Sunday, April 10, 2016

Buenos Aires, Argentina by Ken Diehn

The Cross Cultural Experience
The Cross Cultural Experience requirement for graduation is intended to open our minds to new and different ways of thinking and living even when they are in complete contrast to ways in which we live or learned growing up in our homeland. It is intended to prepare us for life in the “real” world, where we may not always be surrounded by people who hold the same ideals as the rest of our society. To be honest in the beginning I resented having to do this requirement and felt it was a waste of time and money as I have already been in the “real” world for over half of my life. I already accept people for who they are and the ways they think, mostly because I went through a lot of tough issues when I was a teenager and in doing so look at the world a little differently than most. While I may not have attained the knowledge the CCE administrators were hoping I would, I did have many self-realizations over the course of my trip that changed me in a positive manner.  
Why Argentina?
Being a transfer biology major when I came to Carroll most of the classes I had left to
By Marie Orensanz,
                Located in Parque de la Memoria
complete consisted of core classes. My focus was to complete my core classes and any general education classes that I may have had to wrap up. I put off my cross cultural education courses because I did not fully understand with how the process worked, and I felt I should focus on  aspects of my education that were more prevalent to my major first. So when it came time to finish the CCE requirements I was left with few options due to time constraints and my approaching graduation date. I decided that if I was being forced to take part in this educational experiment that I would choose a place to go that I probably wouldn’t go to if the decision were left to me on where to have an adventure. I chose the NCE317 Travel Journals course that would consist of a semester of lessons on art, journaling, and the land of Argentina, followed by a 10-day trip to Buenos Aires and a 3-day trip to Iguazu Falls in Argentina.  I was never really sure of what to expect, so I was definitely on a path to a true adventuresome experience. During classes we were taught about Argentina’s past and the constant turmoil that seemed to pop up every decade or two, be it a revolution to overthrow the government, a military coup, or an organized governmental genocide of people that spoke against the government and their actions. We were taught about their love of dance, how it began, and how dances like the tango were used as not just romantic gestures but also as political statements. And we learned how resilient the people were, seeming to always move forward in spite of the torrid past they have endured.
The images of beauty found on the internet made me want to believe that there was more love than hate in this land, so I definitely went into this trip with an open mind. Unfortunately an open mind isn’t all that was needed. I went to a strange land with no friends, knowing very little of the language, and no real idea of where I was. There was about to be some lessons, just not the kind I was expecting.
Time to Learn Some Lessons…
There was 9 of us in the class including our professor. We boarded a plane at O’Hare knowing very little about one another, something that made me a little nervous. I had no clue of what my new travel partners were into, the experiences they brought with them, or how they would react to adversity. People build walls around themselves in order to feel safe when they are uncomfortable and unsure of how things will go, and our walls seemed to reach the clouds. That would change rather quickly as we were forced to lean on each other fairly early on in the trip for moral support, which opened the door to let bonding work its magic.
The hotel was not what we had expected, but after 24 hours of traveling nobody was really in the mood to worry about it. After a decent night’s sleep, plans had been made to exchange our money with a local due to Argentina’s ever changing inflation rate. She did not have enough Argentinian currency to exchange all of ours so we were directed to go to the lottery office to exchange the balance. The exchange rate at the lottery store was actually better than our new “friend’s” exchange rate, giving us the first lesson learned on our trip…research to find out where to exchange money and their rates BEFORE handing over your money. Granted we only lost 500 pesos but that money would have been better served in our own pockets.
We then headed out for a salsa lesson and safety awareness session. We were instructed to try our hardest to not look like tourists, do not use our phones in public, and always be aware of pickpockets. In other words, theft was our main concern. Unfortunately, since no one in our group knew the city or had any sense of direction, it was rather impossible to not look like tourists. Someone always had their nose in a map and we had to double back quite a few times, adding to stress levels and creating short fuses with people’s tempers. Many in the group expressed that this wasn’t the trip they were expecting, and I agreed. We huddled up at a corner to relax for a bit and after a short venting session we all came to the conclusion that these kind of things unfortunately happen when jumping feet first into the unknown. We were only there for a short time, and we needed to make the most of it. Everyone started to relax and we realized that we could count on one another for support. All we needed was some explosive fun and laughter to bring those walls down completely.
Just our luck we were in Argentina for the New Year’s celebrations! Dressed in our best and ready for a little fun we headed to the most amazing fireworks show I had ever seen. The ignited fuses burned 20 feet away as explosions of color lit the sky all around us. We celebrated the occasion with a group hug while wearing the biggest smiles imaginable. When we got back to the hotel most of us hung out, played cards, listened to music, and traded stories like we had known each other forever. We were now friends sharing an experience of a lifetime with one another.
Nuestra Senora del Pilar
            Buenos Aires, Argentina
The bus afforded me the next lesson. A gentleman who seemed to lead a troubled life (very unkempt) attempted to talk with me about why we were in Argentina, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, and neither could anyone else in our group. His appearance and the inflection in his voice made me prematurely judge his intentions and I jumped to the conclusion that he was trying to cause problems. Luckily a little old lady translated for us, and it turned out all he wanted to do was boast about how beautiful his city was and that we were going to have a great time. And that’s exactly what we did. The next weeks were spent bouncing around to different tourist attractions like the Recoleta Cemetery, Catedral Metropolitana, a couple art museums, Tigre, a day trip to experience the life of the gouchos, and trips to places that brought out the biggest emotional response from me, which had to do with the “Dirty War”. We went to EMSA, Argentina's Human Rights Museum and Parque de la Memoria,
both meant to honor those that had been killed during the government’s dirty war. Much of the touristy sites that we went to painted a picture of a prospering land, but there was another side to this society, a darker side that was never really spoken of in the time we were there.
There were many heartbreaking stories in the making. We saw children no older than 8 walking through cars at an intersection at 1am trying to sell flowers and knickknacks to the occupants of vehicles waiting for the light to turn green, people sleeping on the street and parks, and buildings in desperate need of repair. The tram to Tigre was the setting for the most depressing experience of the trip. As we went down the tracks I noticed what seemed to be bombed out buildings off in the distance. With all the fighting that has occurred over the last 30+ years in Argentina I thought I was just seeing relics of the aftermath. But then I saw people walking about these structures, some sitting at tables, clothes hanging on clotheslines exposed by giant holes in the ceiling of the structure. There was some 35,000 people that lived in the “slums”, most of them being recent immigrants. The area actually looked too small to contain that many people.  
 Everywhere we went we were surrounded by masses of architectural and artistic amazement. Beautiful buildings, young and old, next to each other adorned by colorful paintings and tagging that made me stop and stare.  Numerous monuments and magnificent churches filled with bright and shiny objects seemed to be at a stones throw away from wherever you stood. So how could they
afford these extravagances and yet many of their people live in poverty? As I sat there dumbfounded at the callousness of the situation, where part of the population lived an upper-class lifestyle but the silent majority lived in squalor, I realized that I was being a fool. This was no different than the United States. We had the same issues and social problems as the Argentinians, but for some reason I looked down on these people for allowing this social injustice to happen. It opened my eyes to the problems in my homeland and made me want to take action when I got home to make a difference in my community by helping the less fortunate in some way.
Conversing with locals that could speak English gave me a more accurate picture of the way things were and how the people lived. I learned about current political turmoil, job prospects, and the way the majority of the natives lived, particularly at night. There was a new president and people were holding onto hope that he could turn things around, but they have gone through this before, so there is always going to be doubt that things will change for the better. The younger generation goes to three story game mansions to eat, drink, and have fun, while the older generations head to clubs to dance the night and early morning away. Argentinians are fun, loud, proud, and very patriotic. Through everything they’ve experienced they still love their land and one another. They are resilient, thoughtful, and seemingly determined to make a better life for themselves. Remind you of any other countries you know of? I went to Argentina figuring I would never go there if the choice were mine, yet I constantly find myself longing to go back.

