Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior Spanish and communication double-major Alex Luna ’17 shares what he learned about the value of political engagement in Buenos Aires, Argentina while studying there during Fall 2015.
By Alex Luna ’17
This past semester, I have been living and studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to attend a cultural language exchange club called “Mate Club de Conversación.” Mate is an herbal tea that the Argentines drink socially, to study, or stay alert during a long workday. It has become an integral part of Argentine culture. Preparing a good “mate” has become a tradition in itself. There has even become a judged, national contest each year to see who can prepare the best tasting mate. To put it frankly, mate is a BIG deal in Argentina.
At Mate Club de Conversación, we talk 15 minutes in Spanish and 15 minutes in English while sharing a “mate.” The setup allows us to both work on our foreign language while at the same time enjoying each other’s company. No topic is taboo at Mate Club. It has been here that I have fully understood what Argentina was, is, and hopes to be.
During the past six months, Argentina has been in their process of electing a new president. I believe that everyone should experience the political process of a foreign country for it will truly challenge the one where you live. Living in Buenos Aires, the national capitol of Argentina, there are people of every background and political mindset mixed together. Mate Club brings a diverse group of people from many backgrounds, age groups, and political mindsets together in one setting.
During my time attending Mate Club, I was given an insight into the minds of many different people and what they thought. In Argentina, it is not taboo to talk about politics or the political process. Friends, new acquaintances, and family can share opposing views without fear of ruined friendships or hurt feelings. Almost every conversation with a new Argentine friend started with a chat about politics in Argentina and the United States.
Argentines understand the importance of democracy for it was only a little over 30 years ago that it was restored from a harsh dictatorship. This fervor and invested interest in politics made me wonder what our political participation was once like during the birth of our country. Our deadlocked political system where we are scared to talk about our political views must be changed. For political change to happen, we must be able to talk about it freely, without fear of a lost friendship or heavily, heated debate. The Argentines understand this. We should learn from them.
These raw conversations have challenged the way I think about the world and who I am. If you are ever in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend attending Mate Club de Conversación. It is here that I have made friends and learned lessons that I will keep for a lifetime.
Want to learn more about mate? Traveling to Argentina and want to plug in with Mate Club de Conversación? Visit http://www.mate-club.com.ar.