I’ve Always Wondered What Soviet Russia Felt Like by Brad Tyson

How is higher education different in your host country from the US? Think about overall institutional structure as well as the pedagogy that is employed in the classroom. What strategies have you used to navigate these new rules and mores in these academic settings

In Argentina, public and private universities have stark differences, with many more social implications than in the United States. Most college students either choose to attend the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), an entirely free university, or one of the many private schools in the city. Approximately 200,000 students attend UBA, many young students (22-30) trying to obtain a bachelors, and older retirees (60-80), who enjoy learning new material. Although entirely open to the public, UBA is known as the hardest university in terms of content. Most Argentines say studying at UBA prepares students not for their careers, but for life in general.

Private schools here in Buenos Aires are for students that want a more structured experience, and can afford to do so. However, except for one or two universities known for certain majors, the private school system is a much more tranqui school environment compared to the intensity of UBA. I switched to the University of Belgrano for second semester, and can attest to this personally.

First semester I studied at UBA, an entirely different animal than Tulane. Within UBA, I took classes at the college of Filosofia y letras (FILO), which could easily be mistaken for a blend of a hippie commune and 1950s Soviet Union. In the sixties, the building used to be a cigarette factory, receiving zero investment into the infrastructure since then.

I remember my first day walking into FILO, with excessive political graffiti and posters plastered to the walls; advocates trying to persuade students to vote for the Marxist political candidate, calling Mauricio Macri, the capitalistic presidential candidate, Satan. Every day student groups would interrupt classes to give political speeches, trying to deter a political win for Macri (who later ended up winning the election). Students would sit in the courtyard of the building, and drink liter beers without any regard for being in a school. In the corner, there even is a converted bed frame for asados [think massive Argentine BBQ]. My classes lasted six hours, students entering and leaving whenever it was convenient to their schedule, sometimes in classes overfilled by 50-60 students.

In my second week of class, a homeless woman came into my class, asking for money. When the professor asked her to leave, she continued to stare at every student in the class for 30 seconds, refusing to break eye contact. I was the only one wildly confused by the entire situation.

After an entire semester at FILO, I was forced to slow down and break away from my Tulane mentality. I embraced the motto, Asi es la vida, as professors arrived two hours late, and power outages would force classes to close. The UBA experience forced me to realize the vast differences in ideologies, and the importance to slow down and enjoy life, taking advantage of the present. Returning to Tulane, I hope to bring back the same thinking, succeeding under the pressure, yet thoroughly enjoying the present day.

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