Archive for the ‘Thomas in Argentina’ Category

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Thomas: Reverse Culture Shock

January 4, 2012

It has been over two weeks since I returned from my adventures in South America. It’s been hard to analyze my feelings and emotions since re-entering the United States. Two words describe how life has been during the first two weeks back in my hometown, surreal and stressful.

I arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at about 10:30 am on a Saturday to my eldest sister and niece waiting for me near my baggage claim. Their timing was impeccable. It was good to see familiar faces. Waiting in the van were my sister’s neighbors and good friends who tagged along to keep my sister company on the 2.5 hour car ride to the airport. I was very happy as we left the airport, but everything felt much like a dream. Our first stop after the airport: IKEA. Though not the most ideal “first stop” after getting off the plane, I managed to cope and just enjoy looking at the trendy Swedish furniture and random household nicknacks. My first meal after returning from abroad, Swedish meatballs and potatoes.

The surreal feeling continued throughout the next couple of days. It was strange to meet up with family and see some friends again, although most of my friends who are my age were still in school. The quietness and slow pace of my hometown, along with the farm I grew up was a hard change from the high-speed, always busy streets of Buenos Aires. And even though the weather in Minnesota is a bit “warmer” for December at about 30-40 degrees (F), only now am I getting used to the change from the constant 70+ degrees I left in Buenos Aires.

About three or four days after I got back to the U.S. the physical signs of stress started to emerge. My lips began to tingle and soon, over a 24 hour period broke out into sores. Never has that happened to me before. It was a strange and very uncomfortable phenomenon. It has taken about a week and a half and a lot of medication for them to fully heal. An informal doctor visit claimed it was likely a stress related breakout.

Remembering how to live in Minnesota again has been an interesting and fun experience. I had to learn how to drive again. Getting behind the wheel felt foreign and unnatural at first, but like riding a bicycle you never truly forget. After a few miles on the road, driving felt routine again. Simple differences weren’t that difficult to re-adapt to, but it is always fun to remember the differences in the way of life of Porteños to the way Minnesotans go about simple tasks. I always feel the need to point out the differences to friends or family. I wonder if they are getting annoyed yet.

It’s now fun to speak Spanish! I think my family is getting annoyed by me saying some things in Spanish and then English. When at first I speak Spanish, the dumbfounded reaction on their faces is priceless and quite amusing. Over time, I’ve become accustomed to all-English, but I really hate losing the little Spanish I already know well. I am currently on the wait-list for the only Spanish 1004 class that fits into my busy class schedule at the U of M this Spring.

It is so great to be back in the country I love and to see the people that I missed so dearly. My experiences in South America were absolutely incredible and I do not regret anything. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much that it is really hard to talk about my experiences to others. Many ask how my time in Argentina was, but it’s almost impossible to answer in a sound-bite or a couple minute conversation. I usually ask, how much time do you have? I couldn’t talk about my experiences in minutes, but rather in hours.

Thank you all for reading my thoughts and experiences while abroad. It has been really helpful to write about everything and will be nice to look back on as time moves forward. I hope everyone had a happy and healthy 2011 and hope the new year is even better. Happy 2012 to all!

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Thomas: The Final Summary

December 14, 2011

As I waited for my flight back to America recently, I did some reflecting on my experiences living in Buenos Aires for over three months. Many people who have participated in study abroad programs claim that they change more, as a person, in three months than they do in years. I would have to agree with this notion. Opening your eyes to an entirely new world changes you drastically. I’ve noticed that my perceptions of South America and the United States have changed and adapted. I’m also better able to look at everyday things from another perspective, a different angle than before. There is no doubt that I have grown significantly as a person.

I wrote earlier about not being able to grow without being out of your comfort zone. I think this is sentiment is true for all people. When I arrived, there is no question that I was out of my comfort zone. As I write today, my comfort zone has widened dramatically. I now feel totally comfortable with much of Argentina and a good chunk of South America, its people and its land. Imagine if your comfort zone widened to cover almost an entire continent of people and things. It’s quite an incredible feeling, the feeling of growth.

Have I mastered the Spanish language? No, not even close, but I’m comfortable with knowing what I know. I’ve taken three Spanish courses since May of this year, so I wasn’t expecting to be fluent. It takes years of dedication to become fluent in a language.

I do feel very fortunate to have had this fantastic experience. I’ve enjoyed it very much and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Having had this experience I know I have become a better person and a better citizen of the world. I also now realize how big our planet is and how much of it still needs to be explored on an individual basis.

It’s a bittersweet feeling. I am sad to leave Argentina, my host family, and the things I’ve grown accustomed to in the last three and a half months. The food, the architecture, the constant activity and action. I am, however, thrilled to go back to the place I love and have spent my entire life. I look forward to seeing my family and friends. I’m excited to see the things I know so well with a new set of eyes and experiences. Experts say that reverse culture shock is harder to adjust to than the opposite. They say it’s harder to adjust going back to where you come from after a study abroad experience than it is to adjust to a new country in the first place. This may be true for me, as I go from living in a city of 13 million to a town of 1,300.

