Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lujan Zoo and Petting Tigers!

In the United States the most exciting things my weekends usually consisted of was a trip to Half Price Books and a cafe, definitely not the case in Buenos Aires. This Saturday I got to do something that I definitely wouldn't have been able to do at home, or anywhere in the US I'm pretty sure. I got to pet and feed (just milk) real life, full grown tigers. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences of my

It practically poses for the picture.
The zoo in Argentina that allowed us to do this was located in the middle of nowhere about 1.5- 2 hours away from the city center of Buenos Aires. I'll be honest, the bus isn't super fun because you're not guaranteed a seat but it only costs $AR15 which is like less than $2 so I can't complain. If you're wondering what bus, you take either bus 57 or 11 that says Lujan on the front. Just tell the driver to take you to Lujan Zoo and they should know what you're talking about. It also only costs $AR150 ($25) to get into the zoo which gives you access to all the animals and a free camel ride. The only extra things you would pay for is food. It's completely worth it's insanely cheap price.

Giving a tiger a belly rub!
While petting the tigers was beyond amazing, the rest of the zoo wasn't quite so stellar. The animals cages were extremely small and had way to many animals in one pen. It looked more like a persons back yard than a zoo. They didn't look malnourished but the horses, llamas, and the other animals shoved in with them could have definitely used a little help. Their fur was dirty and matted and they were cramped in an over crowed pen.

Can you find the random camel?

People also claim that the animals, the ones you touch at least, were drugged. I'm still not sure if I think that's true or not. They did seem very sleepy and lethargic when we were petting them though. An hour or two later after they were feed and we weren't allowed to pet them anymore, they seemed much more active and playful. The zoo claims the reason the tigers, lions, and bears are so calm is because they are well feed and are raised with dogs. Seeing a tiger and a dog rough house is quite a sight.

Just hanging out in it's cage.

Unfortunately, it rained very heavily before we got to ride camels and touch the elephants. The zoo didn't close because of the rain, but nearly all the workers left. It was completely deserted, just us and the animals which was kind of cool.

This llama was all in my business

Before petting the tigers, something I'll probably never get a chance to do again in my life, I thought I would be really scared. But they were really more like oversized cats that were tolerating your presence. The ones to watch out for were the llamas roaming around wanting food. They would get right in your face!

Managed to get this beautiful shot

While I'm not sure I completely approve of the zoo's conditions it was an absolutely incredible experience. I can add tigers to the list of exotic animals I have petted now, along with dolphin's the summer before last. I hope this isn't the last of my animal adventures (hint, hint Kale Turner).


Friday, September 27, 2013

What I LOVE about Argentina

Living in a foreign country definitely has it's challenges. I didn't realize quite how different living in a place was from simply visiting or vacationing there until I did. Argentina and I have had a lot of ups and downs. Some days I hated it here and I just wanted to go home, while other days I was in complete amazement at how wonderful it was here. Well though I still have about 6 weeks left I've decided to make my decision on Argentina and the truth is I love it.

I think the relationship you develop with your new country of residency is very similar to the relationship you have with your family members. You love them. But sometimes you just can't stand them. In the end though you always know in your heart that they are special to you. So in light this I decided to share with you what I love about Argentina and will dearly miss when I'm back home in the USA. 

5. Balconies Everywhere!

So this is probably a strange thing to love, but I love it anyway. Every apartment has balconies and many people put flowers and plants on them. When it comes time to water them people don't really have much regard for others that have to walk below them. This leads to the occasionally thinking a rain cloud has happened just over you. So it's important to walk closer to the building to avoid dripping from the edge of the balcony. 

I think I love this because it's just so unexpected and comical. It startles me from my thoughts and usually makes me laugh. I guess it's just a part of city life but I've grown to kind of like it. 

4. Dog Walkers

The dog walkers are the most entertaining thing I think I've ever seen. Usually, they are walking between 10 and 20 dogs at a time of all different sizes. Why so many people living in a city choose to buy large dogs I will never know. The best though is when they run into another dog walker and it's just a chaotic mix of a million dogs barking at each other and tangling in each others leashes. I think someday I would like to do that job just for how hilarious I would look. 

3. Tea Time

At first I totally hated having to wait for dinner till 9PM. Well I still kind of do because I'm starving by then! But tea time makes it so much better. Between 5-7PM everyone goes to take tea with each other either in their houses or the cafes and just catch up on their day and life. 

What a lovely practice! Socializing and making time for friends is very important in Argentina culture and I think it's just a wonderful thing that I wish happened more frequently in the US. 

