Exploring the Cultural Complexity of Buenos Aires

Darina Gancheva, NYUAD Class of 2014, shares her J-Term experience taking the course Metropolis: Culture and Politics in the 21st-Century City, with Buenos Aires itself as her classroom.

Leaving Buenos Aires is not easy. And it was especially difficult for me after having seen and learned how special and unique of a place it is. This January Term I was lucky enough to be enrolled in a course in Buenos Aires called Metropolis: Culture and Politics in the 21st-Century City. My classmates and I dived into the complicated history, culture, and politics of the Argentinean capital in order to find out more about the dynamic processes of urbanization. Buenos Aires was our classroom: our architectural tours, lectures by local experts, and everyday interactions with the city (which we wrote about in our daily blogs) helped us become immersed in the magical world of Buenos Aires.

I chose the Metropolis class because of the Urbanization multidisciplinary concentration I am pursuing at NYU Abu Dhabi. With urbanization courses in Shanghai and Berlin under my belt, I was able to expand and review my knowledge of environmental, social, and political urban processes, but this time in the context of Latin America. Knowing about issues of urban life in different regions of the world will help me in my future career in public policy: I will be able to compare different approaches to deal with urban problems, such as poverty and pollution.

Not only did I acquire a completely fresh perspective on the topic of urbanization, but I also interacted in a unique way with the city. A moment of such interaction was our class visit to a milonga (a tango studio) in one of the older neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Before the visit, we studied and talked about the development of the tango subculture and its significance for the tourist industry. In the milonga, we learned some basic tango movements (OK, at least we tried) and got the chance to watch some real porteños (a local word for the people of Buenos Aires) dance. For Hee Eun Kwon, Class of 2016, who was taking another J-Term class in Buenos Aires called Cities and Consumption, the milonga visit was also one of the highlights of her stay. "I loved visiting the milongas and experiencing a slice of the Argentinean culture," she said.

Buenos Aires was our classroom: our architectural tours, lectures by local experts, and everyday interactions with the city (which we wrote about in our daily blogs) helped us become immersed in the magical world of Buenos Aires.

Darina Gancheva, NYUAD Class of 2014

Another great experience was our day trip to Tigre, a small town close to Buenos Aires and a popular vacation site for the porteños, where our whole group enjoyed a day of sun, Argentinean food, and a variety of athletic activities. I chose to hike and go horseback riding so that I could see and learn more about the nature in the swampy areas surrounding Buenos Aires. This was also the first time I cantered on a horse: the fresh air and the freedom of the vast green space around us made me forget my fear, which usually appears whenever a horse speeds up. As we were coming back on the bus, I fell asleep feeling happy and grateful for this wonderful day.

J-Term gives us NYUAD students a great opportunity to learn through complete cultural immersion. This January, I had the chance to experience the world of Argentina and Latin America for the first time. I explored only a small piece of Buenos Aires' culture (I ate tons of empanadas — a baked or fried bread or pastry that can be stuffed with a variety of things — and alfajores — a traditional Argentinean dessert made of cookies, chocolate, and dulce de leche — tried to dance tango, learned survival Spanish, and walked for hours through the beautiful streets of the city), but it was enough to make me want to go back and learn more about other aspects of the multifaceted city life there.

My classmate Lan Duong, NYUAD Class of 2014, summarized the cultural complexity of Buenos Aires with a great quote by James Wilson: "There are many, many versions of Buenos Aires, one for each inhabitant, one for each visitor." She then added, "There are also many, many versions of every story, person, city, idea — which discourages thoughtless, impersonal judgments in favor of more complex, nuanced ways of processing the world that human beings have created." The global education opportunities at NYUAD provide us with the tools to understand new cultures and to develop appreciation for complexity and diversity. It is our responsibility to use these tools and keep exploring the world.