“I have been living as an exchange student in Buenos Aires for about two months now. I realized on my first day that I had made a great decision. The first conversation I had with my host mother set the tone for my visit: it was spent discussing Indian politics as she wanted to talk to me about Indira Gandhi and draw comparisons between her and other women leaders, such as Eva Perón. I was impressed, to say the least.
People here are fascinated to meet an Indian, and more often than not, I will be the first Indian they have ever met. I have received nothing but positive reactions from every Argentine I have met here. They all want to talk about the Indian economy, Indian films, Indian food, Indian politics, and of course, issues like poverty and education. I had studied Spanish for four years before coming here, but never had the opportunity to speak it in a native environment, so at first it was hard trying to answer a barrage of questions about India in Spanish. However, I have now realized that people initially ask me the same kinds of questions, and my answers are so rehearsed that they think my Spanish is better than it really is!
I haven’t had the chance to travel around Argentina yet, but I did visit the Iguazú Falls (where I saw some other Indian tourists!). As for Buenos Aires, I am completely in love with the city. Being from Mumbai, I feel very much at home and comfortable in another big city. The arts are especially valued here, and there is no dearth of theatres, ballets, operas, music concerts or art shows to visit, and most are affordable to an average student. Museums, tango lessons, wonderful restaurants, street fairs, libraries and bookstores – the city is exploding with things to do and see. For a tourist, and as a newly arrived student, it is an exhilarating experience.
Living with a family here also made me realize how similarly Indians and Argentines value family and friends, and how warmly I have been received by my host mother’s relatives and friends just by association with her. Socially, I do find that Argentines are more outgoing than Indians, although both cultures are known for their warmth and friendliness. It is easy to meet people and make friends, even of different age groups, as the social norms here are very different and, in my opinion, more relaxed.
The visa process in order to get to Argentina was somewhat exasperating. I can only hope that with more awareness of Argentina, increased study of Spanish, and steadily improving relations between the two countries, more students will be encouraged to discover this wonderful country, resulting in a much easier visa process! However, despite being newly opened, the Argentine Consulate in Mumbai was amazing – they made a complicated situation much easier by helping me with my paperwork, sharing advice about Argentina and just calming me down when I got too upset.
For an Indian, Argentina is incredibly welcoming. I felt right at home not only because I was in a big city again, but also because people are genuinely excited to meet me and talk with me about India and ask me questions about my family and friends at home. I can only hope that increasing numbers of Indians decide to make the trip here – despite the incredible length and expense of the journey, it is truly worth every second!”