I originally went to Buenos Aires when I was 18 on my gap year between high school and university. I went for 6 weeks and absolutely fell in love. So much so that I decided to go there on my study abroad in university for which I went for 6 months.
People might not qualify their study abroad experience as LIVING in a place, but I do.
Going as a tourist is obviously different than going to live and I do regard my time in Buenos Aires even though some might say 6 months is too short. But, for me, living vs traveling has to do with the experiences you go through.
Here are my reasons why my 6 months in Buenos Aires was living:
1. I was taking university level classes (in Spanish)
These 6 months I studied abroad in Buenos Aires. And as any other study abroad exchange student I was hoping that I could take some easy classes and just have a good time. Well, I did end up having a good time looking back on my experience, but I somehow managed to take some of the hardest classes my host university offered for my major (marketing). I picked a creativity class and a radio and television class. The television part of the class was super easy as there were problems with the teachers, the creativity class was moderate, but still a lot of work, but the radio part was unbelievably hard. The pass rate was like 10%.
I was the only non-native/non-Argentine in that class. There were many nights I was crying with my host mom over wine and chocolate because I couldn’t understand anything that was going on. Yes, it was all in Spanish. My Spanish was good, but I didn’t have university level Spanish when I arrived.
Eventually, something clicked in my brain and things started getting easier. I ended up passing, but I think the teacher felt a bit sorry for me as well as surprised I pushed through and did all the assignments.
I have a love hate with that teacher. I don’t like him because there were times he purposely picked on me because I was the odd student, but at the same time, I really do think my Spanish improved because of him.
To this front, I developed an Argentine accent, specifically that of Buenos Aires, which is called porteno.
I was in a taxi once in Iguazu Falls (beautiful waterfalls north of Buenos Aires on the border of Brazil) and the taxi driver even said I sounded like I was originally a portena (female from Buenos Aires).
2. I did running races
I was a runner. Not a marathon runner or anything. But I enjoyed my 5k mornings. So, when I was in Buenos Aires, I signed up for a few races: a 5k and a 10K. They were both fun and one of them was a Star Wars themed one.
3. I took tango and fileteado classes
There are lots of tango classes for tourists, but I searched around to find one that only locals went to and by this I mean, only older locals. Most of my dance partners were the age of 60 plus. They were all nice gentlemen and I think they appreciated have a young lass dance with them, but for sure I wasn’t going to be finding my study abroad romance in class.
My language level improved as well through my classes as I learned different vocabulary that I wouldn’t have learned through normal Spanish language classes. For example, in Argentina, saying “Soy una gata” or “I am a cat” means “I am a prostitute.”
Fileteado is the traditional painting style of Buenos Aires. It is very unique and through my travels, I haven’t seen anything similar. Once again, the average age in class was about 60 and it was held in an elementary school at night. I would go with my host mom, which was a great bonding activity.
4. I watched Argentine soap operas
Along with my host mom, after dinner, we would watch Esperanza, a soap opera that was about a woman hiding from the mob in Buenos Aires and she hides in a convent. She ends up falling in love with a priest.
We would watch it every night and were addicted to the activities that Esperanza and this priest would go on.
5. I knew all the hole in the wall places
Hole in the wall places always have the best traditional foods for the best prices and I knew the stores to get delicious empanadas and choripan. Choripan is essentially like a hot dog: meat in a bun, but it is 100 times better. I would pick one up for lunch to or from wherever I was going and have on the walk.
6. I went days without speaking English
As the days went by, I would realize that I had spoken no English for days. I texted my friends and family in English, but no speaking. That was a truly amazing experience to not have uttered one word of my native tongue in more than 48 hours. To this day I haven’t recreated this experience in either Spanish or French (my third language).
7. I understood the bus system and where to walk
The thing with Buenos Aires is that there is no bus schedule. The buses come when they come. You have to just know around the time of day they tend to show up more. Sometimes you can be waiting 30 minutes or 5. Usually if there is a long bus line, it means the bus is more likely to show up sooner than later. If there is a shorter line, maybe the bus already came.
In regards to walking, the sidewalks are these tiles that if you step on them the wrong way will lift up and splash you with water that was hiding underneath. This is usually old rain water, but still not a fun experience. With my daily routine, I knew which tiles were which and avoided those ones.
8. I went to two performing arts shows
Buenos Aires is like New York. They have their own Broadway: musicals and plays, etc. I managed to go to one play and was also able to experience a blind theater. This is where everything is dark and the whole show is performed via sound and feel/touch. I was going a bit crazy not being able to see, but that is the point and I really recommend the experience!
9. I got addicted to mate
Mate is a highly caffeinated loose tea that is drank in a special cup with a metal straw. At first the taste is very bitter, but I got used to it and would drink it every day. I eventually took it back to the US, but had to stop my addiction because of the lack of mate vendors. You mainly drink it with hot water, but in the summer you can drink it with cold orange juice.
10. I started having bowel problems
One of the grossest things left for last. My host mom would complain about her intestine problems all the time. After 6 months, I realized why. Argentine diet is mainly meat and carbs. There isn’t that many vegetables. Most of our dinners consisted of some type of meat and bread or potato. If there was a salad, my host mom wouldn’t eat it and I ate it like it was the only water left on this planet.
For this reason alone I feel like my time in Buenos Aires qualifies me for the “living” category than as a tourist. My diet was totally theirs and so was my bathroom habits.
Buenos Aires is a Wonderful Place to Get Immersed
I hope you got to learn a bit more of Buenos Aires from my experiences! It is sure a marvelous place to go as a tourist or as an expat. Check out more tips on how to see the city from a local perspective.
I hope you can also use this as well to let you be immersed in your next travel destination or living destination!
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