Chelsea Rodstrom is 22 years old, originally from New York City. She is currently working as Auxiliar de Conversación (English language assistant) in Bilbao, Spain. She did a study abroad in Argentina and lived in Buenos Aires for 6 months (Feburary-July) in 2012 while a junior at Xavier University in Ohio.
On Choosing Argentina: I chose Argentina because it fit my many academic interests so perfectly. I majored in International Relations [concentration in Post-Colonial studies] and Political Science; I minored in Latin American studies, Spanish and Peace Studies. Most of my classes talked quite a bit about the Argentinian and Chilean dictatorships so for me it seemed practical to go to Buenos Aires. Also, I love adventure and I knew South America would be one. I knew Spain and Europe could wait and that I would inevitably spend time there in the future for work or travel.
On Culture Shock: The biggest culture shock was the lack of culture shock. Sure, things were different – students were way more politically active, for instance – but I was really surprised at how similar things were to the US. I was not expecting to have Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s within a five-block radius of my apartment. So really the culture shock I had was seeing how Globalization affects everyday life. Whether or not that is a good thing was basically my course syllabus for the semester there.
On Argentinian Cuisine: What cured ham and tapas/pintxos are to Spain, Asado (assortment of barbequed meats) is to Argentina. Well, Argentine Asado is incredible . . . for some people. But not for me. As someone who doesn’t LOVE red meat, I can’t say that I fully appreciate all of the gastronomy Argentina has to offer. Although I did fall in love with their chimichuri sauce. The chimichuri in Argentina is the absolute best topping you could ever put on anything and the only topping you should put on everything. I’m not really sure of what’s in it, but it’s super garlicky, green because of the parsley leaves and speckled with red flecks of pepper or tomato chunks.
On Religion: During the 1920s and during World War II, there was a large Jewish population that migrated from Europe to Argentina. Although the country is officially Catholic and the new pope, Francis, is Argentine, the country is surprisingly not that Catholic. During my stay there, I saw a lot of antagonism, skepticism and hostility toward the Catholic Church. This is counter to many other Latin American countries, but can be explained by the previous military juntas‘ connections and collaborations with high-ranking members of the Catholic Church.
Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America and there are 180,000 of them living in Buenos Aires alone. I would say most Jewish Argentines I met are more interested in actually practicing their religion than the Catholics. Instead of celebrating Easter with my ”Catholic” host mother, I ended up at a Seder with her very close friends. It was my first time trying gefilte fish despite having lots of Jewish friends back in NY (and it was nothing to write home about. . . ). Apparently, the family I had Seder with was pretty liberal, but I remember seeing quite a few Hassidic Jews around Buenos Aires and know that there is a significant conservative orthodox population there.
On Money: In 2001, the Argentine Peso and thus economy plummeted and caused outright chaos in Argentina. The peso plummeted because the dollar depreciated and at the time, then president Menem – in efforts to make the peso a more stable currency.- tied it to the dollar. Some investors and well-advised (lucky) people pulled their money out of the banks just in time to evade losing their life’s savings. Unfortunately, many lost all of their savings, pensions and cash when the national banks failed. Menem was consequentially forced from office, but not before people looted supermarkets and stores, turned violent or suicidal and had heart attacks from the shock of their losses.
When my friend recounted what happened the days leading up to the crash of ’01, I was surprised to hear how horrible it actually was. An Argentinian friend recounted to me her experience of the days leading up to the crash of ’01: she locked herself in the house and slept fearful that someone would barge in, attack her and steal all of her life’s savings, which were stashed in her mattresses, the walls and the floors of her apartment. This was shocking to me, because Buenos Aires does not have the feel of a third-world country. It is more elegant and more expensive than many places I have visitied in the US or Europe, and many of its residents live a life very comparable to their American and European counterparts. It was inconceivable to me to think that in a country like that, people are afraid to put their money in the banks—not for tax reasons, but because the currency is so unstable.
