Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rumbo a Argentina

Next semester I’ll be in Buenos Aires, studying at the Universidad Católica de Argentina (UCA).

I'm going mostly for two reasons. The first is Spanish. I've been working on learning the language for a long time (almost 7 years to be exact), and I feel that in order to make it worth all that while, I should try to become as fluent as I can. Here in the United States and at the University I've tried everything I could (reading books, listening to the radio, conversation partner programs, and the like), and it's all worked well so far. But now I'm at that point where I need to finally immerse myself. My hope is that I can solidfy my Spanish as much as possibly while I'm there. At the same time, though, I not only want to learn Spanish, but also use it as well: I've been in "practice mode" for the past seven years, and I'm ready to finally put it to work in real life. In Argentina I'll have to rely on my Spanish to get around and get things done, and that, in my mind, is a wonderful way of culminating all these years of study.

The second reason for studying abroad dovetails somewhat with the first. You see, the reason I'm so eager to learn Spanish in the first place is that I think it opens up worlds. In not knowing Spanish, I felt blocked off from millions of people; their culture, ideas, hopes, and fears seemed off-limits. But now those barriers have fallen, and I can interact meaningfully with a whole new group of people.

As a student of economics, I find this “opening of worlds” terribly exciting. Each country has its own way of organizing itself, is own goals and priorities, and its own way of tackling social problems. Here in the U.S. we naturally focus on our own approach—but of course ours is not the only one. In my economics classes at UCA, I am curious to see whether Argentinean economists understand their field in a different way than Americans (and a cursory perusal of their journal articles suggests they do), or whether they have a different perspective on world affairs. More broadly, I think living in Argentina will help broaden my understanding of my field, especially by providing me with real-life examples of how different social norms, customs, and institutions influence economic activity.

In the long run I hope to become a professor, if not of economics then in some field related to the social sciences. Part of being a professor, it seems, is thinking critically about one’s field, and international exposure is one way I can force myself to consider and reconsider my assumptions. Indeed, that's the only way we grow.

NB: I don't mean for my blog to be autobiographical, but I'm making an exception here because I find explaining myself like this helpful in clarifying my own thoughts. This trip is a big move on my part, and it's important that I think through what I'm getting myself into.

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