I plan on writing a couple more posts during my first month home. I can bet that there will be a number of changes and a few things I will miss once I leave Buenos Aires.

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Thomas: Ice, Ice, Baby

December 11, 2011

There’s no other way to describe my trip to El Calafate and El Chalten, Argentina than truly amazing. Not only was I able to see South America’s second largest glacier, I climbed it! The glaciers were breathtaking earth forms that stretched for miles and stood as tall as some skyscrapers. There isn’t much to say other than I had a great time traveling to Patagonia and I met some really nice people from across the globe to share in with my experiences. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

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Thomas: Thanksgiving in Argentina

November 24, 2011

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I decided it would be best to not mope around Buenos Aires over Thanksgiving and think about how much I miss spending the holiday in the U.S. In addition, there was still a large portion of the country I had not yet seen: Patagonia.

I’m blogging live from my hostel in El Calafate. There will be a post later on what I’m doing here, but as for now I want to share my own personal Thanksgiving lunch today.

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That’s right, pizza, Patagonian beer, and flan for dessert.

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Perfect.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thomas: a land of many landscapes

November 17, 2011

I’ve written a lot about Argentina’s Capital city of Buenos Aires, I do after all spend 95% of my time there. I haven’t, however, written very much about the rest of Argentina. While doing research on the country last Summer I quickly realized how diverse the Argentinian landscape is. I thought I would dedicate this post to the many beautiful and precious landscapes that make up the 8th largest country in the world (by land area). If only one had enough time and money to visit each of these landscapes. Pictures will have to do for now.

The Northwest

Arid deserts, cracked salt flats, colorful deep canyons, and the Andes Mountainside make up the Northwest region of Argentina. This area is also still home to many of Argentina’s Aymara and Quechua indigenous people. One of best parts of this region is its indigenous influences, from food and music, to clothes and artwork. Of course, if you travel slighting south of the far NW region of Argentina, you will run into the very profitable wine country. Olive oil is also a large industry in the West-NW provinces Cuyo and Mendoza. (See an earlier post for more on wine country)

Cafayate

The Northeast

Recently named on the 7 Wonders of the World, Iguazú Falls is the most spectacular waterfall in the world. It is located in NE Argentina, surrounded by subtropical rainforest, and near the border with Brazil. As a matter of fact, the falls are so big, they are located in both Argentina and Brazil. These falls stretch 2 miles and are comprised of over 250 individual waterfalls. “Poor Niagara!”, exclaimed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt upon visiting Iguazú Falls.

Iguazu Falls

Western Patagonia

Extraordinarily colorful lakes and snow capped mountains highlight the landscape of this region. The beauty, wildlife, and many European cultural influences makes this area the most popular destination within the region of Patagonia.

Bariloche

Eastern Patagonia

I want to highlight Puerto Madryn, a city in the eastern Patagonian coast, and the Valdés Peninsula. This peninsula is most popular for people wanting to see wales leap out of the water just off the coast or to hang out with penguins or hundreds of other marine species. It is one of the world’s great nature preserves, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Puerto Madryn

Southern Patagonia

The end of the world. The southern type of Argentina is shared with Chile and is a gateway for many explorers on their way to Antarctica. Beautiful glaciers and more arctic wildlife can be found here. The city of Ushuaia has become a popular tourist destination for people wanting to climb the glaciers or journey to one of the southern-most point in S. America.

Ushuaia; located on Tierra del Fuego

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Thomas: Argentinian life & politics in 2011

November 3, 2011

Recently, Argentina held a presidential election that gave President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner another term in office. Christina, as she is often referred to, is the wife of the late Nestor Kirchner, who died last year. Nestor was president of Argentina from 2003-2007 and became extremely popular due to Argentina’s miraculous economic recovery after the country suffered a devastating economic collapse in 2001. That year, Argentina took home the not so coveted prize for being the biggest economy in the World to default on its loans. Remember when Congressional Republicans in the United States this Summer threatened to not raise the country’s debt ceiling and default on our loans as a negotiating chip with President Obama? Well, when a country defaults on it’s obligations or debt, it is the worse thing that could happen to the economy. When it happened in Argentina in 2001, people lost their entire life savings and several people were forced into poverty. The country basically started from scratch, economically.

Nestor Kirchner helped Argentina recover, back into somewhat prosperity. His wife, Christina ran for President after he served two terms. At first, she wasn’t as popular as her husband, but when the economy continued to grow and when Nestor suddenly died in 2010, the country felt sorry for her and her approval ratings skyrocketed. She was a shoe-in for re-election and won with well over 50% of the popular vote and 22 of the 23 provinces.

Though the economy is booming now, the uptick won’t last long. For example, there is massive inflation. The peso is weak, but things like electronics, clothes, and food are nearly unfordable for many Argentinians. I thought I was going to buy clothes for myself here, but after having checked out the prices, I decided to wait.

Fareed Zakaria with CNN and Time did a great story about the Argentine economy yesterday that is worth watching. Check out the link below.

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/31/zakaria-saving-argentinas-last-dance/

The good news for me is that I will be shipping out before this economic bubble bursts. Unfortunately Argentinians will have to once again suffer through more difficult economic circumstances.

