While I feel like I was just saying this a couple of months ago, I once again find myself on the brink of autumn. After one month of sweltering summer temperatures (imagine all of the humidity of an East Coast summer without the high-powered air-conditioning and you will get a better idea of why I could not be happier to see the season begin to change), the heat and humidity broke a week and a half ago in a climatic thunder and lightning storm. This change in weather occurred just in time for the start of university classes in Buenos Aires. While last fall, I returned to Wellesley College fairly confident in knowing what to expect and ready to go, now I find myself in a totally different state of mind—let alone part of the world.
When I arrived at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)’s building for Political Science, it looked like something out of a foreign film. Last fall semester, in my Wellesley Latin American Cinema course, we watched several Argentine films that depicted the student scene here in Buenos Aires as one complete with protest demonstrations, flyers and hand-painted signs for one political cause or another. While it is true that many films do not do justice to life and come off with an accurate portrayal, the movies I saw did a perfect job encapsulating university life here in Argentina.
As I watched friends greeting each other in the halls, we all peered at the wall posted with class listings to find our respective “aulas,” or classrooms. When I found my class, I asked one of the girls waiting outside if I was in the right place. Unfortunately, she told me that, no, I wasn’t in the correct spot. With 10 minutes to spare until the official class start time (or the time that class is supposed to start….almost everything starts late in this city), I hustled downstairs back to the course listing again to double check my information. The posting definitely indicated Aula 106. Somewhat concerned, I climbed the stairs again and went to wait outside the room. A few minutes later, an Argentine student, Angela, must have thought I knew what I was doing because she came over to ask me if she was in the right place! As it turns out, I was in the right classroom all along!
My first class was a “practica,” or discussion section of a course entitled “Theory of Foreign Policy.” In between listening to the professors tell us what to expect over the semester, I began to notice some of the differences between this UBA setting and Wellesley’s Social Sciences building, which happens to be my favorite academic building on campus. Outfitted with plush couches, sophisticated media systems, and bathrooms with running water in the sinks, I found that Wellesley’s Pendleton Hall is quite different from UBA’s Santiago de Estero 1029. Although, on the bright side, from what I have heard about UBA from other exchange students, we were lucky to have more than enough desks and some of the lights functioning. However, what the school lacks in its physical attributes, it more than makes up for it in its academic reputation.
At the end of the two hour session of my first class, I felt quite a sense of accomplishment! I had made a successful transition from a college student at a school of 2,400 women with a defined campus to a university student at UBA with nearly 380,000 enrollees with campuses located all over the city and students of all ages. While this fall is shaping up to be quite different than the last one (or the next one will be…after all, it’s not so far away) I couldn’t be more excited to go to my next class!