Thursday, November 29, 2012

¡Dale, Tigre!

It has been a week, so I figure that everyone has come out of their food comas after a bountiful  Thanksgiving. While you were enjoying turkey and all the fixings, I attended my first Argentine soccer game, a true staple of the Argentine culture. 

The game was a Colombian team vs. Tigre in the Copa Suramericana (South American Cup). It was the semi-final round of the tournament, so this game was important. After my frantic plea on Facebook to the swim team, Tango class, and UdeSA exchange students, Daniela (from swimming) invited me to a Tigre game, located near the UdeSA campus. The stadium was packed with emotional fans and a lot of energy. (I shall explain momentarily.) The game ended in a tie (or empatada) 0-0.

Soccer, or better known here as fútbol, brings the word "fanatic" to a whole new level. For these fans, I feel that soccer may be more important to them than water. There was constant screaming, mostly insults towards the referee or other team (which I cannot repeat here). To make them feel even more special, each opposing team has their own, unique insults that refer to the region or team's name and/or history (putear/insultar = to insult). Additionally, there were cheers and chants that the crowd sang in unison to cheer on Tigre. Again, most of the cheers involved a lot of Argentine slang known as Lunfardo. (As a complete language nerd, I read the Argentine slang dictionary at the beginning of the paid off after this game.)


La Barra is the section shown in this photo. They are the die-hard fans who play music and cheer for the entire game NON-STOP. I kid you not, they only took a break at half time. I was in El Popular, which is a standing section full of crazy fans, but in la barra, they take it further, making them insane.

Daniela lent me her Tigre Jersey to be a true hincha de Tigre (Tigre Fan).

Daniela and I at half time.

Tigre Matadores vs. Colombian Team
Tigre is known as the Matadores, or Killers

At the conclusion of the game, the police are on full alert. The fans of the visiting team are escorted out first and guided a significant distance from the stadium (several kilometers). We had to wait about twenty minutes for the stadium to be clear of the other fans. This is done to prevent fights and brawls among the fans of the two teams. When is comes to soccer, Argentines are extremely passionate. This means they are not politically correct, so insulting their team is just as bad as insulting their mother or sister. They are not afraid to get physical.

I am happy to say I have had this true Argentine experience. Although soccer is not the national sport, it is still important to Argentina. After all, Maradona and current soccer player, Messi, are still well-known internationally! I have never experienced a sporting event like this; it was intense, and I loved every moment!! I am not a big soccer fan in general, but the amount of energy and emotion in that stadium kept me interested the entire time.

I would say, you have not experienced Argentina until you have gone to un partido de fútbol (soccer game).


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yo doy gracias por...

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating this truly American holiday! As today is a day to give thanks, I thought I should mention a few things for that I am thankful here in Argentina. 
To be honest, Buenos Aires and the porteños amaze me and scare the living daylights out of me everyday. It is a conscious choice I make to focus on the positives. So without further delay, a handful of things for that I am thankful (in no particular order):
  • the Universidad de San Andrés - the Foreign Studies Office, the professors, the students, the campus, the academic atmosphere,
  • the UdeSA swim team,
  • my host family, particularly my Argentine mom, Alice,
  • the friends that I have made in Argentina (exchange students and Argentines alike),
  • the opportunity to see, to learn, and to experience this corner of the world,
  • that I am (finally) content where I am,
  • the love I feel from my family and friends at home and from around the world,
  • the life I have been fortunate to live, and
  • today!
I do not think it would be possible to list all for that I am thankful. Life itself is a blessing, and I'm happy to carpe diem.

Today is simply an ordinary, rainy day in Buenos Aires. I enjoyed a bounty lunch (un asadito) of steak and potatos; no turkey this year, although I was stuffed after eating. Also, I shared with my family what usually happens on Thanksgiving. For an Argentine twist, I will be going to my first Argentine soccer game this evening. Since American football does not exist, it's only appropriate I admire the Argentine form of fútbol.

