Perception is Never the Reality in Argentina by Brad Tyson

What were your expectations or pre-conceived notions of your host culture? How were they met or challenged? How have your first impressions of the country and its people changed since you arrived?

Argentina: the Paris of Latin America. I expected extravagant, grandeur buildings that exuded a sentiment of wealth. The food would be equally as great, living up to the rich foods of Italy and Spain, the majority of Argentine’s ethnic background (a fact expats will never be allowed to forget). However, after spending approximately 10 months in Argentina, I have come to realize that perception is certainly not the reality.

The city, although apparent the roots to Western Europe, does not escape the realities of being in a developing country. After spending one summer in Argentina, January to March, the country solidified its semi-peripheral developing status, as a severe energy crisis continues to buffet the nation. I never appreciated a consistent energy supply until I had to throw away hundreds of pesos worth of food as a daylong power outage persisted in humid 90-degree weather. As much as one day was miserable, I was thankful for not living in the neighborhoods that did not have power for four straight days, leading to protests and bonfires in the streets.

The food also serves as an allegory for the lack of diversity in Argentina. Argentine food consists of pizza, pasta, empanadas, meat, and bread with guest appearances by breaded meat (milanesa), cheese, and dulce de leche (to the dismay of my gluten-free vegan friend). Although the idea of only eating carbs, meat, and cheese sounds appealing initially, living 12 months in this country requires any expat to actively seek out good food.

In Buenos Aires, the best things the city offers are all secret. The best restaurants, bars, clubs, and cafes are all considered a privilege, allowing only the most hip attendees to enter. The best restaurants are called Puertas Cerradas (closed doors), found only through friends, vague Instagram posts, or other blog posts. Speakeasy bars are considered some of the top bars, requiring passwords to get into secret locations in the city for overpriced, high-end drinks. The porteño culture obsesses over secret things, affirming a sense of privilege and entitlement of being in the know. However, as overwhelming as the culture may seem at the beginning of my semester, the discovery of new cool spots makes me feel as if I am chipping off a piece of my extranjero status. The food and nightlife scene acts as a tangible measure of my immersion into Argentine culture, making me feel truly porteño, or maybe that’s just my perception.

 

Finding the Comfort Zone by Jacob Magasanik

 

The thing about living in Beijing and Mainland China in general is that you reside behind the Great Fire Wall: a cute name given to the Chinese government’s dedication to limit Western influences on the Internet and control what information is available to their citizens. Although I assume this is unintentional, it also does have the side effect of making communication with people stateside more difficult, as does the thirteen hour time difference.

When I moved from my hometown to Tulane, it was easy keeping in touch with old friends; if I wanted to talk, I would simply text, Snapchat, Facebook message, or use a multitude of other means. In China, I have found it to be completely different as most Western communication apps are banned and, therefore, require a VPN. VPNs are surprisingly efficient, however, they do drain your monthly data, so I had to use mine sparingly. Thus, many forms of communication fell by the wayside. As I mentioned, being thirteen hours ahead of most of my friends did prove problematic as it left early mornings and late nights as the ideal times for communication. Classes took the majority early mornings and many nights were instead spent out in the city than on the BFSU campus at a computer communicating with friends.

Despite this lack of communication, I found that the friendships I made before my time abroad have remained strong; people are quite understanding of the limiting powers of the Great Fire Wall. I have also found that I don’t need my phone and constant notifications, the ability to search (factually accurate) Internet, and always be in contact with friends as much as I have expected. In fact, I found I don’t really care for a phone besides the ability to carry music with me at all times.