Tales from abroad: Argentina

A snapshot of a historic government building in downtown Buenos Aires. (credit: Courtesy of Kelsey Murray) A snapshot of a historic government building in downtown Buenos Aires. (credit: Courtesy of Kelsey Murray) A church in Plaza San Martin in downtown Córdoba, lit up at night. (credit: Courtesy of Kelsey Murray) A church in Plaza San Martin in downtown Córdoba, lit up at night. (credit: Courtesy of Kelsey Murray)

I didn’t want to take another Spanish grammar class. While I certainly didn’t feel like I was fluent in the language, I wanted to stop reading books, watching movies, and completing grammar workbooks. I wanted to get out and experience real-life Spanish. So I found a volunteer abroad program and decided to become a medicine and health care volunteer in Argentina. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a Gilman Scholarship, covering some of the costs of the program. During my time there, I worked in a small clinic outside of Córdoba and later at a maternity hospital downtown. Córdoba is located in the heart of Argentina and, with a population of about 1.3 million people, is the country’s second-largest city. It is near the Sierras Chicas mountain range and the Suquía River, about eight hours to the northwest of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. It was awesome to interact with doctors, nurses, and patients in the clinic and hospital, which really gave me a firsthand view of what life as a doctor would be like, and at the same time exploring Argentina.

My top 10 things to see and do in Argentina

1. Go to Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina is full of historical buildings, an active nightlife, and plenty of sports, outdoor activities, and art. It is an easy bus ride to this huge, interesting city.

2. See a tango show. The tango shows in Argentina are fantastic and really depict a story (if you can understand the Spanish singing). Interestingly, the music is just as important to a tango performance as the actual dancing. The professional, world-famous dancers and musicians at a high-quality tango show, say in Buenos Aires, are definitely worth the few extra pesos.

3. Have a home-cooked asado. This is similar to an American barbeque and is typically eaten on Sundays and special occasions. It usually consists of pork sausage, blood sausage, ribs, other cuts of beef, and chicken, all of which are grilled outside in a brick oven. Typical sides include potato salad, lettuce, and bread. Argentina is known for its meat, and at asados, there is a lot of this delicious food, cooked to perfection!

4. Watch a fútbol game with the locals. Whether you actually go to a game or just watch it at a local restaurant or bar, the Argentinians’ passion and pride for fútbol is contagious and exhilarating. Who knew a 0–0 game could be so exciting? The World Cup games took place this summer, and whenever Argentina played, it was almost considered a national holiday. If you thought Pittsburgh was crazy after winning the Super Bowl, the whole country rushed into the streets cheering and celebrating when Argentina won its games. The country was blanketed in a cloud of white and light blue.

5. Go to an outdoor market. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through an outdoor market, where you can buy just about anything, including tasty food, cheap souvenirs, antiques, and many types of art by local artists. Whether you are looking for something special for Mom or a funky accessory for yourself, there are lots of trinkets to choose from in the many markets throughout all of Argentina.

6. Drink yerba mate, a traditional Argentinean herbal tea. You drink the mate from a communal mug with a tea leaf strainer built right into the straw. It is very common to get together for mate like getting together for an afternoon coffee in the U.S., but many people also carry around their thermos and mug and enjoy their mate throughout the day. Drink it with a small snack such as bread and dulce de leche — a caramel spread — in the late afternoon, and you will look like a typical Argentinean. It will tide you over until dinner at 10 p.m.!

7. Get acquainted with the Argentinean vos. In Argentina this pronoun for “you” is used instead of tú, and while this makes understanding the language a bit tricky, it is easy to get used to. I learned many Spanish words unique to Argentina and even ended up coming home with an accent.

8. Meet a gaucho. I used to think gauchos were Argentinean cowboys. They are, but they are nothing like typical American cowboys. Their dress is very European, specifically French and Italian, with berets, loose cotton pants, and neck bandanas or cravats. Today, gauchos are often seen on ranches and in gaucho competitions with horses.

9. Walk from Plaza San Colon to Plaza San Martin. Explore this downtown grid of Córdoba that is full of stores, restaurants, and beautiful old buildings. After getting lost a few times, I learned this area by heart and ended up loving the bustling city atmosphere.

10. Get up close and personal with the mountains and the stars. The landscape of Argentina is gorgeous. For me, being from the Midwest, it was so different to have mountains right in my town and to be able see the Milky Way on a clear night in my backyard. There are many opportunities to go hiking, paragliding, horseback riding, and many other activities to enjoy the Argentinean outdoors. If you are extremely daring, Iguazú Falls, one of South America’s largest waterfalls, is about a day’s bus ride away.

This trip taught me how little I actually know. Sometimes I learned how little vocabulary I actually knew in Spanish, or learned that I really am not familiar with American or European geography. I learned that I know hardly anything about averages in America: salary, car price, school costs, and others. This trip really stretched me to learn more about myself and my culture, while at the same time learning more about another culture, making new friends from other completely different cultures, and learning about medicine. Most importantly, I learned that there is so much out there in the world to learn and explore. I can’t wait to plan my next trip, maybe to a place in Europe or in a different Spanish-speaking country.