I’m standing on the top of a hill in Chubut, a province in southern Argentina. The land I am looking out upon is sacred Mapuche burial grounds, and our guide is explaining the cultural importance and significance to us. For what seems like the 1000th time since beginning my semester abroad in La Plata, I take a moment to think about my place in this world, which feels simultaneously bigger and smaller each day. Before coming to Argentina, I did not know the name of the Mapuche tribe or anything about the current day politics of indigenous people here. As part of a field trip with the Commission, we came with the professor of our Indigenous Communities class to study in person the land and the experience of the cultures we have been learning about. Once again, I find myself making observations outside of the classroom that support everything I have been learning, which makes my academic life feel more well-rounded.
Life in Argentina overlaps with my education in a manner that I don’t experience the same way in Williamsburg. Between field trips, living in a homestay, and other travels through Argentina and South America, academic life in La Plata is hard to summarize with just a description of my classes with the Commission and UNLP. While our intensive Spanish class over the first few weeks in La Plata was helpful, my improvement mainly came from speaking everyday with friends, my host mom, and professors. With the Commission, aside from the two courses previously mentioned we also have taken an Argentine history course and a class focusing on youth culture in Argentina. These courses, for me, served as only one more useful tool- the music we discuss in our youth culture class is the music I hear in restaurants and in parties with my host family, and most of the class is explanations for things we see and experience. Chapadmalal, which I discussed in the previous post, was a very enriching experience in terms of seeing youth culture of Argentina.
Our history class, as well, was enriched with real life experience- we took several trips to Buenos Aires as well as a trip to Mar del Plata to see old clandestine detention centers that have been converted into memorials for human rights. These trips were some of the most eye opening and difficult memories during my time in Argentina. It was hard for me, as someone from the United States, to come see these torture centers and hear the terrible stories of what passionate young students (just like everyone in our La Plata group) went through. I never have questioned my patriotism more than in these visits, when I see the pain that the dictatorship that was supported by my country inflicted on so many people. Being able to see these places in person added more impact to the lessons.
On top of all of these experiences with the commission, UNLP classes are a whole experience of their own. I took classes in two of the schools (facultades)- humanities (humanidades) and journalism (periodismo) and enjoyed both for different reasons. My class in humanities focused on territory and human rights in development- I have never thought of the concept of “territory” before, and the proximity to Buenos Aires and all the developing areas in between the Capital and La Plata is something I plan on investigating further. This class was small- there were 10 students, 4 of which were from William and Mary, and 2 of which were German. Talking about global development in a group with 3 different continents represented was an amazing experience I have never had before and may never have again. My writing class in the journalism school was also really rewarding, for the reason that I specifically chose the section to be the only student from William and Mary. Taking a class on my own forced me to branch out and make friends, and making that network for myself really enhanced my time in La Plata.
Now that classes are over and I only have final essays, it’s nice to look back and reflect on everything I have learned over the semester. I think the topics of my final papers represent what my academic life has been over the past few months- each topic has been inspired by something I have seen or experienced during my time living in La Plata, and wanted to learn more about. I would say that my academic life has never been more inspired by my everyday life, and this contributes to a much more rewarding academic experience.