The Cavalier Daily
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Adios amigos: Final thoughts from Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES--All good things must come to an end they say, and unfortunately that is also the case with this semester abroad. A lot of stuff has gone down here in Argentina, and hopefully it has influenced me and my fellow students in a positive way.

Today is the last official day of exams for the international students. I completed mine yesterday evening. Tomorrow night a large portion of the group will depart back to the United States, and I have to admit that I will be very disappointed to see most of these people go. In a certain way, study abroad programs (at least mine), resemble a high school experience. You're thrust into a group of people you mostly (or in my case, completely) do not know, and become good friends with many of them over the course of almost four months. And then, just as after high school graduation, everyone goes their separate ways (unless all of them attend the University, but that's beside the point).

On one hand, I have to envy the people heading home tomorrow because by the time this article is printed, they will have already plunged back, head-first, into U.S. culture. But by the same token, I know it is for the best that I am not returning until Dec. 3, simply because I am having too much fun right now. But I have to admit, I'm starving for some U.S.-style efficiency and low prices.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. My parents were down here about a month ago. When they returned home, my Mom immediately mailed me some forms I would need to choose classes for the spring semester at the University. That was about five weeks ago.

And guess what, those papers still haven't arrived. I will be pleasantly shocked if they ever do.

The mail system here (and I imagine this applies to most of Latin America, in more extreme forms) is a good example of the different way customers are treated. Back home, we have this attitude that the customer always comes first, and is always right. They throw that kind of thinking out the window in a lot of places here. I really can't explain it perfectly myself. Maybe it's because the wages down here are only about one quarter of what they are in the U.S. Or maybe it's just the stereotypical "mañana" attitude rearing its ugly head.

Another example of these differences is the small change dilemma. There is a severe shortage of coins in Buenos Aires. Cashiers always will ask if you have smaller bills just so they don't have to giver you any of theirs. You must have to use the city buses. I would estimate that I've spent about $100 this semester in small purchases just so I could have change for the colectivo. You can forget about getting change by merely asking for it politely.

The lack of machine-like efficiency and sugary politeness in the retail sector is a refreshing change, even though it takes some serious getting used to. I only wish I could have been that way when I worked there.

In case you hadn't heard, we had an election here. On Oct. 24, Argentina held its fourth presidential election since the return of democracy in 1983. It was very interesting to observe this process because unlike in the U.S., voting is obligatory. It's a law that most people are not in favor of, but they also realize that hardly anyone would vote if they were not required. The winner was Fernando de la Rúa, the current mayor of Buenos Aires. He's more or less a centrist, and even ran ads claiming how "boring" he is. After the overflowing flamboyance of the outgoing president, Carlos Menem, that seems to be what most people want.

My favorite part of the electoral process, however, was not the campaign of either of the main two candidates, but rather the leftist candidates on the fringe of Argentine politics. The funniest political poster, in my view, belonged to the Workers' Party. On the top it read: "Los Yankis tienen dos candidatos" (the Yankees have two candidates). It was obviously a reference to how the two leading candidates were not going to do anything drastically in contrast with the U.S. I found it fascinating how much people take the U.S.'s actions and policies into account when they read the news and make voting decisions. Because unfortunately, most people in the U.S. don't have a very clear idea how important our country's role is in the world.

I have very mixed emotions about only having 20 days left in Buenos Aires. At some times, I wish I could just hop on a plane right now and head on home. But then I have to remind myself that I won't likely be back here anytime soon. And like everything else in life, you've got to take advantage.


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