Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asbestos – The Hidden Danger in Argentina’s Drinking Water

Until recently, Asbestos, known as Amianto in Argentina, was used to insulate the water tanks found commonly on top of houses. In the U.S., Asbestos levels in the water supply are constantly monitored by the water department. I was unable to verify whether Argentina's water department checks for Asbestos in their water supply. Most people I asked (even doctors) were ignorant of what Asbestos/Amianto was or the threat that it represented. Regardless, the water tanks can pollute the water with Asbestos fibers and lead, even if the city's water supply is not contaminated.  
Old water tanks that use Asbestos/Amianto and lead pipes
Asbestos isn't the only health hazard that these tanks possess. The pipes used to carry water into a home contain lead. Overtime, this can accumulate in a person's bloodstream and become toxic. 

Asbestos is a mineral found everywhere on Earth. There's no way to escape from it. It's in our air, our food and soil. The biggest health threat comes from inhaling large concentrations of Asbestos over time. Obviously, there isn't much danger of this happening from inhalation, but there are case studies that suggest that Asbestos fibers in the water supply may increase risk of Cancer in the digestive system.

Regardless of whether the risk is minimal or not, There's no reason why anyone should risk their lives by ingesting Asbestos or lead.

So if you are living in Argentina and you have one of these old water tanks, replace it. I chose the brand TINACOS for my new water tank but there are other brands you can choose from.   

Modern asbestos free water tank
A new tank will run you about 500 pesos (about a 100 U.S. dollars) and another 500 pesos to have it installed. I also recommend that you have the pipes leading from the water tank to your home purged every twelve months. You'd be surprised how many contaminants build up in one year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adjusting To College Life At the Universidad Nacional De Cordoba

When I started attending “La Universidad de Cordoba’s” language school, I thought I’d pick the worst college to go to, but I’ve had a week to immerse myself in the college life in Argentina, and I’ve had a bit of an epiphany.

The Language Building at UNC
I’ve enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates. Until now, I’d been virtually isolated since my arrival in Argentina. I think I may have made a few potential friends. We’ll see. I’m also glad to get back on a daily routine. Since I can’t land a job, at the very least, I can go to school.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think that the English courses should be taught by native English speakers, but at least some of the professors are open to suggestions and corrections.
The picture on the wall is of Che Guevara - a famous Argentinian resistance fighter
My biggest struggle right now is with the Castilian course. I feel completely lost in that class. The professor is wonderful but I don’t understand the Spanish grammar. I have a terrible time keeping up with the professor. We did a dictation this week. I added an h to words that didn’t need them and I failed to add them in words that needed them. I couldn’t figure out where the accents were suppose to go either, so I just added random lines on top of any syllable I thought could use an accent. I also called a female horse a “caballa” instead of “yegua”. I always assumed that the word “yegua” was a profanity in Castilian, meaning whore. I guess there are two meanings for the word. The official meaning for a female horse is “yegua” according to the professor and the online dictionary.
During a test, I left about 80 percent of the questions blank. I think I would have had a better chance if the test had been multiple choice, but nothing at the university seems to be multiple choice.

Outdoors lunch area for students. It's extremely well lit at night
Overall, there is still room for improvement at UNC. The university could add a career/major advisor department to advise their students on the best way to map out their college curriculum. Unfortunately, I’ve been advised that students have to figure things out on their own at UNC. I’m not sure if this is because the university is free or not, but it really sucks.
They could also add native English speakers to their language school, or at the very least, educate their professors better before hiring them. Their attempt to enunciate English words in a British accent is unintelligible, unacceptable and in most instances, laughable.
The grammar textbooks were designed from pieces taken from legitimate British English books, which were probably plagiarized, despite the claim on the book that they gave credit to the original author. Portions of the material are probably written by the professors at the university as well. I know this because it’s wrong. A British textbook wouldn’t make the mistakes I’ve seen.
I know some of the students think I’m full of crap, and I can’t blame them for feeling this way. They don’t have the knowledge, discipline or experience that I have from the States. I can only hope that there is some way that I can influence a change at the university so that it can benefit other students in the future.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nightlife in Nueva Cordoba

