IHP Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy

2013 Letter home from Buenos Aires

Written by the Buenos Aires country team: Joelle Lingat, Hillary Hale, Ben Fish, Jill Giornelli, Sarah Glickstein, Seth Kolker, Alison Koziol, Will Makepeace, Zita Monori, Kellie Wo, Greta Workman

It was truly surreal as our plane finally touched land in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After months navigating the winding alleyways of Old Delhi and clapping our shoes together because of the constant sand from the beaches of Dakar, we finally made it to our last country. The concrete city and high-rise buildings were an overwhelming shock to us at first, but Buenos Aires also presented endless opportunities for academic growth, entertainment, and experiencing an entirely different culture.

Our stay in Argentina couldn't have been as amazing as it was without the leadership and guidance of Carolina, our country coordinator. When we arrived at the airport in Buenos Aires, she was surprised that our group was not as exhausted as she expected. It was her energy and passion that kept us going after such a long and tiring flight. Our first day in the city was dedicated to exploring downtown landmarks of cultural and historical significance around Recoleta, where our school was located. We appreciated that Carolina decided to start with this activity because it helped us to get a sense of the place on our own, which made it easier for us to navigate the city more independently later. Her guidance through the difficulties of living in Buenos Aires was indispensable; she contributed to us having a wonderful stay from the beginning by showing us how to get around the city, giving us safety tips, pointing us to the best places, and helping us interpret the cultural peculiarities of Argentina. Her assistant Julieta and the rest of the facilitators were also highly involved in the coordination of the program and engaged in making the most out of our learning experience in Buenos Aires.

"Get used to traveling like a sardine on the subway," warned Carolina on the first day in Buenos Aires. And she wasn't kidding! A lot of us lived along the D Line of this city's subway system, each day braving the cramped and sweaty crowds of commuters on our way to class. The subway gave us a quick and cheap way to get around though (a ride costs only two and a half pesos, less than 50 cents), and we always had the option of taking a bus instead. We each had a 192-page booklet on how to navigate the complicated, but extensive, bus system in Buenos Aires, and if all else failed then we just asked one of our classmates Alan (whose independent research topic was "Navigating Bus Systems") how to get from Point A to Point B. Roads flood often when it rains here, which is how we learned that this city was literally built on top of rivers more than a hundred years ago. And whenever we started to feel overwhelmed by the bus system of Buenos Aires, we would also get a healthy reminder of just how huge this city is and just how much we had to explore!

In Buenos Aires, we enjoyed the freedom we had that was different from our homestays in India and Senegal.  All of us received a copy of the house key so we could go in and out without waking our families. The group was swept away by the vibrant nightlife in Buenos Aires. Thanks to Carolina, we were able to attend a tango lesson at a famous milonga (House of Tango.) Though some of us discovered our two left feet, everyone had a wonderful time learning Argentina's famous dance steps. The next weekend we were able to see a more traditional side of the city at a peña. More of a folk style dancing, peñas are filled with twists and twirls and great music. In all, the group learned some amazing new dance steps to bring back with us to the States.

We enjoyed delicious comida (food) that was heavily influenced by Italy and Spain. From the best steak in the world to delectable homemade ice cream, our palates were truly having the time of their lives. Many of us enjoyed home cooked meals with our host families and loved the variety that Argentinian cuisine had to offer. We truly missed those colorful vegetables!  One can get a good window into Argentinian cuisine by taking part in an asado (barbecue). Maybe once a month some families grill six or seven different types of meat, including three types of amazing sausage and three or four types of high quality steak. Though some of us ate two year's worth of meat in Buenos Aires, others enjoyed the varied vegetarian cuisine. One of our favorite lunch spots was a buffet within our tight budgets that had an extensive salad bar, fried veggies, casseroles, flan and several other impressive non-meat delights. Although the Argentinian countryside is turning to staple crop production instead of grazing cattle, the Argentinians still know how to turn an imported slab of meat into a masterpiece.

To put a close to a great semester, we spent a few days on a ranch in the Nueve de Julio province, five hours from Buenos Aires. We played soccer, walked and biked around dormant crop fields, rode horses, jumped on trampolines, danced, and hung out by bonfires. We shared memories, attempted to make sense of our experiences, and started preparing for life after IHP. It was hard for us to believe that the program was coming to an end. Everyone seemed very grateful for having had the opportunity to grow so much together over four months. We sat reminiscing about the blistering cold first days in Brooklyn, the humid rickshaw rides in Delhi, the strolls in the village with fresh mangoes in Senegal, and the dulce de leche croissants at the corner bakery in Buenos Aires.

Four months later we can look back on that first day at the YMCA and feel that palpable nervous energy seeping from all of us as we each questioned the journey we were about to embark on. Four months later we thank the lucky stars each and every one of us walked into that room. Four months later and we can barely weave together the memories. They seem both long past and as if they happened yesterday. Four months later we are just as confused about our futures, but aware of so many new opportunities. We don’t know if we can quantify the change that has occurred in each of us. We can only hope that little by little we become aware of the impact of every late night conversation, coffee shop bonding, shared tears and laughter. Four months later we can say that we’ve mastered crossing traffic, feeling comfortable despite language barriers, turning down marriage proposals, and questioning everything around us. Four months later we try to put into words the wisdom, love, passion, struggles, and friendships that have manifested over the semester. And four months later we find ourselves just as speechless as we were the day we first met this group that would become like family. Four months later our words are the same: let the adventure begin.

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