Alison participated in the IES: Buenos Aires, Advanced Spanish Immersion Program in the Spring of 2015.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
I studied in the IES Advanced Spanish Immersion Program in Buenos Aires. Originally, I had always imagined myself studying abroad in Spain because I wanted to study abroad to practice my Spanish. I never really thought a lot about studying abroad in Latin America, but I think it was the best decision I made.
Buenos Aires is an incredible, sprawling metropolis, and I spent the majority of my weekends enjoying the “Paris of South America”. I knew practically nothing about Latin America, so I learned so much through my class and explorations through Argentina. But no matter where I traveled in Latin America, I was always speaking Spanish. If I had studied in Spain, I would be traveling to the Netherlands, to France, to England; I would not have practiced my Spanish at all on the weekends. Even in Spain itself, a lot more locals speak English than the locals in Buenos Aires. So studying abroad in Argentina allowed me to markedly improve my Spanish, which was really why I chose to study abroad.
What did you learn, or what experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have learned/experienced if you had stayed at Penn State?
One of my priorities for my study abroad experience was to take a course at a local university. After reviewing my options, I decided to enroll in a 20th century Argentine History class at a private Catholic university in Buenos Aires. I chose this course because I wanted to learn more about the country I was living in and I wanted to enroll in a course that I could never take in my biomedical engineering curriculum at Penn State. So this history course matched those goals perfectly, and in the end, I have learned a lot about Argentine history. But from this course, I learned even more about Argentine political culture.
We all have heard that history is subjective, that it is told by the “winners”. Studying in Argentina, I expected to encounter a different viewpoint of world events in my courses, but that is part of the unique experience I hoped to enjoy while studying abroad. I appreciated seeing Argentina’s view of the International Monetary Fund, who was involved settling the Argentine default of 2001. The Argentine view of American foreign policy, specifically their involvement in military coups in Latin America, during the Cold War fascinated me. These learning experiences enriched my study abroad. However, my peers in my history class at the local university could not bear to learn history from an opposing viewpoint.
Even if Penn State offered a similar course at Penn State, I would never have experienced firsthand the lasting impression Perón made on Argentine politics and the visceral reactions he still evokes, forty years after his death.
Share a particular story of an experience where you interacted from someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something about yourself, your host country, or the world in general. Describe the experience and what you learned.
My program offered an organized trip to the northwest provinces of Salta and Jujuy in Argentina, and I was eager to get a spot for the trip. Besides seeing beautiful landscapes of desert valleys, salt flats, and colorful mountains, the trip included a lot of alternative tourism. I never heard of this type of tourism before, but it is tourism sustainably provided by locals. Instead of touring with Viking Cruises or National Geographic, local inhabitants give tours and share their own personal culture.
This proved particularly important in this rural, isolated region of Argentina. We visited one town of only five hundred people: a village of small adobe homes, an adobe church, and dirt roads situated in a lonely desert valley. The woman who served us with a kind face leathered by the sun lunch proudly displayed her brand new refrigerator. She only got it recently when the town received electricity for the first time ⎼ three years ago. My friends and I throughout the entire trip had complained about the lack of wifi and were shocked by the nascent electricity in this town.
Not only did this trip broaden my understanding of daily life in the developing world, but also opened my eyes to different worldviews. Our tour guides at every sight we visited shared with us about the area’s religion of the Pacha Mama, the Mother Earth. On our way to the salt flats, we made an offering to the Pacha Mama and thanked her for our safe journey there. We also chewed coca leaves, a natural gift from the Pacha Mama, during the trip to deter the effects of high altitude. In this region, being “green” or appreciating nature was not a fad or a way to take a stance on climate change. These actions were just a way to appreciate the natural gifts given by the Pacha Mama. Furthermore, living sustainably and recycling proved a necessity to survive with scarce resources in arid environments.
The people of Jujuy opened my eyes to a new part of the world: a part where wifi does not exist, electricity is a recent phenomenon, and appreciating and protecting natural resources is instinctual.