Tomorrow morning, I will hop onto a boat headed for Montevideo, Uruguay for a two-day aventure of exploring the capital of Uruguay with Germain. I shall provide an update following these experiences! Lastly, I leave you with a few photos I recently took of Recoleta with fellow American exchange student, Asher. They are sights I see on a daily basis. I am thankful to share them with you. :)

 Plaza in front of the Ministry of Education
 Water treatment and storage plant for the city of Buenos Aires

 El Ateneo bookstore was converted from an old theater, "The Grand Splendid"

¡Feliz día de acción de gracias!
Un abrazo enorme,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

UdeSA Deportes: Entrega de Premios

Monday night was UdeSA's annual sports awards ceremony. Each team was recognized and honored in a true San Andrés fashion during this splendid evening. Hosted in the Cubo in the library, the sports director guided the ceremony at a nice pace so that it moved along smoothly. The coaches sat in front to hand out the awards to their athletes and present the various trophies won throughout the year.

It was a very memorable night for me and the swim team. The team placed 1st in the overall scoring for the year, winning 4 out of 5 swim meets with the most points combined. Our coach had the opportunity to hold up a few trophies! Some athletes were recognized as Best Sportsmanship or Most Valueable, while everyone received a diploma of participation. I was recognized first as one of the four exchange students that participated in a sport this semester (the only male), and secondly, and the Most Valuable Swimmer for Male Swimming (Mérito Deportivo). My coach, Oscar, presented me with both awards, in addition to a certificate of participation. On the plaque for Mérito Deportivo, my name was written as "Mathew Mat," an interesting spelling. I would say it makes the memory even funnier!

 Left to Right: Lucre, Matías, and Me (Fellow swimmers)
 Sports Director and Coaches at the ceremony
 UdeSA Swim Team
 Me and Coach Oscar accepting Male Mérito Deportivo award
 All the swimmers making their "Oscar" face. :P
(Left to Right: Julia, Déborah (Carina's assistent in UdeSA Foreign Studies Office), Me, and Milena)
We were recognized for having participated in the UdeSA sports. We received a little flag that says Universidad de San Andrés and a t-shirt as well.

Following the ceremony there was time for pictures and some snacks. I went out to dinner with a group from the swim team to a pizzeria. We enjoyed some team bonding time, which included an interesting and funny array of conversation topics. Everyone wanted to get home before midnight because today (Tuesday) is a nationwide strike (paro nacional). Most methods of public transportation are not running, which has delayed the airports, trains, subways, and buses that are working. There are  protests in the streets, against the government of Cristina Fernández Kirchner. In response to these events, I will be spending most of the day doing work for school...since I cannot go anywhere that requires a bus or train. I must say, at times, I do admire the Argentine's flexibility to find an alternative to overcome/avoid the obstacles in the constant, random hustle and bustle of chaos in this city, and other times, I wonder why is there so much chaos? "I think it's just inevitable in a city," concludes this country mouse.

¡Qué sean productivos también!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tango y natación

This weekend has been a whirlwind of activities. Four-day weekends have become the norm for me, and usually once a month we also get a holiday that falls on a Monday. Oh yeah, I'm living the dream!
Like always, my weekend started at campus: my final Tango class at UdeSA. It was more of a final time to chill and laugh rather than dance. We used the time for some photos, a splendid memory of one of the highlights of my time at San Andrés (UdeSA). It was wonderful to be apart of a constructive, supportive group that was never critical and always friendly. I was very intimidated by the Tango at first, but with patience and time, I have a basic accomplishment for me, since I always thought I had two left feet.
Following the Tango farewell, I went to a café with my friend from class, Carla. We chatted and laughed until it was too chilly to stay outside. On the way back, Carla made a pitstop to show me the waterfront part of Martínez (a neighborhood in San Isidro). The sun had recently set, so the city illuminated the view...the moon was quite stunning as well. It was a treat to see the city from this unique perspective. And I felt quite lucky that I schlepped my camera to school that day!
UdeSA Tango Class 2012
My Tango Partner, Pei (from Sweden) and I
Buenos Aires is full with these purple trees called el jacaranda (same word in English)
The moon from the Río in Martínez
View of Buenos Aires Capital in the distance (the photo does not do it justice!) It may help to imagine a windy shoreline with the ruffling of the water.