2. Dulce de Leche

What can I say about Dulce de Leche that hasn't already been said? Basically it's the most delicious substance ever. It combines my love of candy, carmel, and spreading those things on food all into one fantastic treat. I'm bringing loads of this home and I'll be happy to share! Until I get down to my last jar of course... 

Heaven on a spoon.

1. The Passion 

My most favorite thing though would have to be the passion of the Portenos. They are seriously so passionate about everything they do. Of course futbol is a very big deal in their culture but it's not the only thing they get heated about. Ask anyone about Evita Peron, the current President Kristina Krichner, or Sarmiento/Rosas and they will give you their opinion like it they were personally there for whatever happened. 

In the US we are very passionate about our country, our holidays, and yes we get excited or upset about our politicians. But it doesn't come close to the way Argentine people feel. There are Presidents and politicians I very, very much dislike (here's looking at you Todd Akin). But regardless of how much I dislike them I would never wish ill will on them because at the end of the day they're people and it's just politics. I don't think the same can be said here in Argentina. A friend of mine actually heard a Porteno say that he was glad Eva died of cancer. That's pretty crazy to say! Especially about a political figure that wasn't even alive at the same time as him. Argentines are great people, they just get very into what they feel. 

So there you have it. My favorite things about Argentina that I don't feel like I'll find, in quite the same way anywhere else in the world. Of my love/hate relationship with Argentina I've finally decided on love. 



Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's talk about my host family.

After nearly 2 and a half months living here I can now say that it truly feels like home. Everything that once nearly brought me to tears with frustration (please take note that I'm just a crier in general) like ordering or asking directions has now become simple. In fact I think I've become more comfortable doing things alone and asking for help here than I ever was in US. Having a wonderful family also helps that immensely.

I know I say this all the time but I just can't talk enough about how great my host family is to me. I really, truly feel like I am a member of the family not just a student they are taking care of in exchange for compensation. We laugh at dinner when I accidentally say a dirty because of my miss pronouncations. We get very intense about what's happening in our soap operas, which I vaguely understand now!

From our music videos!
And my host sisters come to my room all the time wanting to make music videos and watch movies. When it's rainy out we curl up with blankets and popcorn and have a Chucky marathon. My youngest sister, Paloma wraps herself around my arm and asked every 2 minutes. Ahora? Ahora? Maybe I'm not doing studying abroad the right way because I don't spend all my days going out and seeing new things and partying at the boliches. But for me, having a family I can call my own in Argentina is something that will stick with me for a lifetime. These are the kinds of people that years down the road I imagine I'll still be talking to and that will bring me back to Argentina again to visit them. They're more than a host family, they're my family and I'm already dreading having to leave them so much.

We can do this ALL DAY
I can't wait to see my own family and sometimes seeing how happy the girls are when their dad gets home from a trip gives me a pang of wanting to see my own dad. But the way that I am hugged and treated just like a daughter or a sister makes the whole experience so much better and easier.

It would be pretty easy to treat your host family as simply a home to stay in while you're on your out of the country adventure. But I think it's a great opportunity to add new people to your list of family. I can say that about not only my Argentine padres and hermanas, but also my Argentine grandparents that I love.

While it's not the easiest thing in the world, really trying to have a connection with your host family can be life changing and take your experience to a whole new level. Instead of staying in your room sit in the kitchen or living room or where ever they gather. Help out around the house, by doing the dishes in the sink when you have a minute or helping with clean-up even when you aren't asked. Your willingness to be a full member of the family won't go unnoticed or unappreciated.

But I think the most important key is to ask questions and listen. They're probably a host family because they want to share their culture with you. Give them an opportunity to do so! I know more about my host parents history, views, and what's going on in their lives than I do most other people. They're the best tools for learning you have so don't waste it.

I apologize for once again going on a giant rant about my family but they're just soooo wonderful and they have made a huge impact on my experience here!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lost in Translation: Argentine Culture

Sorry I haven't updated in so long, life has been crazy. This week is also midterms which means I'm halfway done. Crazy!!!

Now having spent over 2 months living the Argentine life there are somethings that are just incomparable to American culture. When trying to explain their significance I just can't think of anything that is as universally important in the United States. So I thought I would share a few of these things with you, because they're really quite interesting!


Mate (pronounce mah-tay) is a strong sort of herbal tea drink that is a defining feature of Argentine life. As my host Mom says, mate solves everyones problems. Essentially it's a cup filled with ground tea leaves that you pour hot, but not boiling (that's important) water over. Then you drink it through this straw/spoon contraption. Personally, it's a little bit on the bitter side for me. Though I like the dulce mate, which is sweet.

