Saturday, March 1, 2008

Argentine University System from Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina

I haven´t had a lot of time lately to post because orientation has been demanding. Finally I´m going to take some time to explain some idiosyncrasies about the Argentine university system, so the next blog posts might make some sense. I´m blogging from Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina, and I promise you I will be posting photos from this experience in the next two days.

One of the main reasons that I picked the Butler University program (aka COPA) was because it is a very unique program. I found no other program that permited students to take courses in 4 different internationally acclaimed universities. It is certainly something that makes this program unique and (at times) complicated.

With COPA it is possible to take courses at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), Universidad de di Tella (Di Tella), Universidad de Salvator (USAL) and Universidad de Católica (UCA), which are all located in Buenos Aires. While this is an awesome opportunity, it also creates some logistical problems.

First let me speak to these problems. All of the universities in Buenos Aires are at different locations--or one university at multiple locations. This is partly because the concept of a campus is nearly nonexistent in Buenos Aires, rather the schools are loosely held together by a University name and scatterred throughout the city. You might compare Argentine universities to Georgetown or New York City University since they are two universities that don't have a "traditional campus". To compound the problems, multiply the sprawl of 4 universities over one of the world´s largest cities and you will realize how complicated scheduling and getting to class can be--a logistical nightmare.

The good thing is that each university has its own charm. Di Tella is known for its International Relations and strong academics--also a private school. UBA is known as the most prestigious public school in Argentina and has the reputation of being the hardest, too. UCA and USAL are reputable universities in their own rights, but they´re private schools. It´s been neat to visit each school during orientation and seeing their individual character--almost like hunting for college all over again.

To give you a better idea, let me give you an example day: A student could start the day by taking a bus, or colectivo, to Belgrano for a class at Di Tella. Next, take a bus back to Microcentro for a noon class at UCA. Study at a café in a small group after class in Puerto Madero and then take the Subte (subway) to Caballito to take a 5:45PM course at UBA Filosofía de Letras. Go back home for dinner via colectivo, and then head out for a group study session over coffee or a glass of wine...all before sleeping around 11:30PM.

This is only possible due to the generally organized transit system that exists in Buenos Aires, because literally a typical student´s day in COPA covers many kilometers mixed with public transportation and walking. Clearly this is not something you could do in most cities in the US. This makes selecting classes and having a cohesive schedule difficult, but the rewards are definitely going to be worth it.

The other unique thing about this program is that there are very few requirements and lots of flexibility. For example, the only required course within the program is spanish or Castellano class. COPA does provide "Tracks" in multiple areas, such as Gender studies, Human Rights, Film, and Independent Study tracks.

Now for the downside to all of this. Because there are technically 5 university systems, if you include COPA in this, there are a host of different deadlines and credits. Each university has their own rules governing registering for classes and dropping classes, but by and large, it´s possible to register for many courses and select which ones you want to take over a 1 month period.

Going back to my first "day" scenario: Add the pressure of trying upwards of 20 classes out within a two week period and you´ll realize how crazy my life will be for the next 3 weeks. The good thing is that after these three weeks, I don´t think I will have any problems navigating the city at all.

I learned a lot this week about the differences between US classrooms and classrooms in Argentina, but I will save them for experiential anecdotes.

I will share this. In Argentina, the textbooks cost crazy amounts of money. In general the professors select a photocopy place near the university. The professor puts everything from the syllabus to the readings in these places. This adds another task to the to-do list for the first week of classes.

I have much more to share, but not now. I will add more soon. Thanks for all of your emails; I enjoy hearing from all of you.

¡Chau de Patagonia! Dave

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