Today marks the end of the first week of classes here in Buenos Aires. I’ll try to review much of what I have done and experienced so far but no guarantees that everything will be covered.
Classes are held at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. La UBA, as we call it, does not have a central campus and is instead divided among many buildings throughout the city depending on the academic focus; Filosofía y Letras (or el Filo as the students call it) is the building that houses majors in philosophy, geography, history, anthropology, library science, art, education, and literature. I wish I was able to upload some of the pictures I have of it (the cable is coming soon!) but it is like nothing I have ever experienced in a university, even during my times visiting schools like UC Berkeley. If you remember scenes of the Occupy protest encampments from the TV or newspaper, you have a good idea as to what el Filo looks like. I don’t think I have seen a barren wall yet; every surface is covered in posters and/or messages written in graffiti and it is all political in nature. The students there are very political and all very much to the left of the political spectrum, which is very typical of Latin America; there are very strong criticisms of capitalism and many of the students identify as socialists or communists. They take very seriously the notion that the university is a space for developing social movements that can push back against the pervasive influence of moneyed interests that have played a destructive role in Latin America’s history. Part of what makes the university unique is that it is considered una universidad autónoma, or an autonomous university, implying that it is not regulated by the laws of the city. Of course legally this is not true, but there is a very strict separation between the government and the university. For example, police are not allowed to enter the campus without a court order. As a result, you can see things happening in el Filo that you would never expect in a US university; for example, it is not uncommon to see students smoking cigarettes (and other things) inside the building. But do not let that mislead you, la UBA is the most prestigious public university in Argentina (if not Latin America more broadly) and while the facilities are nowhere near the quality of most US universities, the academic quality of both the professors and students is extremely high.
With all that description out of the way, I’ll move on to my classes. I am currently taking three classes, all taught by Argentine professors. I am taking an Advanced Spanish Language and Culture class (keep in mind that in Argentina Spanish is not called español but castellano), an Argentine history class, and an Argentine Literature class. I have enjoyed all of the so far, but I think the literature class is going to be the most interesting of all of them. It is taught by a man named Dr. Ezequiel De Rosso and he is quite the professor. He speaks faster than anyone I’ve ever heard speak Spanish before and I often have to focus very hard to keep up. Nevertheless, he is incredibly brilliant and he ties in thinkers and philosophers from left and right to what we are studying to give us a broader context of the text at hand. It is especially funny when he references US authors; he doesn’t really speak any English so his pronunciation of their names always draws blank stares until he writes their name on the board and there is a collective “Ohhhhhh” by the class. The three classes together give a very nice panorama of Argentina and I’m very excited for what is to come.
Last night was a dinner put on by the IFSA staff, but my friend Mario and I didn’t end up going. We instead went to a panel discussion/debate at el Filo put on by a student group that featured a panel of 4 professors from various departments talking about the role of universities in Argentine under Cristina Kirchner (and universities in Latin America more broadly) and what role they have with respect to democracy and the political/social rights of the population. It was fascinating to listen to what the professors had to say (even if I didn’t understand everything) and how passionate they were about how universities should be viewed as institutions designed to help the population of their country, not simply a place where intellectuals can hang out and be separated from the daily life of the people.
It was after this talk that I experienced my first (and hopefully only) mishap with the bus system (I describe it as a quilombo [which more or less translates as “a mess” but it’s not a word you would use in polite circles]). I take the 132 bus to school every day and have never had any problems going, but I hadn’t taken it back to my house because I have always gone off with other students to different parts of the city to explore and always manage to get back to my house no problem. That certainly did not happen last night. I’ll try to give a short version of my mishap. Since I was returning from school, instead of going to it, I thought the bus stop would be directly on the other side of the street from the stop I usually use. Needless to say it was not. I ended up passing the stop I should have gotten off of and we continued going on. Since it was night time and I couldn’t see the streets very well I asked the bus driver if we would be going to the intersection that I needed to get off at. I thought he said that we were going to it, but he actually said we passed it. In Spanish those two things are very similar (pasarán versus pasaron) so I thought I heard him correctly. I ended up at the bus station waaaay far away from where I live and I had to get off and take a different 132 bus all the way back. By this time it was like 10:30pm and I’d been out of the house since 8am and hadn’t eaten since 1pm. Around 11pm I recognized where I needed to get off and I got off at the intersection I needed to. I was so hungry/tired/frustrated that I grabbed food at the nearest place, a Burger King, and did not even sit down to eat there. I wanted to be home as quick as possible so I walked straight to my house and enclosed myself in my room to scarf down my food and listen to relaxing music to de-stress. (Thank you Mr. Andrea Bocelli for your calming voice).
Today was a very normal day of class…until we heard what sounded like bombs going off. We all must have looked terrified because our professor informed us that there was simply a protest going on in the street outside the university. This is not uncommon at all outside la UBA. The university is known for students protesting various causes and taking over the streets. Two friends and I went out to investigate during our break and we discovered that it wasn’t actually a protest but a rally for a candidate running for the elections coming up. They had taken over the street near the university and were marching with tons of banners and signs advertising their candidate and were setting off noise bombs. These are so common that the police that happened to drive by didn’t even bother to stop, they just continued on their way. It was very motivating to see how dedicated the students (and regular adults!) are to being involved in politics and making their voices heard. Regardless of the differences on may have with their political stances, I think it is quite admirable that these individuals attach action to their beliefs. Who knows what US politics would be like if there was a stronger history of popular protest in the US.
I know I’ve written practically a thesis already, but this blog also serves as a diary for me so that I don’t forget what I’ve done. Tonight is a soccer game between Argentine and Colombia (clearly Juan and I will be rooting for different sides) and then I plan on going out to the bars tonight. I hope this entry finds everyone who reads it in good health and spirits.