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Thomas: Spring break in Peru

October 27, 2011

For my week-long Spring break I set out for the indigenous nation of Peru, located in West-Central South America. I knew it would be a long and mostly spontaneous journey, so I chose to make it alone. My main reasons for traveling to Peru: experience one of the more indigenous regions of the planet and of course visit the ancient “lost city” of the masterful Incan Empire, Machu Picchu.

Day 1: I started my long journey by running to catch a bus to the International Airport here in the Buenos Aires Province, which is about a 30 minute drive from the heart of the capital city. After arriving at the Airport outside of the city, I jumped on a plane to Santiago, Chile. There I would experience a 4 hour layover until my next flight to Lima, Peru. I arrived in Lima at about 8:30 PM and my 3rd and final flight to the interior city of Cusco wouldn’t leave until 6:45 AM the following morning. I took a car into the bustling capital city of Lima to only sleep a few hours so I could be at the airport at 4:45 AM. I finally got to sleep in my 4th floor hotel room at around 11:30 PM to thumping music down below, only to wake up about 4 hours later to the exact same thumping. Lima is a very active city, with a thriving nightlife, which explains the loud music.

Day 2: I made it safely to Cusco, Peru in the morning and took a taxi to my hostel, which was located in the center of the city. Cusco is the old Incan Capital city and currently has about 300,000 inhabitants. It’s a beautiful city. My hostel was very nice as well. It had a gigantic courtyard in the center with rooms surrounding it. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and the staff accommodating. My 6 person room only cost $10 per night, which included a small breakfast and 24 hour tea. Upon arriving I took advantage of the complimentary Coca Tea, which helps with the extremely high altitudes of Cusco. Peru has long been a huge producer of the three coca trees used for chocolate, coffee, and coca (which unfortunately has been sometimes processed into cocaine and shipped to North America). For centuries, coca leaves have helped Peruvians with the altitude. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea has a similar affect on the body to drinking a cup of coffee.

Already on my first day I was able to meet people from all over the world and quickly become friends.

Day 3: I spent mostly exploring the city of Cusco with my new friends and hiking up a local mountain which offered great views of the city and Incan ruins. I would take the same hike all but 2 days of my time in Cusco. It was great exercise, even if it left you gasping for breath every step due to the thin air.

Day 4: I was asked to explore the countryside and more ancient ruins via horseback. Why not? My horse, Capricorn, was very tame and we were able to get along well.

Day 5: I decided to play futbol (soccer) with some people from the hostel. My team was horrible. Having never played soccer outside of gym class, I didn’t help much. My team consisted of 2 Danish, a German, a couple Peruvians and myself. We lost every game to our opposing teams which were made up of all Peruvian players who were actually quite talented. You could tell they have been playing for some time.

Day 6: Time for Machu Puccu, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I woke up at 3:30 AM to taxi into a small town outside of Cusco called Poroy. From there I would take a 4 hour train through the mountains and the jungle until the small town of Aguas Calientes at the foothills of the Lost City of Machu Piccu. I finally arrived in Aguas Caliented in the late morning and quickly wandered around until I found the buses that take people up the winding rode to Machu Piccu. If this sounds like a lot of steps, work, and money, you would be right. Machu Piccu is so hidden and deep into the jungle that it’s very difficult to visit and required a lot of work and different forms of transportation. A lot of people choose to hike the Incan Trail which takes 3 or 4 or sometimes 5 days and costs $300-600. Initially I wanted to try to hike up to Machu Piccu for the experience, but after doing some research I quickly decided against it. Also, you much book your trail hike close to 6 months in advance.

When I arrived at the gates of Machu Piccu, alone I had no idea what to do or see. I was alone, it was misting rain and foggy. There were tourists everywhere of course and it just seemed like a cesspool of people wanting your money. There is one restaurant and hotel next to the ruins where one can spend $20 for a burger, which would cost about $2 in Cusco, and $600+ on a hotel room. Seeing those things, the large crowd of tourists, and feeling the light rain at the gates put me in a soggy mood. Immediately, one of the many tour guides approached me for a tour of the ruins. He said I need a guide, because the city behind the gates is huge and complex. I realized then he was probably right, it would be no fun to wander alone with knowing what I was looking at. So I bargained with him on a price and he begrudgingly accepted my offer, even though I was still about to pay 10 times more than what other tourists were paying in their large group tours. Relatively, I paid a lot, but got a personal tour of Machu Piccu. To say the least, it was breathtaking.  The masterful craftsmanship, engineering, and pure genius displayed by the Incas is nothing to sneeze at. They somehow managed to build an extremely high-tech and well managed society on a mountain side, hundreds of miles from other civilizations with handmade tools and no heavy equipment. It was a nearly perfect city and perfect society. Amazing, indeed.

Of course, the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th Century brought an end to the empire and the city was abandoned. It was only re-discovered and publicized in 1911 by an American professor at Yale who was conducting research in Peru. Hiram Bingham was searching for a lost Incan City, needless to say, he found it.

Day 7: My own journey to visit Machu Piccu would come to an end eventually. Three flights back to Buenos Aires and school on Monday!

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