IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Spring 1)

Argentina 2012 Letter Home

Dear friends and family,

After a long 30+ hour journey, we found ourselves back in the Americas, though one hemisphere to the south and in the sprawling Argentinean metropolis of Buenos Aires. For many of us, this was our first time in Latin America, but it was definitely surprising to see how European this city was. After more than a month in India -- so different from the US -- we all relaxed in the relative familiarity of the city's cafe-and-bookstore culture, its love of medialunas (croissants) and pizza and ice cream, its Italian-esque hand gestures and accent, and its blatantly Parisian-style architecture.

Classes were held in the hip neighborhood of Palermo, and most of us lived within walking distance or a short Subte (subway) or bus ride away. We were headquartered in a room of SUMA, a mental health organization, and our program was run by the ever-enthusiastic Carolina and Sara, with lots of help from Leo and his yerba mate.

We spent a lot of time learning history and the country’s economic background, which seemed to be the lens through which Argentineans like to view their society. Most of us knew nothing about the major political events from the last 50 years, like the fact that all bank accounts were frozen during a financial crisis in 2001 (imagine being stuck abroad or needing an operation without a way to get money) or about the 30,000 desaparecidos or "disappeared" people who were killed by the military junta in the late 1970s. We visited ESMA, a detention center where many of the desaparecidos were housed before being "transferred" (drowned in the ocean), as well as the central square Plaza de Mayo where the mothers of the victims still march each Thursday afternoon. During our time in Buenos Aires we also witnessed huge commemorations of both the start of the last military junta (March 24th) and of the war with the U.K. over the Malvinas, as the Falkland Islands are called here (April 2nd).

Some issues that weren't covered in class we learned about in small case study groups, in which we spent three days each focusing on a specific aspect of Argentine health. One group visited the San Martin landfill to learn about solid waste management (meaning trash), another learned about HIV/AIDS policy and treatment, another went to markets to learn about nutritional practices, and so on. It was great to work in small groups -- traveling as a group of 33 all the time can be hard -- and the chance to think about the process of doing research.

Of course, Buenos Aires offered a host of activities for us to cram into the weekends and evenings after class. We enjoyed perusing the little artisanal weekend fairs in the neighborhoods, which had everything from earrings to knives to dresses to random metal spiders, and most of us attempted to tango in true Argentinean style. A large group visited El Tigre in the province to enjoy an afternoon of lunch and boating, while others visited art museums or simply read in parks.

Our time in Buenos Aires wrapped up with a five-day retreat on a ranch in las pampas, the famous Argentinean grasslands. We did have classes focusing on rural-specific health issues and environmental problems, but for most people it was a fantastic break from city life -- think stargazing, campfires, barefoot soccer, lots of dogs, sweatpants and hoodies, a night of local guitar music, and homemade bread and honey. Cons: layers of dust on every bus ride, and unexpected swarms of mosquitoes; but overall, it was pretty great.

And so we find ourselves packing up once more, off to South Africa and our last country on this IHP trip. We hope you are all doing well and that you'll continue to follow our journey, and we'll see you in May!

- Students of IHP Health and Community 2012

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Credits: 16

Duration: Spring, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
United States, India, South Africa, Brazil

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended.

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