typical dinner is some kind of red meat and carbs.
Alfajores. YOU MUST TRY THIS! This delicious desert will seduce you within the first bite! An alfajor is a shortbread sandwich cookie with a thin filling of dulce de leche. MUST: Try the brand Havana.
Dulce de Leche. Meet your new frienamy… It gives the good old American peanut butter a run for its money. MUST: Try it on/with a banana
Spicy Food. It doesn’t exist! Warning: if you can’t live without a little heat in your food then your best option is a) to go out for some Indian food b) pack some hot sauce in your suitcase.
Empanadas. Don’t ask, just eat!
Parilla. Restaurants that serve the Argentine version of BBQ, called an asado.
For meat lovers: Try bife de lomo
For vegetarians: Try the grilled vegetables
For the thrill seeker: Try morcilla (blood sausage)
BEWARE: Meat, Wine, and Gelato! Similar to the Freshman 15 of beer and fried food- the combination of these 3 things should be treated with care. While they are absolutely amazing and part of the experience, they will add some extra bulge. Advice: Get a gym membership! It’s a great way to meet locals and stay in shape. While I was in BsAs I took cycle classes. It allowed me to practice my Spanish and get a great workout at the same time. Gym prices usually range from USD$20-30 a month.
BEWARE: You’re about to enter the meat capital of the southern hemisphere.
Transportation in BsAs is cheap and fairly simple. The key mode of transportation you will mostly likely be using is the D line of the Subte (metro system). The University is located right in between the Olleros and Jose Hernadez stops. The subte is cheap (it only costs AR$1.10) and runs frequently. But BEWARE of pick-pocketers, or this ride will cost you a lot more than you thought! My advice is to keep your wallet in your front pockets and your purse or backpack in front of you where you can see it at all times.
Try to avoid all forms of transportation during rush hour… it can get overcrowded and uncomfortable. Personal space in Argentina is non-existent (their culture is VERY intimate) so things can get really tight on trains and buses. Buses are also very cheap (AR$1.25 pesos) and run frequently as well, but they’re really hard to get a hang of at first. It’s hard to know when exactly to get off without a map.
Walking is by far the cheapest form of transportation, but always be aware of where you are and NEVER walk alone at night. If you do happen to walk home at night, stay on main roads and well lit streets. During the day, keep an eye out when crossing the street! Some of the worst drivers in the world live in BsAs. They would much rather just hit you than stop. Make sure to look both ways and often! In addition to watching out for traffic, don’t forget to watch your step! Beware the dog poop- you’ll find yourself dancing around it as you walk.
A key rule of thumb for transportation is to MAKE SURE TO GUARD YOUR STUFF! Buenos Aires is a city- you can’t just leave stuff laying around… someone can and will take it. Pickpocketing is rampant in BsAs. Advice: always keep your wallet in your front pocket. If you’re wearing a backpack or a purse keep it in front of you and make sure all the zippers are closed. A trick I used while there was to connect both of the zippers on my backpack with safety pins. That way if you pulled one zipper the other one moved too and it was almost impossible to open the zipper without me noticing.