AAA: Argentina Academic Awareness

23 Apr

Hola amigos!

Hope all is well back home. As the semester progresses, life is only becoming more hectic here; classes are in full-bloom, and the first midterms lie just around the corner.  However, that doesn’t mean I have completely put my travel aspirations on the back-burner…

Last weekend, a large chunk of IFSA students were invited by our program director to his house in the town of Colonia, Uruguay.   Like I had already done with Montevideo, we all went by Buquebus (enormous ferry) and crossed the Rio de la Plata in just about 3 hours.  From there we were served an incredible asado and spent the rest of the day relaxing by his pool and walking along the nearby beach.  That night we all stayed in different hostels scattered throughout Colonia, and the following day we were free to  explore the town ourselves.  Instead of going museum-hunting, our small group opted for a more interactive approach, and the six of us instead rented some cheap mopeds.  Though it might not sound too exciting, we had a blast cruising up and down the beautiful coast and in and out of the little neighborhoods.  The architecture of the homes easily merits the prize as the most interesting blend I have ever come across; each house was completely distinct. They ranged from huge US suburban homes to Mediterranean-style vacation houses to quaint mountain cabins. Each had its own zest.  All in all, we had a great time, and this trip once again offered something completely distinct from the other places I had been.

Now I’ll move on to one of the more important (and intense!) aspects of my stay here – the academics.  Where to begin…?  Well first, my search for classes here begin way back in December when I was still in the States.  We were told to spend a good chunk of time orienting ourselves with the different websites of the 4 universities we could take classes at.  I soon learned that this was worthless because most of the classes offered this semester were not up yet, so I did my best to come with some plan but really just tried to prepare myself mentally for the chaos I knew was to come- which I later learned would be futile.  Upon arriving, the group went through two weeks of orientation, the vast majority of which appropriately focused on the academic nature of our program.  Each day we were given more information about such and such university, different representatives came to talk  , and our individual advisors/tutors talked to us about our “prospective schedules.”  After all that finished, we were given the list of ALL the classes in the four universities we were allowed to take (hundreds of classes) and had to make up a schedule with 10 of them to “test”  during a three week period of “add and drop.”  Well, I easily spent 20 hours looking up classes that seemed to count for my requirements right off the bat.  Then I had to register for each of them, which with the crazy online system they used took another 10 hours over the course of a few days.  At that point, the true fun began- trying out 10 classes, spread throughout the entire city.  For those three weeks, I ran around with my head cut off spending about 8-10 hours in class a day, attempting to decide which professors and subjects would be best. In a nutshell, it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and at the end  I felt like I had just gone through 2 consecutive “Finals Weeks” at Purdue.. But in reality, I wasn’t done at all.  At the end of the third week I learned that for half my classes I wasn’t technically “in them” yet.  If I still wanted to take a class, I had to officially register through another website during a 5 hours gap on a set day and make it through  a type of “lottery  system,” apparently  used to prevent too many Americans from being in Argentine classes. Well, at that point I had already made up a set plan of classes I wanted to take and had no other backups, and until I received an email confirming my acceptance I was ridiculously nervous- how much effort I had to exert to just GET INTO  a class!  Now, there were many more headaches and mix-ups during this five week process, but I’m fairly certain you get the point from this paragraph of whining!!

For that reason, let me continue and elaborate upon how classes themselves work. They don’t, from an organizational perspective at least. There is never a set text book, and professors provide not even a syllabus. All that constitutes your job. You get to go to some random print shop in the city to go find your materials for each class.  Every day your professor will assign some random reading from two or three books that you have to find, however you can. Sometimes they’re in your school library; other times they’re not. Oh well- your responsibility, find a way to read the text before the exams. And by find the reading,  I mean take six or seven chapters from a published book and copy it at a print shop (copy write laws don’t exactly exist here…).  Yes, it is incredibly impractical and a tremendous waste of time. On average I estimate that I spend between 10-15 hours each week just going around finding books and copying them.  The best part is that this system exists because it supposedly “saves you money.” Let’s look into that…  assuming I would spend about $400 in textbooks for 4 liberal arts classes in the States, and I have already spent $100 on copies in my first 3 weeks, my final total won’t be too far off what I would have paid anyway, except I will have wasted hours of my time as well- not quite a worthwhile tradeoff.  However, it’s ok, because you don’t really HAVE to read what’s assigned to you.  After talking with the native students in my class, I was advised to just read a few of the texts, and I would be fine. And then I learned that very few students here worry about their grades- the system is out of 10, 4 being passing, and 6 + being viewed as proficient, aka almost equal in the eyes of an employer. But wait, I’m being graded on the US scale, 10 being an A, 9 being an A- … Good thing two of my teachers already told me they never give above an 8 in their classes because that would imply perfection ( which “no one really can obtain”).  Ahh the combination of two completely distinct systems…

After all that, would you believe me if I said I’m more relaxed than I have ever been?? Well, for the most part, I am amigos.  I mean, I don’t think I could come up with a more confusing and disorganized process if I tried (and I’m quite a bit worried about how my grades will turn out), but at the same time, I’m thrilled to be opening my eyes to a system so different  from what I’m used to.  Furthermore, most of my professor are experts in their fields (my History of Greece professor has written 6 books), and I’ve made some good friendships with the other Portenos in my classes. Nope, I’m all smiles here- each day I’m adapting and rolling with the punches a little more.  Just don’t ask me to come back and do my Ph. D. in B.A. … six months will have been plenty enough of this “distinct academic experience” 😉

Hasta Pronto Todos.

P.S. Future IFSA-Butler Argentina students – Do not let what I just said dissuade you from coming here. I just wanted everyone to have a realistic approach about what school life is actually like (because I didn’t!!) Academics are seriously the only small “complaint” I can even find; this place is amazing!!

P.P.S Less than 50 days until the World Cup!

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