The nightlife in Nueva Cordoba is filled with dazzling lights, amazing restaurants with outdoor seating, and a healthy flow of tourists and locals.
The building at Paseo Del Buen Pastor, the women’s prison turned cultural center, has walls that change color.
People go out to the caf├ęs and restaurants in Nueva Cordoba to sit and socialize for hours.
It’s a perfect environment for people of all ages, single, married, married with children, and all walks of life. If you’ve ever been to Miami Beach in South Florida, this will remind you a bit of it, minus the beach of course.

Click on the images to enlarge. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The English Language School at UNC – The Disappointing Quality of Teaching

After my negative experience at the anthropology building, I decided to go as an observer to the language school at the Universidad Nacional De Cordoba (UNC). The administrator at the front desk shocked me by telling me that I could enroll as a conditional student, but I needed to have my diploma and transcripts from the States validated by June or I’d get dropped from the career program.
I wasn’t sure if I’d get all the paperwork done in time, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to go in as an observer and check out the course curriculum.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the language school building was much cleaner than the anthropology building I’d visited a few days earlier.

I had to buy four books for the cursillo, which is a 6 week term that determines if the students are eligible for the career program. Once students pass the cursillo, they can begin the first year career term. The total cost of the books was 125 pesos, which is about 25 U.S. dollars.
I was excited and nervous about taking my first steps toward a degree at the university, but the excitement quickly turned into disappointment and frustration.
I had two professors, neither of which had ever travelled to an English speaking country. They had thick accents and an average knowledge of the English language.

The first professor didn’t have a clue what a double chin was. She told the class that a double chin was someone who has a split or a gash that gives off the appearance of two chins. Then she went on to explain that people in the U.S. and in the U.K. don’t ever use the term “puffy eyes”. I’ve seen plenty of commercials related to eye products and eye makeup that reference the term “puffy eyes”. Then she corrected a student who stated that the word “seaside” was never used in the English language and that the correct term is beachside. I lived most of my childhood in South Florida. Believe me, seaside is as much a term as beachside. Then she claimed that the term skinny was considered a taboo because it’s a slang term and that the correct word was slender. She couldn’t pronounce the word iron correctly. She kept saying I-RON and that’s not the way the word is pronounced.  

The second professor taught phonetics. He was more knowledgeable but his accent was strong too. He stressed that at the language school, British English is the preferred style of teaching over American English. What pissed me off so much was the fact that he stated that American English is imperfect. Is it different from British English? Yes, but I don’t consider it imperfect anymore than I can consider Argentinean Castilian an imperfect version of the language spoken in Spain.

If this is how the rest of the course is going to go, I’m in for a rough time. I hate correcting professors, especially those that don’t like being corrected, but I can’t just sit there and pretend that they’re teaching the lessons correctly when they’re not. The students seem far more knowledgeable than the professors. It’s only my first day and I’m having some serious doubts whether this was the right career choice for me.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Universidad Nacional De Cordoba - A Shocking Perspective

Anthropology Building
At first glance, the anthropology building at the National University of Cordoba (UNC) looks like an abandoned building on the bad part of town. Most of the graffiti on the walls are politically motivated; demanding change and women’s rights, or civil rights. One such example of this was a graffiti slogan on the wall outside of a building which said, “Si el Papa fuera mujer, el aborto seria ley”, translated to, “If the Pope was a woman, abortion would be the law.” 
Despite the outward appearance of some of the buildings, UNC is considered a renowned university, which has been erect for 400 years. People from all over central and South America attend here because the university offers a free education where most other countries do not. Still, you’d think the government would do more to preserve this landmark from falling into the hands of vandals and malcontents. When I officially enroll I’d like to give the powers that be at the university some suggestions, but I doubt they’ll be very receptive to change.
Speaking of the powers that be, UNC has a government assembly which is comprised of teachers (called docentes), students, and administration. This government is much more powerful than the student council at the colleges I attended back home in Florida. This government seems to be able to bring about change swiftly should a majority rule in favor of that change.

