Students Dive into Argentine Culture on Study Abroad Trip

Webster students didn’t mince words when describing their recent study abroad trip to Argentina, calling it “amazing,” “very rewarding,” and even “the best experience of my life.”

The 14 Spanish students on this year’s trip (May 18 – July 3) were taking part in an immersion program offered every other year by the Department of International Languages and Cultures. The department provides the study abroad experience in partnership with the Spanish as a Foreign Language Center (CELE), a teaching and research center at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina.

Professor Graciela Corvalán, who is from Mendoza, has led the study abroad trip eight times—each time it has been offered. She is assisted by the previous academic year’s Spanish teaching assistant. This year’s assistant was Wanda Poveda.

Although the Webster students were in Mendoza for the bulk of their stay in Argentina, they started their trip with five days of sightseeing in Buenos Aires. They stayed at a hostel and spent much of their time in Recoleta, a central area of the capital city renowned for its museums, parks, and cafes. From Buenos Aires, the group traveled on to Mendoza.

Corvalán said this year’s study abroad group, comprising students either majoring or minoring in Spanish, was the largest she has ever led. The Webster contingent was grouped with students from the University of Hawaii and Baylor University and placed in one of five levels for morning-long language and Argentine culture/history classes. Afternoons were free for shopping, sightseeing, or taking part in university activities, e.g., basketball.

Cultural excursions are also an important part of the CELE program. These include a tour of Mendoza, winery tours (the area is one of the world’s top wine producers), a hiking trip in the mountains, a weekend at a mountain resort, and a gaucho day in the country, which included a barbecue.

Webster students lived with families during their stay in Mendoza, which gives them abundant opportunities to practice Spanish. (In fact, many of the families did not speak English.) Students filled out questionnaires before their trip so they would be matched with compatible families.

Because of her positive experience in Mendoza, junior Katie Bochnia is sold on the idea of staying with families during study abroad trips. “When I travel abroad again in the future, even if I stay in a city for less than a week, I would love to stay with families,” she said. “It is truly the best way to learn about not only the culture, but the language as well. I had the best family, and I’m so grateful for everything they helped me with.”

Bochnia said her “host mom” was a perfect match for her. “I felt like she was my long-lost sister or something,” she said. She added that she was grateful for the help her host family gave her in understanding the nuances of Argentine culture and for the time her host mother spent explaining and discussing politics and other issues with her.

“Every day, I would come home from school and talk about what I learned that day and get the opinion of my host mom on these issues,” Bochnia said.

Senior Alyssa Petot said she was touched by the graciousness of her host family. “I was a foreigner who didn’t really speak the language, and people went out of their way to invite me to a birthday party or take me out, or just to spend time with me.”

Petot said speaking Spanish all the time “was a shock at first, but eventually it became more natural and even normal. When I got back home, I had to refrain from saying things to my family in Spanish. Definitely not something I was expecting to happen.”

Senior Katya Hill was surprised that she felt at home at both Argentine cities she visited. “I think that coming from a truly cosmopolitan institution such as Webster University helped me fit in easily, both emotionally and linguistically,” she said.

In Hill’s opinion, highlights of the trip included visiting the Argentine capital and walking in the famous Plaza de Mayo, staying with a host family, and taking classes at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. At the top of her list, however, was seeing the Andes Mountains.

“Experiencing the Andes and visiting the Provincial Park of Aconcagua were definitely the highlight of the whole trip,” she said.

Senior Amber Swepson also was impressed by the Andes and will long remember  looking out her bedroom window and seeing snowcapped mountains. Swepson hopes to become a high school Spanish teacher and said she looks forward to telling her students about Argentina. “It was an amazing, very rewarding experience,” she summed up.

Bochnia said she is thankful to everyone who helped with the study abroad experience—her host family as well as the program’s coordinators and teachers—and also to her family for allowing her to make the trip.

“I truly loved every day in Argentina,” she said.