On Types of Spanish: I absolutely love Argentinian Spanish. It is heavily influenced by Italian—the local dialect is called Lunfardo—because there is such a large Italian immigrant population in Argentina. Many sounds, particulary the pronunciation of the y’s and double l’s, are distinct from “standard” Spanish, and are really beautiful. (And because of this, the accent is usually praised as one of the sexiest.)
Although the Spanish spoken in Basque Country is clear and easy to understand, I had a very difficult time adjusting at first because the vocabulary, use, and even grammar is so different to that of Argentian Spanish. For instance, I never even learned the informal ‘’y’all’’ vosotros form until I came to Spain. Then, when I was in Argentina and learned to really speak in Spanish for the first time, I learned an informal ‘’you’’ (singular) vos pronoun and its conjugation. So I came to Spain speaking at times a little too formally and other times just a little funny.
On Safety: I never felt unsafe in Buenos Aires, but that was mostly because I was too busy being cautious. I never feared being physically attacked, though I was constantly taking measures to avoid pick-pocketting. I tried not to carry much cash on me, but in a country that hardly ever accepts credit cards, carrying pretty large sums of cash was almost unavoidable. I became pretty crafty and made inside-pockets in some of my shirts and pants. There was only one instance the entire six months I was in Buenos Aires when someone I knew was robbed unsuccessfully with arms. A little girl, carrying a plastic spork, approached my friend at 4 am demanding money. My friend ran away and hailed down a car before anything could happen.
On Robbery: Naively, I thought the only time I might possibly get robbed was in a city. When I was hiking in Patagonia, I didn’t think twice about carrying all of my most important travel documents and personal belongings with me. Unfortunately, some local teenagers outside Bariloche were pretty clued into this mentality. When I was hiking back down, five teens with covered faces, guns and knives came out of the forest and robbed me and two friends—I lost all my valuables, including my camera, phone, wallet, and most importantly, passport.
On Traveling in Argentina: My favorite place I traveled in Argentina – and I think the world, probably – was Patagonia. I love adventure and my trip to Patagonia was the EPITOME of an adventure. I went rafting in class 4 rapids, paragliding, mountain biking, and hiking. Argentina is a beautiful country and is so diverse in terms of geography that there is something for every type of traveller there, but is especially great for those looking to do anything related to sports and adventure. Hiking, biking, skiing, climbing, bungee-jumping, and paragliding are all easy to find in Salta or in Patagonia. As for natural beauty, there are world-famous waterfalls, rapids, mountains, deserts, salt-flats and beaches. For the horticulturists and wine connoisseurs, Mendoza is in a region with very worthy tours, vineyards and wine festivals. As for the culture elitists, Buenos Aires is an enormous, international city with all of the art, gastronomy and history, which warrants its nickname, “The Paris of South America.” The combination of natural beauty and urban life make Argentina the perfect travel destination. I only wish I had spent an entire year there, rather than just six months, because there was so much more I wanted to do.
On Friendships: One thing I really liked about Argentina was how friendly everyone was, how quickly I made Argentinian friends and how people loved when I wanted to practice my Spanish. Actually, speaking English wasn’t usually an option, whereas when I go out in Spain, I often feel pressured to practice English with Spaniards who want to learn—which is frustrating since I’m trying to improve my Spanish! In Basque Country, I feel like it’s much more difficult to make local friends, as the Basques are notorious for being more reserved and more attached to their already-established friend-groups or “cuadrillas.”
On Future Plans: Living in Argentina definitely propelled and prepared me to live in Spain. The positive experience I had there made me want to continue my travels and allowed me to be comfortable living in a foreign country. Before I went to Argentina, I knew I wanted to become fluent in Spanish for personal and professional reasons. I am still working on this goal but I am very comfortable in any Spanish conversation, and I believe that living and working abroad will help me with future career goals. Although I am not sure where these goals might take me, I’m happily along for the ride.
Thank you so much, Chelsea! We’ve loved hearing about your stories from Argentina all year long, and I’m so happy it gave you the courage to move abroad after graduating, so we could meet in Spain!!
Have you ever been to Argentina? Is it a place you’d consider traveling or even moving to?