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BSU students explore vastness of Argentina

From the bustling streets of Buenos Aires to the tranquil panorama of glaciers descending from the Andes Mountains, a group of Bemidji State University students explored the vastness of Argentina.

Eleven students traveled to the South American country on a Jan. 1-17 study abroad trip offered through BSU's Department of Modern Languages.

"It's such a huge country that you find a little bit of everything," said Blanca Rivera, department chairwoman and associate professor of Spanish.

Rivera, who led the trip during winter break with two other Spanish faculty members, said the journey blended together many aspects of Argentina, from culture and language to nature to political and human rights issues.

As the students explored the capital city of Buenos Aires, they visited historic neighborhoods, toured cathedrals, stopped by the presidential palace and watched a tango show. They also visited with Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which is a group of grandmothers who are trying to locate children born into captivity and given away in illegal adoptions during the 1976-82 military dictatorship in Argentina, Rivera said.

On the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the students visited the delta town of Tigre where they rode a water taxi and shopped at the Puerto de Frutos market.

They also traveled to the provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz in Patagonia, the southern region of Argentina.

As the students toured Chubut Province, they visited the harbor town of Puetro Madryn, where they took a boat ride to see toninas, the smallest dolphins in the world. The students also visited Valdes Peninsula to see sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals and Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve to see Magellanic penguins.

"We wandered around the penguins' natural habitat," senior Anders Gilstad said.

"It was a huge penguin colony," junior Kathryn Morrill added.

Another stop in Chubut Province was Gaiman, a Welsh colony in the Chubut River valley area, where the students stopped at a Welsh tea house.

Traveling even further south, the students set up base at a hostel in El Calafate, a town in Santa Cruz Province. From there, they traveled to Glaciers National Park where they trekked on the Perito Moreno Glacier and took a boat ride to see the face of the glacier.

Morrill said the glacier hike was one of her highlights of the trip.

"It was just beautiful," she said.

Junior Sara Dennison described the glacier as "phenomenal."

"It just was huge -- staggering," she said.

Also striking to Dennison was a large, desolate stretch of land in Patagonia that is sparsely populated.

"It was completely untouched," she said. "That was really neat because you don't encounter that where we live."

Taking opportunities

As the students traveled across Argentina, those who speak Spanish had several opportunities to practice their language skills, while the non-Spanish speakers on the trip had the chance to pick up bits and pieces of the language.

The students also had the opportunity to do extra work for credit in their fields of study.

Gilstad, for example, teamed up with senior Will Shearon for a project on law enforcement in Argentina. The students, who both are majoring in criminal justice with minors in Spanish, received permission to interview the commissioner of the federal police department in Buenos Aires.

Meanwhile, nursing major Jessica Johnson conducted research for her project on body image among women in Argentina. As part of her research, she toured a hospital in Buenos Aires.

New journey for all

For seniors Michelle Lyons and Zach Ramlow, the trip was their second visit to Argentina. They participated in a language program in central Argentina a year and a half ago on another trip offered through BSU's Department of Modern Languages.

"It was really good to see a different part of the country," Lyons said of the second trip.

For other students, the trip was their first introduction to South America.

"We hope that everyone gets something out of it a little bit different," Rivera said.