So why are you studying here?

August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

…I have been asked several times in the three weeks I’ve been here. Not an unreasonable question, and one with no immediately obvious answer, beyond the fact that I had to do something, somewhere for a year. But as it turns out, I think the faculty of philosophy and literature at UBA (Buenos Aires’ public university) will work quite well for me. There are some great teachers and courses – and it’s not quite like university at home, which I reckon is a good thing.

In fact, one of the more common discussions I seem to have with friends and family in the UK is over what a university should be for, what ‘university’ really means. This may not the place to wade into the depths of that debate (but please comment if you disagree!), one thing I have clear now is that ‘university’ in Argentina means political activism, or an appearance of it, on a scale quite unlike anything in Britain. Here are a few photos of my faculty to illustrate (not mine – from here):

As the last photo suggests, it’s not just a question of politics, but of very left-wing politics: lots of slogans about revolution and solidarity. In the run-up to the elections this past Sunday, I was a bit bewildered by the sheer variety of different socialist parties on offer: the workers’ movement, the socialist workers’ party, the ‘Consequential Left’ (my favourite). Admittedly I don’t think any of these have much force in the country or even the city, but they clearly mean something within the faculty.

Do I wish Cambridge was more like this? Not really, but it makes a refreshing change from the dinner jackets at the Union. And it’s nice to know that some people in the world are daring to think beyond the standard Western capitlalist framework (regardless of whether you think they make any sense). Oh, and they have a good sense of humour:

This is not a chair

Of course, you might equally say that they’re conforming to a standard student type in an entirely predictable way. Once I know some more people there I’ll have to ask – though from what I’ve heard from other porteños (Buenos Aires residents) the faculty certainly has that reputation.

The other reputation is has, which I’ve already had confirmed through personal experience, is that of organisational chaos. Last Friday afternoon, I was scheduled to have a class in ‘Problems in Latin American Literature’, but five minutes after the lecturer had started, an alarm went off. A student popped round to tell us to evacuate the building, and everyone grabbed the things and sauntered downstairs, merrily commenting that it was another bomb alert, what a nuisance, and that we’d have to wait a couple of hours for the police to come. So wait we did, hundreds of people completely blocking the street outside, but at the end of two hours the police hadn’t come and the impromptu group I’d become a part of decided to call it a day.

As far as I understand (and no one was really sure what was going on), it was nothing more than someone calling the police for a laugh. But I also gather it’s a pretty frequent thing (‘practically every Thursday last term’, I heard someone say) – not that the police can ever just discard it. One day there might be real wolf…though I suspect it would probably pick some juicier targets first.

What else have I been up to in the last few days? I’ve seen a couple of films (one – Ausente – excellent, and the other – Copie conforme – good but utterly bewildering). We had a somewhat larger than expected party at our house on Saturday night, and I have generally been enjoying the company of locals and fellow foreigners. I looked back at an old message from a friend about BA the other day, where she said she thought it was impossible to be lonely here. I’m sure that’s not quite true, but from my own experience of people’s warmth and buena onda, I can’t really help but agree.


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