World class

A semester in Argentina

By Chris Murphy
Globe Staff / October 17, 2010

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Avi Farber, a junior philosophy major at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, tries to spend as much time in nature as possible, and an Institute for Study Abroad program in Mendoza, Argentina, “seemed like a fitting place to end up.’’ Mendoza, a province of about 1 million people on the eastern side of the Andes in the heart of wine country, is a popular stopover for adventure travelers, especially climbers on their way to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the hemisphere. Before arriving in Mendoza, Farber explored Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, sleeping in hostels, on beaches, and in the mountains. In Mendoza, he lived with a host family while attending the National University of Cuyo, taking classes in philosophy, ceramics, Spanish grammar, and Argentine culture.

FULL PLATE: “I was also attracted [to Mendoza] by the culture of delicious chocolates and wines. After six months eating everything from turtle eggs to guinea pig, I was really looking forward to living in a place with more diverse cuisine. People in Argentina eat very well. Most meals consist of meat and a small salad of some sort. Argentine grass-fed beef nearly melts in your mouth.’’

DISHING: “After eating stuff like a full plate of llama and rice in Peru at 6 a.m., I’m pretty used to eating odd things at odd hours of the day. I have a friend from my program who was really enjoying eating an appetizer of raw cow tongue for three weeks, thinking it was mushroom.’’

BUS TROUBLE: “For me the mistakes of traveling are always fun. Trying to figure out the Mendoza city bus line has been a disaster, though. It must be the most complicated system I have ever seen. It consists of 12 groups of buses that each have up to 40 sub-numbered buses all going [in] different directions. I gave up and bought a used bike.’’

LIGHTS OFF: “People are very vigilant about not wasting electricity by turning off lights when leaving a room. Though this stems from [an] economic and not environmental reason, it is still nice to see.’’

LOST IN TRANSLATION: “The professors in my classes all speak slowly and clearly, but the students all seem to be so hyped up on yerba mate [a tea drink] that they speak a million words a minute.’’

TEA SPEAK: “Tradition can make things confusing. For instance, if someone is handing you a mate [the tea is shared communally among friends], saying ‘gracias’ signifies that you don’t want any more, not that you are, well, thankful.’’

LATE NIGHTS: “Most students after a day of classes go to a park, hang out, and drink mate. Mate is a huge part of the culture here. At night, students will congregate in parks to drink wine. There are also dance clubs, known as boliches, that open at 2 a.m. and don’t close down until 8 a.m.’’

MEET AND GREET: “People in Argentina are very friendly for the most part, and always up for meeting new people. If one is to walk up to a random group of people, they are likely to be sharing mate with new friends within five minutes. People are very into public affection. It’s also not uncommon for a guy to buy a girl a drink in a bar and then ask, in all seriousness, ‘So you will be my girlfriend?’ ’’

SCHOOL POLITICS: “Argentine students have much fewer resources at their fingertips. The University of Cuyo has a very limited library, no open computer spaces, and most students use books that are photocopied. Also, the hallways are filled with political posters that students have made, challenging the school administration. It is nice to see how active the students are in letting their voices be heard.’’