First Tango in Argentina

By Hope Hicks '05


When people ask me what my favorite part of my trip to Argentina has been so far, I never quite know what to say. Is it the lively milongas, (see translations below) the juicy asados, or the potent mate? Could it be the friendliness of the people of Santa Fe, their relentless sense of humor, or their way of making foreigners feel right at home? Or maybe it's the culture classes I teach at the Instituto Superior Particular Incorporado No. 4020, San Roque, the time I spend with my host siblings, telling stories about my weekend trips to other parts of the country, or our neighbor who insists on calling me "gordita" (well, okay, perhaps I've gone too far there). Whatever is in first place, however, I'm certain that the Argentine dulce de leche comes in at a close second!

Judging by the grueling application process and by the way people treated me after winning the scholarship, I felt nervous about the work I would be expected to complete in Argentina. Within a week after receiving my acceptance letter from the Fulbright Commission, University professors and employees I barely knew began to stop me in the University Center to congratulate me. People treated me with more respect when they learned that I was a Fulbrighter, and when they introduced me to others, the word "Fulbright" almost always found its way into the first minute of the conversation. I wondered what people might have said if I hadn't won the scholarship. I also wondered what the other Fulbrighters would be like and what, exactly, would be expected of me in Argentina.

Upon my arrival in Argentina many of my doubts and worries were laid to rest. I was delighted to find that I fit in well with the group of Fulbright ETAs and that the work I would be expected to complete here was at just the right level. I was assigned to assist in English classrooms about nine hours per week and to teach full lessons about three hours a week on topics such as the U.S. government and popular U.S. slang. Other concerns, like experiencing anti-American prejudices because of the war in Iraq and border disputes with Mexico, disappeared when I discovered that Argentines have quite a knack for distinguishing between the government of a nation and the personal beliefs of an individual. Also, learning to use the Argentine "vos" wasn't nearly as problematic as I had previously thought.

Of course, not all of the surprises I have faced here have been positive. At first I was disappointed to have been placed in Santa Fe, and not in Buenos Aires, the so-called "heart of Tango." My plans to complete a small research project on Argentine Tango were foiled the instant I opened my placement letter. When I arrived in Santa Fe and learned that most Argentines from the Interior - which includes the whole of Argentina less its capital - don't dance Tango, I wanted to cry. However, after a couple of weeks of investigating, I found five Tango lessons I could take in Santa Fe per week, as well as an Argentine Folklore Dance class that would be instructed once a week. As I was unable to find an academic class on Tango, I decided to make time during the week to conduct my own studies, which would occasionally include six hour bus rides to Buenos Aires to take part in large Tango festivals.

These past two months have flown by, and I am excited to see what new adventures and challenges the next six months of the program will present. When December comes and it is time to leave Santa Fe, I know I will find it difficult to say "adios." However, I am eager to share what I have learned here in Argentina with others when I return home to Oregon. In the mean time, I will keep traveling, dancing, and enjoying a fall season without Oregon rain.