NEVER suggest the playa.

They say patience is a virtue, right?

Today I went downtown with my host mom to run a couple of errands; she needed to stop in the bank and I needed to make a couple photocopies. There are countless busses that pass by our house and go right into the center of downtown, but she insisted that we drive. So I hopped in the car and we headed downtown. Let me just start by saying she is not the best driver that ever got behind the wheel (nor is she the worst). Regardless, she honked her horn and cursed constantly inside the car; the blue Audi ahead of us was a ‘peligro‘ and shouldn’t have been allowed on the road. After forgetting (personally I think she was just too distracted by all of the traffic around us) to turn at the correct street, we meandered the traffic filled streets of the city, hoping to find a parking spot on the side of the road. We drove around for at least a half an hour but could not seem to find a spot anywhere near the bank. We had passed by at least 6 ‘playas‘ or parking lots and so I suggested we pull into one if we go around one more time and can’t find a spot. Lesson learned. I should have kept my mouth shut. After my proposal I got a lecture about how expensive the playas are (6 pesos an hour; $US1.40/hr) and how they are a scam, and how the convenience is not worth it, yada yada yada. So, I bit my lip and tried not to laugh as Susy started getting more and more flustered with the fact that she couldn’t find a parallel spot. A painful 10 minutes later, we finally found a spot somewhat close to the bank. Breathing heavily, cursing, and throwing off her coat, she struggled to fit her auto (sans power steering) into a little parallel spot on a busy downtown street.

After another hysterical experience at the bank and a quick stop at the fotocopiadora, we stopped for a quick coffee and then headed back to find our car. You would think that for all of the effort and time we wasted looking for a spot on the street, it would have been free to park, right? Nope, we both thought wrong. It cost us 4 pesos ( US$0.95) to park for the hour we were downtown. It’s funny what people will do to save 2 pesos. I’m 100% SURE that money we saved in parking, we wasted during our 6 trips around the city. But hey, what do I know.

please forgive me, i’m converting.

Dear gods of type-A-anity and all of my fellow type-A followers,

Please forgive me; I’m converting. Why, you ask, would anyone give up order, reason, and planning for disorganization and chaos? SANITY. It’s nearly impossible to live a type-A life in a predominately type-B country. As I sit  here at one of my new favorite cafes (recommended by my host mom) and try to create a color coded excel spreadsheet of my schedule for the entire semester (I blame my accounting brain for this), the Argentine’s are busy living perfectly successful lives sans aforementioned carefully calculated spreadsheets and to-do lists. So as I realize I’m missing out, I’m slowly (very very slowly) converting to what I like to call type-B-anity. Who knows… by December, I may be a fully fledged type-B. BEWARE.

Sometimes I wonder how a country can function with so little planning and a great lack of internal organization. Although I haven’t quite exactly figured out how, one thing I have figured out is somehow, it just does. As I try to explain to my host mom how much I have to learn when it comes to living my life so haphazardly all she can do is laugh and mutter, “María, somos un país MUY desordenado. Pero por lo menos, funciona.” (Mariah, we are a VERY disorganized country but, for the most part we get by just fine.)

There are a couple parts of my new life where this lack of order has been incredibly prevalent and also somewhat trying. First off, figuring out my classes has been a struggle, to say the least.

Reason #1.The US education system allows most students to take classes in multiple disciplines from different colleges within one University and allows students to choose professors and a schedule they like. Argentine students on the other hand decide long before they even attend university what they will study. After choosing a carrera (similar to a major), they are given a strict set of classes that they must pass in order to receive their degree. Each semester, students in each carrera take a number of classes; all together, in the same building with the same professor. Their schedule works because they all take these same classes; hopping from one materia or class within the same college is NO problem at all. You should see their faces when I try to explain the fact that I’m taking classes in the theater department (Improvisation – stay tuned for HYTERICAL accounts from this class), the school of social work, and the school of language and philosophy. As American students with a very different system of credits and various requirements, integrating into this system automatically creates problems.

Reason #2. I have to find classes that will actually transfer back to the University of Denver.

Reason #3. Because I am taking classes in various carreras, I have to find classes that don’t overlap. This has proven to be one of the most difficult feats. WHY?

a. At any moment professors have and take full advantage of their right to change the time and location of his or her class.

b. Although all of the facultades or colleges fall under the umbrella of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, each college functions completely independently – each with its own politics and personality.

c. The only place to actually find class schedules is inside of each individual facultad, usually posted on a wall on the second or third floor on some arbitrary wall or bulletin board.

–I’ve made it through the week and have figured out a schedule that works, more or less..I don’t start class until 1pm at the earliest but I also don’t finish with class until 7 or 8 at night, 9pm on Mondays. I’ve had some great encounters with local students; they say they can pick out exchange students immediately (the fact that I arrive 20 minutes early to each class may have something to do with it) and have been great at  helping me integrate into their facultades. I’ve also had a good laugh about the fotocopiadora (copy center) which produces thousands and thousands of (illegal) sets of copyrighted academic material each day. Students here don’t buy books, instead, at the beginning – or at least within the first month- of each semester each professor creates a folder of all of the required reading material and bring it to the fotocopiadora. From this master set, each student requests a copy and pays almost nothing for material that would normally put them out thousands of pesos. I can’t do anything but laugh and hop in line to get my very own copy.–

When else did my type-A personality kick my butt? This past weekend was especially type-B-esque. A few of us from IFSA had planned to go to Potrerillos, a small mountain town with hiking and beautiful hiking and a crystal clear lake. A few of us tried to go Saturday but unfortunately didn’t get spots on the bus. So Sunday, we tried again; set our alarms for the break of dawn and made our way to the bus station by 7:00am to secure a spot on the bus that was set to leave at 8:25am. After a brisk morning speed walk to the bus station about 35 minutes from my house, we were able to purchase out tickets ($AR 8.70 a piece. I’ll let you Google that conversion!) for the 1.5 hour ride to Potrerillos. The catch? We couldn’t purchase return ticks. The man behind the counter insisted we could just purchase tickets with the driver on our way back, when the bus was headed back from Potrerillos at 4:30 that afternoon. The fact that this bus has somewhat of a set schedule was a miracle as I should have been extremely thankful but the fact that one girl in our group has been sold a return ticket that morning made me somewhat skeptical. We made it to platform 48 just in time. Our bus, schedules to leave at 8:25am was pulling out of the terminal at 8:05, ahead of schedule. After an absolutely wonderful day in the mountains, we headed to the bus stop around 3:45 to ensure that we didn’t miss the 4:30 bus (the next one wasn’t going to leave until 6:00pm). As promised, I was able to purchase my ticket and secure one of the last seats on an over-crowded bus back to Mendoza.

“La vida pasa mientras hacemos planes.” (“Life happens while we are making plans.”) I couldn’t have stumbled upon a better quote as I try to make what has proven to be a difficult cultural adjustment. In Argentina life happens – without notice, without careful planning, and sometimes without reason. And although I’ve never been comfortable living like this before, I’m learning (slowly) to fly by the seat of my pants and to live on the edge. I’m becoming a born-again TYPE-B.