Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Yes, I do go to class

I swear, although it honestly still doesn’t feel like I do and I am starting to think it never will. Considering my final two semesters of college are shaping up to be killers that I will love in my usual academically masochistic ways, I am not even remotely ashamed for the classes I chose to take while on study abroad. What does that lead to? Well, if you know me well you can probably guess. Art, music, and nature. This is the kinda-final list of classes I’m registered for this semester:

-       Ecología de las zonas áridas
-       Modelado y color cerámica
-       Dibujo III
-       Instrumenta armónica: guitarra
-       Español

I don’t have a single class starting before noon, something I completely did not try for but am not complaining about. I really can’t decide which class is my favorite so far, but all of them are outrageously flexible in their Argentine ways.

Ecología is easily the most “legitimate” class I’m taking, with a classic lecture set-up and PowerPoints galore. It’s lucky that la profesora puts her PowerPoints on DropBox afterwards, so I am able to soak in the lecture and listen to the other students’ commentary during class. I still take a lot of notes and comprehension isn’t hard—many of the concepts are things I learned in high school Biology or just from a lifetime of being curious about the natural world, plus most of the Spanish terminology is cognates. That leaves the only real problem to spelling, if I am taking notes, and following when my profesora goes on high-speed rants about the water crisis in this region of the Andes. It is all SO SIMILAR to New Mexico that I’ve actually had some things to say. It was really fun once when the two gringas of the 25-person class, Katie y yo, got singled out to talk about Mount Saint Helens. You could feel the entire class shift their attention to the usually silent chicas at the front as we tripped out a commentary on a place neither of us have ever been to. Nonetheless, I really like how discussion-based the class is each week. It is my one class at Universidad de Congreso, the private university that is only slightly larger than Wheaton, so I love the welcoming and familiar atmosphere. It feels just like a Spanish class at Wheaton, but with the other students being wicked good at speaking Spanish. One crazy part about this class? It is once a week from 6 to 10pm on Fridays. Yes, I voluntarily have class until 10pm on Fridays. It’s actually perfectly fine, since that’s still time to get home for dinner con la familia and then out with friends by the early hour of midnight.

Cerámica has been off to a very strange start. It took me weeks to finally get a straight answer as to which class to go to, after hearing different stories from five sources. Finally, I ended up in the right place at the right time, but only with three other students, all intercambios, in the entire class: two American friends from my same study abroad program and one super nice girl from Puerto Rico. We waited a whopping hour and a half for our professor to arrive and were about to give up when he finally showed up, decided he wanted to change the class time from 4-7pm to 6-9pm Thursdays, and then whipped out the clay. We can still arrive early to get cracking if we wish, and I absolutely plan to, every single week. I am lucky enough to already know how to throw pottery, and it is one of my absolute favorite things on this planet. The first and only art class I ever let myself take before college was Ceramics in my high school junior year and it essentially changed my life. Then I broke my foot, and couldn’t operate the wheel for the rest of the semester, only to continue on to a college that doesn’t have a ceramics department, so I have been deprived for a whopping four years. When I got back on that wheel, man, my life was made. It’s amazing how muscle memory works and I have every intention to be in that studio as often as they leave it unlocked.

Dibujo (drawing) has been a similar love reignited. I generally restrict myself to studying my other love of the sciences, and drawing, painting, and creating outside of formal classes. Last spring, I finally took the one and only art class I’ve taken at Wheaton: Drawing I. It was wonderful and possibly my favorite class so far at Wheaton (apologies to my major professors, I love CS and math too!). The professor had such an interesting way of linking art perspectives to life perspectives, and I have never been quite so challenged by drawing before. Here, I decided not to mess around and just went for it with the third and final year available to drawing. It’s essentially an open studio twice a week that is entirely figure drawing—the models will be there, so you can show up whenever you want to draw. I adore it and have already started experimenting with materials and new perceptions of the human body that are difficult for me. I constantly fear that I’m not allowed to be here with these super talented artists. I tried to go as long as I could without telling anyone that I was a computer science major, but failed miserably within about five minutes. Yes, I am studying art in Mendoza. Yes, I study la informática y las matemáticas en los Estados Unidos. I am aware that I am strange. Nevertheless, I’m actually keeping up to speed with the rest of the gigantic studio, and I am happy to be judged for my work rather than my resume. That’s art for you.

I haven’t even been to Guitarra yet, and it’s looking unlikely. I don’t need the credits, the Instituto Chopin is very far away by iffy micro (bus) service, and you need to buy your own guitar. I am still in search of a guitar and may switch to taking piano lessons to avoid the outrageously expensive lessons Wheaton offers, but I still have hope. If all else fails, I’m aiming to find the first person I see with a guitar and offer English lessons in exchange for guitar lessons. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Español is the required Spanish class through my program, IFSA-Butler, so it is entirely with other Americans twice a week in small classes of about eight people. Each is named after a character from a famous Argentine cartoon similar to Peanuts and ours, Susanita, has turned into a family. We’re the happy middle group and the teaching style of our profesora, Gladys, has finally started making sense. I’ve figured out what my problem with learning Spanish has been all these years—I’ve been taking classes. Don’t take classes. Just dump yourself in a Spanish-speaking country and flounder. You’ll figure it out: you have to.

That’s exactly what I did in Chile and now am concerned my Spanish is getting worse because of being around Americans so often and trying to be perfect in the class setting. That’s not the language; that is a test setting. The language is conversing and making a million mistakes but still getting your point across. I am so much more uncomfortable in the class and am timid in my Spanish, but when I’m out talking to native speakers anywhere else it’s like I’m a completely different person. I just power through and make friends easily, even if I didn’t get that conjugation right or have to awkwardly explain a word for not knowing the exact term. The first time my friend Katie heard me
I absolutely adore these trees
speak Spanish to an Argentine, she turned to me afterwards and said “so you really know how to speak Spanish!” …Evidently I do! But I’m just so much more confident with native speakers and Chile really was what got me to actually being able to converse. If I’m speaking with a fellow learning American, it is far too easy to not experiment with words, question yourself rather than going for it, or collapse back into English.

Apologies for the lack of photos in this rather boring post and for writing twice in way too short a time, but I promise I’ll have more interesting things to say in future! (And may try to take photos of the studios to put on this post). Off to trek to the Plaza Francia Base Camp at 4,254 m on Aconcagua for a short weekend jaunt! So excited! Hallelujah, mountains!!

Much love from a happily art-drowned gringa,

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to your post on the Aconcaqua expedition. You'll probably have a lot to say about headaches... 2400' to 16,000' base camp will do that to you. My record is 18K' atop Orizaba. Later, climbing Ixty and Popo, I knew what to expect and did much better. Just drink plenty of fluids; your appetite will probably be shot.

    Re: Mt. St. Helens. Prof. Dahm at UNM is the expert on the ecology of the place. As a young U.O. professor, he had just completed a limnological survey of the upper Toutle River when the mountain blew its top. Talk about baseline data. He parleyed that into a huge follow-up grant and professorship at UNM.