Studying Away: Sydney Fontalvo

Sydney Fontalvo is an NYU Shanghai junior studying social science (with a minor in Chinese) currently studying away for a year at NYU in Buenos Aires. The soccer lover and Kpop enthusiast is spending her year practicing Spanish with locals and host family, taking classes towards her major, and hiking.



Why did you choose to study away in Buenos Aires?

I chose to study away in Buenos Aires because I wanted to learn more Spanish and I felt that Argentina would be a suitable place to learn about South America and its history. When I was a child, I traveled to Colombia for family visits, but I felt that I was too young to understand anything, so this was an amazing opportunity to become immersed in the culture of Latin America.


What is a typical day like for you?


A typical day goes as follows: I wake up in my beautiful home in Palermo Soho, aka the “hipster” neighborhood. I eat breakfast with my roommates and my home-stay parents, then I say bye to our dog, Benicio!



I go to school on the public bus (which takes about 15-20 minutes). Intensive Spanish every morning. I spend my days usually working in the Academic Center with all of the other students. I usually eat something close to school before my afternoon classes--usually a couple of empanadas or a salad at Green Eats.



After that, I walk back home with my roommate! I eat a home-cooked dinner with my roommates and my host parents (while sometimes watching a soccer game).


What courses are you taking there and how do they fit with your major at NYU Shanghai?

I took Health Policy in a Global World, Developmental Psychology and the Intensive Intermediate Spanish class.  Health Policy in a Global World is one of the courses that helps me complete my focus in Global Health in the Social Science major. 

Developmental Psychology is also under the Social Science major, but not really under Global Health focus; however, I think that this course was a nice way to branch off and see how other tracks in the Social Science major connect with my own. I feel that I can use what I’ve learned in Developmental Psychology within my own research. Since every student is required to take a Spanish course in Buenos Aires, I was placed in the Intensive Intermediate class. I think that this course was a great way for me to be challenged in all aspects of Spanish, especially writing.



Describe something unexpected or memorable about your experiences studying abroad.

As someone who is a perfectionist and gets extremely nervous when speaking a new language, it came as a total surprise to see Argentine people being very patient with my friends and I when we were speaking our slow, broken Spanish. I remember when I was horseback riding in Patagonia with some gauchos— or Argentine cowboys. My friend and I were the only ones on the tour who could speak Spanish, so the gauchos were extremely interested in how we made it all the way down there. They spoke slowly for us to understand and listened intently to everything we said, no matter how silly it might have sounded. Despite it being ice-cold outside, I felt the warmth of the people of Argentina.



What advice do you have for NYU Shanghai students who plan on studying away in Buenos Aires?

Politics is talked about almost every single day! Usually, I would eat breakfast while watching the local news before going to school. My host parents spoke about ministers, different parties, and new laws being passed at the dinner table constantly. Be open to differing opinions around you and listen to what they have to say. 

Argentine people have a different idea of personal space than most other cultures. Depending on where you’re from, when you greet someone, you may hug them, shake their hand, or maybe just say “Hello” to each other, but in Argentina, you usually kiss the other person on the cheek. I did it all the time to my host parents, coworkers at my internship, and even professors as a greeting and a farewell gesture. By the end of the semester, the students were doing that with each other, so don’t be offended or shocked if that’s how someone greets you for the first time.

If you plan on traveling while studying in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend staying within Argentina. The country has so much to offer! From the cold glaciers of Patagonia to the salt flats in Jujuy to the vast Iguazú Falls, you can find somewhere that will fit your tastes.


What do you have planned for when you return to NYU Shanghai?

I plan to go through my final year meeting new students and professors, having a good time with friends, going back to play on the women’s soccer team, most likely applying for grad schools, tutoring students, and learning a new language. 


Has studying away changed you/your perspective? If so, how?

Of course it has! I feel like although I’m spending a year away from Shanghai, I think it’s an extremely crucial year to explore more and challenge myself in different environments. By the end of my second year in Shanghai, I began to feel comfortable and complacent. Studying away was a wake-up call to show me how much more there is for me to learn. The biggest perspective change that I’ve had is that no matter if someone’s opinion is different from yours, you can always learn something from them. Even if you might think it’s boring or “dumb,” there is always something to take away from speaking to someone about what they believe about a certain topic.