What Can You Expect?
Everyone's experience will be different. Our trip to Argentina did not go as smoothly as we all hoped it would, but from what I have heard that is not the norm. That being said, I can offer a few tips that will help to make your experience much more enjoyable:

1. If the trip is faculty led
      a.   Ask how many times they have been to the trip's destination.
      b.   Ask past students about their experiences.

1                               2. Know the language.
a.      Good communication with the locals will make every aspect of your trip more enjoyable.
b.     Make it a point to not just learn the language, actively use it for your classes or in preparation for the trip so you can comprehend other accents or inflections.

                   3.  Get to know the people you are going with prior to leaving for your destination.
a.      You’re going to need to rely on one another and get along.
b.     It’s more fun to take a trip with friends than with strangers.

                                      4. Know the area and bus routes.
a.      Try and study the area so you can get around easier.
b.     It makes it easier to fit in to your surroundings and it makes you less of a target to be a victim in a crime.

4                 5.  Know exchange rates and where to exchange currency where you are going.
a.      Get the most bang for your buck.

                    6. Problems will happen and things won’t go as planned.
a.      Let issues be known, don't hold it in. Nothing good comes from pent-up frustration.
b.     There is no point in letting something that cannot be taken back or changed ruin the rest of what could be an amazing experience.

  7. Complete this requirement as early as possible in your college experience
       a. Options change every year, and you'll miss out on a lot of awesome opportunities if                              you wait till you're a junior to get started.
       b. It's a great way to make friends that will be around for the majority of your college                              education.

     All in all the trip was an amazing experience. I made new friends that I probably would have never met, I touched land that I probably never would have stepped foot on, and I gained confidence in experiencing world travel. I now have a good baseline for what to expect and how to prepare for trips like these in the future. These lessons will be greatly beneficial for my personal life since I have already planned to experience more of the world, and it may help my professional life if I get a job that requires international travel. I cannot wait to put these lessons to good use.

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