Las Universidades

Hello everyone,

I know it has been almost a month since I release a blog post, and I apologize for the delay, but the past two months (I can’t believe I’ve been here two months already!) have been a whirlwind of academic, cultural, and physical adjustment. Now that my classes are solidly underway, I wanted to write a post about my experience with the different universities in Buenos Aires.

The IFSA-butler program is unique in that is allows us to select classes from four different universities in Argentina, as well as from the classes offered by the program office itself. Each student is allowed to try out classes at as many of the universities as they choose before ultimately deciding which classes they want to take. However, each university is located in a different part of the city, and some universities even have different facultades (departments) housed in different buildings that can be up to a 30-minute or more bus ride away.

I decided to try at least one class at each of the four universities (because why not?). While this made my class “shopping week” very stressful, I gained a lot of experience navigating the city and was able get a “feel” for each of the different university environments. The rest of this post is dedicated to giving the pros and cons of each of the four universities at which I have the option of taking classes. Keep in mind as you read that these are my own personal impressions and experiences, so take them with a grain of salt.

Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA):

UCA is located in Puerto Madero, one of the nicest and richest parts of Buenos Aires. The views from campus are spectacular, and in between classes you can find students sipping on Starbucks (yes, they have Starbucks in Buenos Aires), or taking a stroll along the river towards the Puente de la Mujer (an iconic landmark of the city). UCA is unique in that it is one of the few universities in Buenos Aires that has what can be called a “campus.” All of the buildings are constructed of a red-brown brick and they are all located right next to each other. UCA offers a lot of resources to students, including a library, computer labs, sports teams, religious retreats, and more. I, myself, will be taking tennis lessons (starting next week!) with a group of female students from UCA. The university is very well known throughout Argentina and classes can be very challenging. For example, although students in my program only receive three credits for each UCA class, many classes meet twice a week: once for a 3-hour teóricosection and once for a 2-hour práctico section.

When it comes to the social environment, I have very mixed feelings about UCA. On the one hand, UCA has an excellent international student support network. Some of my best friends in Buenos Aires are international students from Holland, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, and Colombia that I met through PALS- an Argentine student group that plans events for the international community at UCA. However, I found it much more difficult to integrate with the Argentines in my classes at UCA than I did at other universities. UCA students tend to come from upper-class families, and their friend groups often extend back to grade school. Most of the Argentines I met (with some exceptions) didn’t seem interested in interacting with new students, and the classroom environment felt closed-off. But, again, this is my personal impression, and I don’t want to generalize to the entire student body.

Pros: great location, variety of resources, international student network, challenging classes

Cons: harder to integrate with locals, 7:45am classes, long final exam period

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Di Tella is the newest and the smallest of the four universities. The university itself holds classes in just a single building equipped with its own cafeteria, coffee shop, library, copy center, and, coming soon….gym. Only about 3000 students attend Di Tella, 10% of which are international students. Classes at Di Tella are challenging and time consuming (students in my program receive 5 credits for every class), but Di Tella professors are known for their excellence. Di Tella offers a plethora of extracurriculars including sports teams, chess, and choirs. In addition, Di Tella is the university that most approximates a US university in terms of organization and class structure. For some, the similarity is a comfort, but in my case I am going to list it as a “con.” Di Tella’s size is an advantage in that it can be much easier to get to know people at a small university. Although I chose not to take a class at Di Tella this semester, others have told me how much they love walking into the building and immediately being able to find someone they know. My issue was that, sitting in the cafeteria in Di Tella, I heard just as much English being spoken as Spanish. While an international campus is something that I value, I felt like I was sitting in the cafeteria back home in Wisconsin. Since I was already taking several classes solely with other exchange students, I wanted a university that felt more “Argentine.” Di Tella is also the university located furthest from where I live, so I really needed to be invested to make the commute worth it. However, overall I love the feel of the school and am looking into taking some classes there next semester.

Pros: small, great facilities, extracurriculars, excellent professors, organized

Cons: difficult classes, similar to US universities, location

Universidad del Salvador (USAL)

Of the four, USAL is the university with the largest variety of class options. It is still technically a private school, but it is a large private school with many different carreras (majors). Although USAL classes are not known for being especially challenging (but of course this depends on the class), the variety and flexibility of class options and makes it an attractive option for exchange students. However, my favorite part about USAL is the people. As a whole, I think that USAL students are very friendly and very inclusive. In every class that I attended, people were genuinely interested in talking to me, in finding out where I was from, why I chose Argentina, etc. People also went out of their way to offer help and to ask me how I was doing, could I understand the professor, did I want to copy their notes…and the list goes on. Argentine students as a whole are very noncompetitive, often studying together or sharing notes from class, but USAL students, in my opinion, take this concept to the next level. Navigating USAL can be a little bit confusing because each facultad is located in a different part of the city (although they are all relatively close), dealing with administrative personnel can be confusing, and professors and advisors don’t always answer emails. As someone who is used to navigating a large university, the adjustment wasn’t quite as frustrating for me as it was for some of my friends, but it can still be difficult to know where to go to get questions answered. That being said, I really enjoy taking classes at USAL. My psicología social class at USAL is one of my favorite classes this semester because I really like the professor, I have a group of Argentine friends in the class, and I am the only exchange student from the US (which really forces me to use my Spanish).

Pros: friendly students and staff, large number of options, location

Cons: time lag in administrative response, comparatively “easy” classes (don’t be fooled, some are really challenging!)

Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA):

Our program directors warned us from day one that “UBA is an experience,” but I didn’t realize what that meant until I attended my first class there during shopping week. UBA is considered the most prestigious university in Buenos Aires. It is large, public, chaotic, and active. UBA students are very politically aware, and the environment at UBA buzzes with energy. The buildings where classes are housed are not the most well-kept: I was surprised at how run-down the university buildings actually were after all the hype I had heard about UBA. However, I think that in many ways the character of the buildings is just another part of the character of the school. As I walked to my classroom, five people tried to hand me pamphlets advertising some sort of student group or political rally. My 4-hour class (don’t worry, we get a break half-way through) was interrupted 3 times by students asking the professor if they could give an announcement about some sort of event. Eventually, the professor wouldn’t let anyone else in because she wanted to make sure she got through all of the material! UBA classes are very challenging and there is always a lot of reading. Because of this extra rigor, students on my program receive 6 credits per UBA class. UBA requires a lot more independence than the other universities. Although students are friendly and, like at USAL, go out of their way to help others out, the UBA environment can seem very unstructured, especially for a US student. Knowing where to go to get readings, what you need to read for next class, and when exams are is not always clear. However, I personally loved the UBA environment, and there are some very wonderful and intellectually simulating classes. I also like that there is no typical “UBA student.” People come to UBA from a wide variety of social classes, backgrounds, and ages. If you want the experience of an Argentine university, there is nothing quite like UBA, and I am very excited (but also nervous!) to take classes there next semester.

Pros: atmosphere, interesting classes, student body, prestige

Cons: rigorous classes, amount of homework/studying, unstructured, facilities/buildings