Studying Spanish in Argentina
Briefcase to Mochila: Getting the Most out of Studying Spanish in Argentina
My backpack had hardly touched the floor in our new apartment in Buenos Aires when I was already illuminated by the friendly glow of my netbook, searching for a school to enroll in. I was eager to hit the books after so many years in the workplace and wanted to take advantage of every second of Spanish that I could absorb. Being a little older than your typical study-abroad student and already fairly fluent, I was a bit leery of the private language mills with their revolving hung-over students. My goal wasn’t to be able to say, “I’d like a shot of tequila please”; I wanted to speak with confidence about things that probably hadn’t happened in the past, but might have—in other words, to finally master the subjunctive mood.
I soon had a spreadsheet full of different programs ranked by cost per hour, students per teacher, reviews, and length of program. But after narrowing down the choices, I still wasn’t happy with the results. I was afraid that my classmates would all be Americans and the classes were surprisingly more expensive than I’d expected.
I made one more stab at trying to decipher the public universities’ Web sites and discovered a program for foreigners at the University of Buenos Aires. In theory, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’d be surrounded by local students, with a mix of international teachers, local prices, and local professors. Unfortunately, the Web page didn’t offer much information other than an address.
The next day I felt like I was traveling back to the ’90s having to go physically downtown to speak to someone in person about signing up for classes. As luck would have it, they were testing for the new semester that week. Soon I was squeezed into a desk chair nervously biting my pen and berating myself for not thinking to brush up on grammar! After finalizing my enrollment with an ATM withdrawal, I walked back to my apartment and savored that special in-love-with-a-foreign-city romantic feeling. Soon I’d be reading Borges while sipping a cortado, in the very same corner café where he wrote the lines.
The UBA (pronounced “ooh-bah”) classes proved to be everything that I was looking for. The professors were dedicated, educated, and professional and the subject matter was intriguing. They had classes about Argentinean immigration, oration, film, etc. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a new culture while living in it.
My classmates were the mix that I had hoped for, with students from countries like France, Brazil, Germany, UAE, and New Zealand. It also happened to be the cheapest cost, at $3 per hour of learning.
While I knew classes were the first step to getting myself thinking in Spanish again, I had told myself ten years ago while living in Spain that if I ever studied abroad in the future I’d get a tutor and make more of an effort to set up intercambios – language exchanges. Thanks to Lonely Planet Thorntree I found Maria, a private tutor teaching out of her apartment, who was part of Ñ de Español. She was able to really target major problems that I had, help me with my accent, and give me an insider’s perspective on life in Buenos Aires.
I used Conversation Exchange to set up a number of coffee dates with other local women who were looking to speak better English. We’d chat about family, food, Grey’s Anatomy, our hometowns, and anything we shared in common for a half hour in English and then in Spanish. I made a bunch of nice friends and loved venturing out to different neighborhoods and cafés to meet with friendly Porteñas.
I can’t stress enough how rewarding it was to take a portion of my trip around the world to work on a skill that I’d wanted to improve. I highly recommend setting a goal or two in the middle of a travel sabbatical; incidentally, it has made me a more valuable “briefcase” as I reintegrate into the workforce.