Friday was a bit more serious. Earlier in the week, I found out that my application for next semester at Universität Leipzig (Germany) had never arrived. I feared it would be a tri-continental circus trying to coordinate the re-notarization of my documents in Jersey and trusting the Argentine postal system. I am blessed to have a great support team at home, so everything was sent in a timely fashion. Of course, on my end, I had to visit DHL twice. Other than a wounded credit card, I left with a tracking number and piece of mind that I would know when it arrived this time. Fortunately, I had swim practice later in the evening, so that was a good stress-reliever. Following practice, we had dinner at a swimmer's apartment. It was fun to hang out with my teammates outside the pool because we could relax and chat without interruption (referring to the swimming part of practice).
(Photos from the Copa Taylor from last week)
Source: UdeSA Deportes Facebook Page

Saturday was another swimming day. It was our final swimming competition of the semester, and it was unique for that matter: just a one-hour-long relay, called La Posta Americana (The American Relay). We were a team of four swimmers (two males, two females), who exchanged every five minutes (Swimmer 1-Daniela, Swimmer 2-Matt, Swimmer 3-Luli, Swimmer 4-Ale [repeat]). That means that each swimmer swam for five minutes, repeating the order three times within the hour. At the end, the team that swam the most meters were the winners. We competed against two other universities and swam 4,325 meters in 60 minutes, winning by 400 meters. I contributed 1,100m.

After I finished my second leg of the relay - truly exhausted, but I still managed to smile!
(Source: UdeSA Deportes Facebook Page)
A tired, yet satisfied UdeSA swim team :)
(Left to Right: Ale, Lucy (swimmer), Hernán (swimmer), Luli, Me, Daniela, and Oscar (coach))

After the swim meet, I went with a few swimmers to the UdeSA Homecoming. This was not an American-style homecoming because 1) there is no American football team at UdeSA and 2) most people were still sober. It was a gathering on campus with activities for the whole family. Professors, graduates, students, and family members (including children) were present as everyone participated in various raffles and enjoyed the UdeSA band - the same from last week at the Copa Taylor. It was a beautiful night under the stars on campus among some of my favorite people in Argentina. It was a good night that concluded hanging out at a swimmer's house, who invited us over for drinks and hot dogs (known as panchos in Argentina).
Chilling out at Homecoming
(Left to Right: Pei, Me, Nadine, Germain, Rachel)
Source: Facebook
UdeSA campus at night

Sunday evening, I went to my first milonga! A milonga is a dance party where everyone mingles and dances the tango. Sometimes there is food, where you eat and watch or participate in the Tango at your leisure. I went with fellow exchange student, Nadine (from Luxembourg) to a park near the Belgrano C Train Station, where we watched many advanced tango dancers flawlessly share the dance floor underneath an illuminated pavillion. Nadine is a member of the same Tango class as me. We were intimidated by the skill of the others to try and dance in the Milonga, but we had a good laugh reviewing the basic steps outside the pavillion. It was a brisk night that was simply peaceful in the park.
Milonga in Belgrano

With the milonga, my weekend went full circle. It started and ended with tango and sandwiched swimming. This was a memorable weekend for me because it is quickly becoming obvious that I have been blessed with many genuine people in my life here in Argentina. I laughed, I danced, I swam, I felt happy and safe. This is what I wished for when I came to Argentina, and I'm glad my wish has come true.

Les deseo suerte en la semana.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Compartimos la vida.

Class for the semester is dismissed. The past few days have been stressful, but life is calming down for a little while. Although I always feel like I could have prepared some more, many people laughed and remained engaged during my presentations. For that, I am content with the outcome. Today (Wednesday) was my final for my Spanish Culture/Language course, so one course complete, two more to go. I have another two weeks of paper writing and a Linguistics exam on November 30th, so there is still plenty to do. Thursday is the final Tango class. Ultimately, we are not performing on Saturday for a lack of people who confirmed their attendance. It was still a fun experience to learn the tango. I'm no pro, but I got the basics.

It is certainly bittersweet, but I have started to say farewell to fellow students and exchange students as I may not see them before my departure, despite the fact that it is a still a month away. Yesterday (Tuesday), we had our official Farewell Lunch with the UdeSA exchange group. The director, Carina, is also leaving UdeSA, so actually, much of the attention (of staff and students) was focused on her. I would describe Carina as superwoman; a person who is blind, but, in reality, sees everything through her other senses. She had an incredible ability to recognize me by my voice and sense my emotions in good and not so good moments (i.e. host family issues). Her dedication and kindness were pivotal in my experience, and I agree that she deserved the recognition. In the photos below, I'll describe some highlights of lunch and the campus, where I spent my semester in Argentina.