Mate Being Shared: Source

What makes mate so special is that it is a drink to be shared. Typically you make a cup of mate and then everyone drinks from the same one. It's not strange to share it like sharing a group cup would be in the US. You also drink it generally all day long. I think that mate is the reason that Argentines are also able to stay so thin while eating basically all carb meals. Drinking mate curbs your appetite and keeps you from snacking throughout the day between meals, like many Americans do.

It's common to see people walking around caring their thermoses of hot water and mate cup in the smaller towns, though not as common in Buenos Aires. It's a drink that has the power to bring people and families together and though I'm not a fan I think it's a really great tradition.


This one is a bit of a dead horse, in that most of us already know of Latin American's passion for soccer, so I won't go on long. But I don't think I realized how different their love of soccer here is then our love of say, American football in the United States. Sure we all sort of know that there are teams and a ball is involved, but chances are if you're not a sports person, like my mom, you don't know players, team names, or any actual facts. 

Lionel Messi: Source
But here you know who the players are like you would know who the President of your country is, regardless of if you like the sport or watch it. The players are treated like celebrities even long after they retire which is something that is pretty rare in the US. We just don't really have a single sport that has quite the same cult following. Even I can identify some of the players, which is more than I can say about most American athletes. Above is Lionel Messi, a player from Argentine who is supposedly the very best in the world. 

Eva Peron

I've briefly mentioned Evita Peron before when I posted about Recoleta Cemetery where she is famously buried. I would highly suggest you look this women up because her story is just extremely weird and fascinating. She was the wife of former President Juan Domingo Peron and has became all but a mythological person in Argentine history. Her supporters have claimed that she's a martyr, though she died of cancer, and said that she performed miracles after her death. 

Evita: Source

People today still have heated opinions on whether or not she was as great a person as they say. I can't really think of any woman that has had the same impact and causes as much emotion in American history. Essentially, she helped her husband start the Peronist political movement which was the party of the labor workers. She loved the people and would personally help all the labor workers with their financial and personal problems. She was loved like an idol by them and that power continued on after her death. 

Basically, her embalmed body was seen as a symbol of Peronism and therefore the opposing military regime that took over tried to dispose of it. But, everyone (no really) kept falling in love with the corpse and obsessing over it. She died in 1954 and was not returned to Argentina and laid to rest until the late 1970s. It's a pretty interesting story. 

But regardless, there is no person in US I can possibly think of that had that kind of influence over people, even after death. The fascination with her physical remains is a macabre, but really interesting part of Argentine history that is interesting to discuss with an Argentine person as they will have mixed opinions. 

So there you have it. Some of the many things that simply don't have equal counterparts in American culture. They're things you can read about, but you can't quite understand until you experience them first hand here in the country and I'm so lucky that I've been able to!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

I'm Not Adventurous: Finding Myself in Argentina

A couple days ago I got a new roommate in my host parents house (she’s totally great!) and we were just talking a little bit about ourselves and our lives back home and I said, “I’m not really adventurous.” It wasn’t until I said that out loud, in a foreign country that I realized how silly I sounded! Turns out, all these things I thought I wasn’t or couldn’t do are completely incorrect. I’ve always said, I’m not adventurous, I can’t learn another language, I’m scared of heights and daredevil type things. All my life those things have generally been true. I’ve stayed close to home and always been the “that looks like a bad idea” friend, until now.

Source: Pinterest

Mistake #1: I’m not Adventurous

HELLO, I’m 5,000 miles from home in a country where I don’t really speak the language living with strangers for 4 months. That is quite a leap from small town country girl. It pretty cool to see everyone pinning and tweeting about how it’s on their bucket list to do something crazy and I’ve done it!

Mistake #2: I can’t learn another language

I have always been convinced that I am language challenged. After years of Spanish classes making absolutely zero progress in my knowledge of the language I was convinced that my brain just didn’t work that way. Argentina was my last ditch effort to learn. Someday’s I say I don’t really know Spanish I’m pretty bad at it, but then I realize that I carry on full conversations with strangers all the time here. When I think about it I actually know a lot more than I first did when I got here 2 months ago and that’s pretty incredible.

Mistake #3: I’m scared of heights and daredevil activities

I have a pretty big fear of heights and a lot of things involve heights or seemingly less than safe and secure situations. But, that didn’t stop me from climbing a mountain in the Andes with my friends, on our own, no tour guide needed. Sure my heart skipped several beats when I would look down over the side of our roughly foot wide path, but it was exhilarating. I conquered a fear I’ve been carrying for most of my life! Flying probably counts on that also.