The downside is that while you can vote for change and choose your classes or major, you cannot pick your professor. By this I mean that if you want to study introduction to philosophy but you hate the teacher, you’re screwed. You either take the class or choose another major. This may come as a shock if you’ve grown accustom to going to school in the states where you had at least 2 or 3 other teachers you could choose from to do a class.

Classroom in the Anthropology building
Since I plan to attend the UNC in 2014 for a National Translator degree in English, I thought I’d go see what the classes were like. So I visited an anthropology class. This was a big mistake, but I’ll get into that later. The classroom is relatively large. There must have been about a hundred desk/chairs. The walls could use a little sprucing up, and by little I mean a lot. They do however have an audio/visual projector which they used for the classroom presentations.
The dress code for teachers seems quite lax. One teacher was dressed like he was going to a Zeppelin concert and the other looked like she had just rolled out of bed and forgotten to change out of her pajamas.

Because it is the first week of the term (each term is one full year), the administration visits the classrooms and discusses all the benefit programs that come with being a student, and that includes a very affordable lunch menu, free healthcare, and a library containing over 200,000 books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines. If you can get over the shock of UNC’s aesthetics, what they offer students is a sweet deal.

Scholarships are also available. Why do they need a scholarship when the university is free? It’s to cover the cost of books and/or copies of textbooks and handouts. At most, the scholarships are about 1000 pesos per year simply because you probably won’t even need that much.

Work-Study Program
They also offer a work study program for students who need a part time job while studying, or for those who need experience in the field which they are studying for. This varies by career program.

Socio-Political Discussions In Class
The first thing I noticed while participating in a group discussion was that I had no idea what was going on.  This was supposed to be an anthropology class but everyone seemed so focused on politics and how it relates to the universities in Argentina over the past 100 years or so.

The Reformation Of The Universities Of 1918
The topic of the “Reformation of the Universities of 1918” was discussed way too much. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what this reformation is, I will explain briefly. It turns out that this reformation was the students way of expelling the church from the university, who until that point, was enforcing what topics should be discussed (similar to the military dictatorship several decades later). The church wouldn’t even allow the teaching of science in the universities. Until the reformation, neither students nor instructors were allowed to voice personal opinions or teachings.

Classroom Observation
My observation of the class suggests that socio-political discussions are the norm at the university regardless of what the subject matter might be. It was difficult to follow or appreciate without a basic knowledge or understanding of the topics and history of Argentina. The instructors (there were four in the classroom at the same time) kept discussing the reformation to death, and despite some attempts by other students to deviate to a different topic, the instructors drew everyone back to the reformation. I’m going to have nightmares about the reformation for a week.

One of the teachers insinuated that anthropological analysis is not scientific but rather a subjective analysis. Anthropology was never a subject I pursued but I’ve seen enough “BONES” to know that a scientific analysis is vital to anthropology. Maybe I’m wrong. You decide and comment.

One student, a woman, age 47, was the only one that actually made any sense to me. She questioned why politics needed to be introduced and discussed in the anthropology class. I agreed with her, but not many others in the classroom did. She was quickly shot down by the teachers and students (BUT NOT LITERALLY … JUST A FIGURE OF SPEECH).

One thing I can say without question is that every student in that class was knowledgeable, regardless of age, origin (not everyone in the class was Argentinean), or gender.

After spending 4 hours listening in on the class I realized that I made a mistake and should have visited a class that was related to my field of study. This anthropology class did not peak my interest, and I felt that the instructors completely missed their mark. I will be going to the language building soon to get permission to visit a class related to the English translator degree.

There’s much more to UNC than meets the eye. I’ve only seen a fraction of what they have to offer. So stay tuned. I’ll be posting more on the university in the near future.