My walk from the Victoria train station to campus, particularly pleasant on a sunny day.

Spring is full swing (finally!)

UdeSA campus, in many ways it mirrors most American campuses.
UdeSA is a very prestigious Argentine university.
Cubo in the Max von Buch Library
We started the lunch here by listening to the UdeSA Choir and 
the wise words of UdeSA faculty members.
Kind words of thanks to Carina written by the 2012 Spring UdeSA Exchange Students
For lunch: Arepas - a traditional Colombian/Panamanian dish made of corn
Spring 2012 Exchange Group at UdeSA - Farewell Lunch
(Spring is currently the Fall in the Northern Hemisphere)
Santiago, my cultural partner, and I

I am happy to have ended classes on a high note. While all my professors were interesting and good, I can conclude that my linguistics professor stands out as one of the best teachers I have ever had. In her closing of the course, she shared a story from a 13th century author and her perspective on the course, while keeping the basic theme of linguistics in mind. As a professor who always found the precise words to describe a theory or answer a question, this moment was no exception. For me, the most striking part of the lecture was her description of a decision she made earlier in life that brought her to this point. The professor concluded in Spanish, "When I chose my field for my Doctoral studies, not realizing then, I made the decision to live all the time. Although you may not realize as we are in class, I'm working and you're studying. This semester we shared a portion of our lives as we spent Tuesday and Wednesday mornings together for the second semester of 2012." (This is my translation from memory and the notes I took during the closing's not exact but delivers the same message.)

Yes, this may sound sappy or nostalgic to some, but there are two statements that stand out to me:
1. "To live all the time." - I first understood this to mean, I would live forever. With more thought, I realized that my professor was saying to take advantage of each moment. Have you considered the difference of being alive and living? One can go through the motions of daily life, but living requires some more attention. At least, that is my interpretation, and it was a nice reminder, especially at this point in my stay in Argentina.
2. "We shared a portion of our lives."- As human beings, we are social. Some cross our paths for a moment, for a few months, for a lifetime, or never. Particularly in times of transition, I think it is important to remember that we share a "chapter" in our lives with people. I have finally found the words that I have felt as I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people in the variety of past experiences. I find that is what makes my experiences unique; I share a portion of my live with many, and I'm fortunate to have many positive memories.
For me, it is only natural for me to reflect on the semester thus far. I was moved by the closing words from my professor and wished to share this portion of my life with you. I'm sure there will be even more reflection in upcoming posts. Until then, this should be some food for thought.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Un tiempo loco mit einer tollen Überraschung

Oh my goodness, we are well into November already! The two weeks after Patagonia have been quite the reality check as classes are concluding and I realize there is so much that I would still like to do in Argentina. Upon my return from Patagonia, I had only been in Buenos Aires for five minutes and I felt overwhelmed by the concrete jungle. It was loud, very hot and humid, and I wasn't ready for the city again. Plus, I had a few concerns on my mind involving three continents; it was a lot to process. (Personally, I wanted to retreat back to Patagonia.)

First and foremost, the concern of Hurricane Sandy was prevalent in my mind as I returned to Buenos Aires, particularly the safety of my loved ones in my home state. I did not know if I would be able to contact my parents or hear anything about the condition of our home. Facebook friends provided me the majority of my updates with photos of ships on train tracks, lots of damaged homes, and flooding that enveloped the entire Jersey Shore. It's a harsh reality to be so far away, unsure how I could help. All I could do was pray for everyone's safety and well-being. While my family was safe without power for several days, it was sad to hear of people who lost their homes to the hurricane. Many Argentines were curious about the conditions of New Jersey, so I shared the information I had. It is certainly a challenging time for all, but I am confident with teamwork and faith, New Jersey and the East Coast will bounce back.

