Q&A | A Scholar’s Life in Buenos Aires

Kelsey Shipman in Uyuni, Bolivia on one of her weekend excursions from Buenos Aires.

The Tower Center talked with HCM Tower Scholar Kelsey Shipman about her experience studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shipman is a sophomore studying economics, public policy and foreign language. While in Buenos Aires she is interning with CIPPEC (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento) and attending classes.

Describe your life in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The past few months, I have been living with a host family in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have breakfast and dinner together each weekday, which has given me ample opportunities to practice my Spanish. Many of our meals consist of beef, as beef is the most popular meat in the country. The unofficial national drink of Argentina is a type of tea called maté. Maté is prepared in a special gourd-like cup with a straw that filters out the leaves of the tea. The leaves of the tea are poured directly into the cup and sometimes sugar is added as well, although the traditional way of consuming the tea is without any sweetener added. Many people bring a thermos and a bag of maté with them to work to drink throughout the day, and it is very common to see maté drinkers hanging out in parks or other public areas.

On the weekends, I often attend cultural shows and festivals in the city, such as tango expositions and musical performances, while many other weekends I have traveled to other areas of the country and continent, ranging from locations such as Mendoza, Argentina to the Brazilian Amazon. These experiences have given me insight into what life is like not only in other regions of Argentina but in other regions of South America as well.

What was a typical day like for you?

Each morning, I walk to school along one of the main streets of Buenos Aires, Sante Fe. My classes are taught all in Spanish by local professors. I am taking courses in Argentina’s history, poetry, and literature, as well as Spanish language courses. The classroom setting is much more casual than at SMU, with a large component of the courses consisting of discussion between the professor and students. We also have no class on Friday, which gives me additional time to travel to other areas or to explore the city.

Outside of class, I spend 8-12 hours each week working at CIPPEC, a local public policy think tank. I have been specifically working in their Economic Development department on several projects related to the Argentine economy. The goal of the department is to support economic transparency, efficiency, and equity while promoting fiscal solvency and democratization of budget decisions. On a day-to-day basis I work with a small group of Argentines conducting research and translating documents. I have also prepared presentations regarding the research we have been doing in order to share our findings with the greater community. I have had the opportunity to read primary and secondary sources regarding the economic and political system of Argentina, which have greatly increased my understanding of the current state of the nation.

What is one lesson you took away from your time there?

I have learned to better adapt to cultural differences, as well as the different pace of life here in Argentina. For instance, each day at work, my coworkers tend to arrive anywhere from 9:10-9:30, with the work day technically beginning at 9:00. In addition, I have learned a great deal about the Spanish language, particularly the ways in which it varies across regions and nations. The accent and pronunciation of Argentine Spanish was slightly difficult for me to understand at first, though now I have become much more confident in speaking and understanding a wide variety of Spanish accents.

How has this experience impacted your goals for the future?

The experience of interning at CIPPEC has reaffirmed my desire to work in international policy post-graduation. I hope to work in several different countries throughout my life, and the experience of working here in Argentina has been a wonderful opportunity to enter the workforce of another cultural and economic system. In addition, working in a bilingual environment has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone by discussing complex ideas in a different language, something I hope to continue doing in my future career.

How has this experience enhanced your study of PPIA, or vice versa, how has PPIA enhanced your experience abroad?

I have really appreciated immersing myself in the professional world of Argentina, and I think that this hands-on experience working in public policy has enhanced my understanding of PPIA in a global sense. With my background in PPIA I came to Argentina eager to learn more about the ways in which current public policy endeavors are affecting the country’s citizens; having the chance to contribute to public policy-related research has been very fascinating for me. I have really enjoyed discussing political issues with members of the professional community, my host family, and my peers at local universities. It has been very impactful for me to have the opportunity to analyze ongoing public policy initiatives first-hand.