These past 2 months abroad have changed me and taught me so much about myself I would need a book to explain it all to you. It’s been an incredible journey. I’ve transformed from a shy, Midwestern girl to someone that can talk to virtually anyone and do anything on my own with confidence in English or in Spanish.

But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to not hold myself back by saying what I’m not or what I can’t do. Because as it turns out I usually can and am! I’m sure I’m not the only person that’s thought these things so I hope this inspires you to test your own limits!


PS. I have new articles up at Travel Go Girl and a guest post at Finding My Virginity!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Other Buenos Aires: My First Experience with Real Poverty

One of the most interesting parts about living in Argentina for four months is experiencing the city like a true resident. Through discussions with my family, watching the news (albeit in espanol so my host mom has to help me out sometimes understanding), and just generally being around the city, you become intimately familiar with all of its good and bad traits.

I have been lucky enough to have host parents that are willing to spend a lot of time (hours sometimes!) discussing social, political, and economic issues in Argentina with me very openly. One that has really struck me is the poverty in Buenos Aires.

Before coming here I had never seen real poverty before. I had driven past "rough" areas of Kansas City before and thought that, that was my enlightening experience. But living on Prospect or Paeso in Kansas City is like a stay at the Marriott compared to the slums of Buenos Aires. Thinking that I could even think those KC neighborhoods were scary is laughable at this point. Places here don't even scary or intimidate me. They just make me want to cry.

One neighborhood that I've seen the outside of personally, in Villa 31, a shanty town home to about 30,000 people. An entrance into the "city" is very near to the subway stop that we get off to go to the bus station, train station, and the immigrations office, so it's literally unavoidable for most students in Buenos Aires. The first time I saw it I felt like it was a movie set. Like it couldn't possibly be a real place that people ACTUALLY lived in.

Essentially the view I had, though I didn't bring out my camera
for obvious reasons.
The dirt path, not even a road, that lead into the neighborhood was littered with trash and there were people peddling socks and klennex's to the people passing by. Two dogs were eating out of what looked like a McDonald's wrapper while another was just laying in the sun. The houses are unfinished, as in they are nothing more than bricks stacked to create a windowless, doorless, structure. From what I've learned they also don't have running water, electricity, or plumbing. This is a pretty shocking sight compared to the extremely wealthy neighborhood just across the street.

What hurts me the most though is the kids that hang out near the steps of the subway or ride the line begging for money. I've never seen a child that looked like that in real life before, filthy, ripped clothes, dirty matted hair, and hands that sorely need to be washed. The usually have a line that they continually repeat as they beg you for money. Most people though don't give them anything, because you know that the money is undoubtedly going to the parents that clearly have something else to do besides care for their child.

People actually live like this.
I once saw a little girl that was not from the slums on the subway give a girl that was begging a postcard with a picture of Violetta (like an Argentina Hannah Montana or Lizzie Mcguire). The girl was so excited, she was jumping around and showing it to everyone else riding the subway. It was probably the most heartbreaking and heartwarming moment of my life.

A part of me wants so badly to go inside neighborhoods like this, simply because I want to experience it more than just a glimpse down the alley leading inside. I want so badly to talk to these people, to know what a normal day in their life is like. But the fact that my parents would absolutely kill me and that I'm a a female, dressed much to nicely holds me back. I can't even take a picture because pulling out an iphone or fancy camera would just be like asking to be robbed.

Sometimes I hate being a white, female as stupid as that sounds. It's so restricting in terms of experiencing and understanding anyone outside of my social class. If I was a boy I would be much more capable of going into places like that. If I was more darkly complected (like the illegal immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay that make up most of the shantytown populations) I would be able to slip by unnoticed possibly.

At the same time it reminds me of how lucky we are in the United States. Not only do I have my own nice car, I have a house that is furnished, I have access to virtually anything I could ever want. I've never had to spend a day with an empty stomach or without shoes. In the US for the most part even people under the poverty line have access to things that they need like homes, cars, cell phones, etc. The concept of poor is so subjective. Poor in the United States could easily pass as middle class in Argentina.

Most days Argentina is so similar to the United States, it's for the most part a developed 1st world country and then you come upon places like that and realize how far away from home you really are. Just the experience of things beautiful and terrible that most of my friends and family back home will never see makes this whole trip entirely worth it.


PS. It's EXTREMELY hard to find places to volunteer in Buenos Aires. This is due to lack of organization, such as places being listed online and also that most volunteer opportunities are through programs that you have to pay for to come to Argentina to volunteer. Also, my not so fluent Spanish doesn't help. So unfortunately, it's not looking like I'm going to be able to find any real way to help people in areas like that. Though my friends and I will continue to look!