Current Corvias scholar Katelyn Mann recently finished a semester spent studying abroad with the School for International Training in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Katelyn is heading into her senior year at Green Mountain College in Vermont and is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and community development. Her incredible adventures and rich learning in Argentina are a testament to the power of study abroad experiences, and Katelyn agreed to discuss her experience with the Corvias Connects blog so that other members of our community can use her experiences as a way to better understand what it’s like to live and learn abroad.
- What made you want to study abroad?
As an army brat with both parents in the service growing up, I moved 19 times and never lived in a place for more than two years until college arrived. I attend Green Mountain College, a small (less then 500 students) environmental studies and sustainability-focused university located in rural Vermont. Two weeks into my freshman year at Green Mountain, I moved onto a student cooperative where I lived in the same room and community for two and a half years before I spent junior spring studying in Argentina. It is an incredible feeling having a comfortable place to settle into and call home, but with my childhood structure I have the wanderlust and ants-in-my-pants lifestyle sewn into my personality. I knew I needed to step out of Green Mountain for a bit to come back for my senior year rested and rejuvenated. I also wanted to expand my educational horizons—I am a huge believer in the power of experiential education and gaining wisdom through exploration. I worked at a dairy cooperative in Peru during a gap year before starting college for this reason. I wanted to step once again into a completely different environment to see how what I was learning about sustainable community development at Green Mountain applied in another context.
- How did you decide to study in Argentina?
Argentina suffered one of the most recent dictatorships in South America, ending in 1983. In 2001, Argentina suffered an extreme economic crisis. These two disastrous historic periods set the seeds for strong grassroots social movements in Argentina focusing on human rights, social justice, and environmental justice that still thrive today. I wanted to study the growth and theory behind these social movements, especially with the current political environment in the U.S. and the growth of social movements state side. At Green Mountain, I study sustainable community development and agroecology. I love looking into participatory planning, community led facilitation, and other tools for locally led development. Grassroots participation in social movements is a huge tool for positive change.
- Could you explain to us what the School for International Training is, and how its programs work?
First off- SIT is incredible. Here is their mission statement: “SIT prepares students to be interculturally effective leaders, professionals, and citizens. In so doing, SIT fosters a worldwide network of individuals and organizations committed to responsible global citizenship. SIT fulfills this mission with field-based academic study abroad programs for undergraduates and accredited master’s degrees and certificate programs for graduates and professionals.” SIT has college study abroad programs—semester and summer—all around the world, focused on critical issues such as environmental health and sustainability, just urban development, peace studies, immigration and discrimination. Incredibly important current topics. The programs are run by local staff and the professors are from local universities or organizations, where ever you are. Many of their programs in Latin America are taught in Spanish, which is why I was first drawn to the program. They have a reputation for being an academically challenging, and rewarding, program. I would say that to be absolutely true. During my program, we were based in Buenos Aires at a faculty office space in a building which we shared with a few other research organizations and NGOs. We had lectures and classes by professors that were the experts of their fields- we would be reading articles written by our professors. We took two large trips—around 10-14 days—in which we traveled in the South and North of Argentina to meet social movements and organizations and learn about their place-based issues, work, and campaigns. While in the city, we had opportunities to meet with urban movements and organizations and join or observe protests and manifestations (which in Buenos Aires, happen a few times a week). The topics of the issues ranged, as did the backgrounds of the students, so each of us had the opportunity to focus in on what we were most passionate about. The semester was packed full, and the best experiential education opportunity I have ever had.
- What kinds of classes did you take in Argentina?
I took History of Human Rights in Argentina, Social Movements Theory, Research Methods and Ethics, Spanish, and in my last month I completed an Internship and mini-thesis with the agroecological cooperative Iriarte Verde.
- What has it been like to live in Argentina?
Living in Buenos Aries was hectic, fun, and smelly. I play Ultimate Frisbee, which has a small but loyal following in Buenos Aires. I joined a women’s and a mixed team and made amazing friends on my teams. Argentineans are night owls, so I got very little sleep throughout the semester, even though I am not much of a partier. I bought a teammate’s old bike and we would bike around the city late at night when the traffic had subsided, exploring new neighborhoods and stopping at various plazas to toss a frisbee and drink mate (a traditional South American caffeinated beverage). One of my favorite hangout spots was a bright light lively bar with a vast amount of ping pong tables, free on Tuesday nights. Coming from rural Vermont, living in Buenos Aires seemed like the exact opposite of the setting of my last years of college. Plenty of great restaurants and cafes to explore, various public university faculties that offered open lectures, cultural centers all across the city that hosted free dance classes—you can fill up all your time in a city like Buenos Aires. I loved it, although I did get to the point in which I yearned deeply for a large expansive forest. But the overall best part of living in Buenos Aires was the people—my ultimate teammates and a few students at the University of Buenos Aires that I befriended and I will always keep in touch. I plan to return, and I still send frequent WhatsApp voice memos to my buds to keep my Spanish in tune.
- Have you been able to travel much previously? What have been some of your favorite experiences?
I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, mostly for educational opportunities and conference participations. The most impactful experience was traveling to Peru after graduating high school and living in a small rural village in the mountains, learning and interning at an organic dairy cooperative. I was able to help herders milk their cows, see the centuries old method of community water management, and facilitate a discussion about community sustainability issues at one of the monthly meetings. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn from the cooperative and community members. Another highlight was my first time couchsurfing (an online platform that connects travelers with locals who are willing to host travelers for free for a night or two). I was traveling before a conference I had received a scholarship to attend in Australia. I spent a week with an artist in Sydney, who was also hosting a German women and a Polish family. We all went dumpster diving in the evenings at the organic grocery stores and cooked dinners together, sharing recipes and travel stories. It was incredible to see the generosity and curiosity of everyone, and realize how similar we all are, sharing human emotions and sentiments. My travels have taught me to relish diversity and be open to new experiences at every turn.
- What has surprised you about the study abroad experience?
What surprised me the most was the lack of curiosity some students had for the unknown and new experiences. I would suggest to anyone studying abroad to put a lot of effort into making local friends and practicing the local language. The study abroad experience can be exponentially improved by breaking out of your comfort bubble.
- What have you missed most about the United States?
The ability to buy hummus and good, inexpensive vegetarian food. In Vermont, I am fortunate to have a proliferation of local farms around, making access to organic fresh produce easier than in Buenos Aires, or in many areas of the United States. I had a difficult time finding good lunch or snack foods for an affordable price.
- What advice would you give Corvias Scholars who are thinking of studying abroad?
Get out of your comfort zone to make friends from wherever you are. Join a sport, or art class, or try to go on a date—whatever. Just get out there. Don’t ever be embarrassed by your language abilities—just practice and try to speak the language as much as possible. When my Argentinean friends speak to me in English, I always respond in Spanish, showing them my stubbornness and want to improve. And if you like a bike, try finding one. It made my daily commute much easier and opened up access to the city for me.