In addition to the perfect storm, the first week back was full of many scattered thoughts that required me to keep my attention on my day-to-day life in Argentina. It was a typical week with the normal stresses and triumphs of school and life in the city. I did not celebrate Halloween - trick-or-treating is a foreign concept here. There were costume parties, but the Argentines (and exchange students for that matter) will take advantage of any opportunity to celebrate in a club. I have to be more focused as final presentations and exams are breathing down my neck. For that reason, I apologize that my updates have not been consistent, and the blog may continue to be dormant at times.

Last Friday (November 2nd) was without a doubt one of my best days in Buenos Aires all semester. My German parents wrote me an e-mail while in Patagonia that they would be traveling around Argentina at the beginning of November. I had to read the e-mail several times to be sure I read the message correctly and to prevent myself from running around the hostel in sheer joy. To refresh your memory, Barbara and Claude are my German parents from my Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange year in Germany. We have stayed in touch through Skype and e-mail since I came back to US in July 2010, but this was the first time in person in nearly 2.5 years! Though it is quite unique that we both came from two separate continents and to meet up on a third. Nevertheless, I could not have been more excited, thrilled, and jubilant!

It was a sunny day, but no form of weather would have stopped me from seeing Barbara and Claude. I met them at their hotel and we walked through the main parts of Recoleta, Avenida 9 de Julio, and Calle Florida before making our way on foot to Palermo and the Malba museum. (I had already visited the Malba with my cultural partner, Santiago, but it was pleasant to observe the artwork again.) We made a coffee stop and a enjoyed a beer following the Malba, and we concluded the day with dinner at a "traditional Argentine/porteño" restaurant. It was a nostalgic day that reminded me of my wonderful experience in Germany and the amazing family with which I was blessed. I did not want the day to end, but time does not stop. We had a quick farewell as my bus came, but I hope for many reunions with these extremely generous people. The greatest thing I can take away from this day was how they shed light on the city to provide me with a different perspective of the things I see almost everyday. Barbara and Claude also reminded me of their constant curious questions that left me scurrying for the words in my currently merged Spanish and German vocabulary. (I can still hold a conversation in German with ease. Barbara and Claude, however, push me to another level in German with our discussion topics that require a more advanced vocabulary. I have to chisel and sort out the German from the predominant Spanish in my brain.) Nonetheless, seeing them in person was the greatest gift of the day!

La Posada Restaurant
(dinner with Barbara and Claude)
The view from Barbara and Claude's hotel
The famous image of Evita Perón on the Avenida 9 de Julio

The following day, I went with a group of UdeSA exchange students to Tigre for a day at the Delta - referring to the River Plate delta (Río de la Plata). We took a boat (lancha) that drove through the various canals of Tigre. The community is water-based as physical streets are not apart of the infrastructure. Kids take a boat to get to school. There are roads in parts of the city, but with many rowing and yacht clubs, Tigre is all about the delta and the water.
We spent the day in this hotel area called Alpenhaus. From the name, I sensed it had a German influence. Actually, it was like a little Bavarian town - the architecture, the staff's attire, the food, etc. To be honest, it was bizarre that our program brought us to a non-Argentine location, but still an enjoyable day. I had the opportunity to swim in the river/delta. (For being a swimmer, I find it strange that I do not enjoy swimming in open water, especially when I cannot see the bottom or what's underneath me.) The highlight of the day for me was canoeing through the stream. It was fun to splash at my friends from the exchange (they most certainly fought back) but also to enjoy the scenery and seeing many others out and enjoying the day as well. I'm consider myself lucky to be a part of a diverse and innovative group of exchange students who can always find the positives and have a good time! For example, that Saturday evening, I went with a Rachel, Pei, and Germain from the Tigre group to a Waffle House in San Telmo. A relaxed evening where I tried my first Argentine waffle - with the typical Dulce de Leche topping, I was very content. It only got more interesting when I tried Maté flavored ice cream afterwards!
In the boat in Tigre
(Left to Right: Rachel, me, Germain, Pei)
Casa de Sarmiento (a house encased in glass)
Alpenhaus, a German wonderland in Tigre
We did not throw Pei in the water, although her and Rachel's canoe flipped over.
Tigre, Buenos Aires

As a highly Argentinized procrastinator, Sundays have become my days to try and get my schoolwork done. To be honest, here it seems impossible for me to remain focused. Sometimes I wonder how with such a busy schedule (especially a time-consuming commute), everything gets done...but it does, eventually. (That's the Argentine attitude, for ya!)

This past week was unbearably hot, humid, and exhausting. The temperature was well into the 90ºs a few days and it made my commute to school even more challenging. The trains did not run, the buses and subways were packed. By Thursday, it felt like a game to figure out how I could get home the fastest by guessing which method of transportation would not break down. For those Americans out there, air-conditioning is not a common commodity here. It is become more popular, but our apartment in not air-conditioned. I think we are doing fine with fans and natural air circulation. On the other hand, UdeSA has set air-conditioning in the classrooms on full blast. The clash of the two extremes resulted in us opening a window to balance the temperature.

Buenos Aires has experienced some extreme temperature changes. The temperature dropped 40ºF in one night as a heavy storm came in. Half of Buenos Aires experienced a black out and a large portion of Belgrano and surrounding neighborhoods had major flooding, for some it was waist-high!

The day prior, I attended the monthly protest against the President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK). Living in the capital easily facilitated my attendance. I walked with the masses from the intersection of Avenida Santé Fe and Avenida Callao to the Obelisco in the 8N (8th of November) Cacerolazo. It was incredible to be among hundreds of thousands of  individuals aggravated with the current economic crisis and government in place. Many demanded more safety and honest answers; overall, the reasons for the protest did not change much at this Cacerolazo than the first one in September (This is a common form of protesting in Argentina and Chile when citizens enter the streets in large masses banging pots and pans to have their voices be heard). I ran into a few familiar faces, but mostly observed a politically-open and engaged Argentina that I do not constantly see. This was a wonderful experience that added some Argentine spice to mix up my day. Upon returning home, the news coverage was highly intriguing to listen to the people crying for justice and trust in their government. There were two opposing sides presenting two completely different forms of the truth; the truth is honestly somewhere in the middle. Thursday evening placed me in a very strong and emotional environment that leaves me wondering how the Argentine president will react... It has been a few days, and I'm still waiting to see if anything changes. Argentina is very polarized as CFK won the last election by a slight margin. The separation between the classes is only growing, and the country is still trying to bounce back from the finacial crash in 2001. (I can only say what my high school band director used to say, "An idiot does the same thing, expecting a different result.")
Avenida Callao and Avenida Santa Fé 
(Basta de Mentir = Stop Lying)
100,000s of people at the Obelisco protesting against the insecurity, the governement, and the president.
Anti-Kirchner (Anti-K), meaning against the government and the President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. 
Some classmates asked me if I was Anti-K. My answer is I have gone to the protests for the experience. I am here to learn about a different culture, and this is an example of living through experience in the purest form. Running a country is a difficult task, which is why I haven't raised my hand for the job. I would not consider myself to be a neutral party that has heard not both sides equally; I have only found people who are quite unhappy with CFK.

Lastly, this past weekend, UdeSA hosted its 6th annual Copa Taylor collegiate sports tournament. Twenty-two universities from Argentina and Uruguay competed in a variety of sports, including field hockey, basketball, volleyball, swimming, and chess, among others. Saturday was the swimming competition, and UdeSA (my team) had quite a showing. We won the meet with many placements on the medal stand. I had a good start winning the 50m breaststroke, 25m breaststroke (from the first heat), and 100m IM. I also placed third in the 25m and 50m butterfly. Our relays did well, and our men's and women's combined medley relay dominated to win by a half of a pool. There was a lot of good sportsmanship in- and outside the pool. Personally, I swam better than at the first swim meet in September, and I also really enjoyed the day with my fellow swimmers (probably now because I understand more of their jokes). Following the meet, everyone returned to the San Andrés (UdeSA) campus to celebrate the various sport competitions. We watched presentations from the advanced Tango class (I perform next week at homecoming), the choir, and a rock group started by UdeSA students. It was a beautiful night to celebrate on campus, and I have never heard of a school funding a party for athletes on school property. The party was most definitely fun, but I would accredit the swim team as a huge help in learning Argentine Spanish and some unique cultural lessons; they are also a relaxed and fun group of people and it has been a pleasure getting to know them and making my experience unique. :)

This upcoming week is my final week of classes. I have a final and two presentations, so as I say many times a day, "This should be interesting."

¡Cuídense y qué tengan Uds. una muy buena semana!