Education Abroad and a Search for the Past

My study abroad experience in Argentina began on January 26th after a grueling 18 hour flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Buenos Aires. However, upon arrival I was warmly greeted by the Expanish Spanish School which is hosting my University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) in Argentina.

Although this is a very unique experience for me, it is not my first time in Buenos Aires. I first came to visit Argentina with my father in 2009 for his 60th birthday, and again with my mother in 2015. These first visits to Argentina lasted two weeks each and it was very special to experience it with my parents who were both born and raised in Caballito, Buenos Aires.



The Office of the President of Argentina, also known as La Casa Rosada (pink house) located in Plaza de Mayo.


Argentina’s Obelisk is a national icon of Buenos Aires, built in 1936.


This is my third time in Argentina, but it is my first time as both a student and blogger. I have been using a DSLR camera for nearly 5 years and at my home institution, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), I was able to refine my skills in documentary courses such as Documentary Production for Social Change and Creating Community Media. Therefore, as a first-generation American and college student, all my experience, education, and training is converging to these 4 months in Argentina and I am very excited for the goals I have in line for myself.



Caminito, one of Buenos Aires’ original neighborhoods, accommodated many Italian and Spanish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. It is now a popular tourist location where one can find live music, food, artisans and more located in La Boca.



Conventillos were small homes for many immigrants. These were made of sheet metal taken from large ships of various colors, a distinct characteristic of La Boca.


Painters in Caminito.


In addition to video-blogging and the articles I will be submitting as a Video Correspondent for the Gilman Scholarship, I plan to create a mini travel documentary series. Each episode will be a one minute portrait focusing on a specific person, place, or historical account directly associated with Argentina. For example, a taxi driver, street performer, chef, musician, or historical building can help shed light on Argentina’s rich cultural and historical background that blends both European and Latin American demographics. I believe a short travel series about Argentina can be a fun and effective way of exploring and educating myself and others about Argentine history and culture through the daily experiences of its people.



A Carlos Gardel look-alike in San Telmo, another one of Buenos Aires’ old and famous neighborhoods.


A boy wearing a Boca Junior jersey, a very popular adult soccer league in Buenos Aires. The people who grow up in Boca are born into the spirit of this famous neighborhood.


A street laborer in Bario Chino.


I also plan to film interviews with my relatives who have lived in Argentina all their lives. Both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1974 which was only two years before the beginning of the Dirty War and probably the worst dictatorship Argentina has ever experienced. I am particularly curious to know why parts of my family came to the U.S. while other relatives had a stronger conviction to stay. What was it like to live under a militant regime and how did it affect my family?

I am driven to investigate this past primarily because I am curious to know more about my family origin. While I was growing up, my brother and sister were 10 and 15 years older than me, and my parents started to live separately but were not divorced. By the time I hit high school, it was just my mom and myself living at home. Where my family came from and why they chose to live the U.S. was always unclear to me, and my mother, who felt I was too young to understand, gave me an easy way out: “It was complicated in Argentina.” I didn’t quite have a profound relationship with my father so when he came to pass in 2013, I didn’t really know what to ask him at the time of his death. It is only recently that I begin to deeply question what exactly caused my family to arrive to the States of all places, and not anywhere else. I think my curiosity has something to do with being at UCLA and encountering many students who know more about their family backgrounds than I knew of my own. By retelling this story I hope to provide an analysis or interpretation in terms of immigration and assimilation, along with a little bit of a history to contextualize it.



The white scarf is a symbolic mark of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who stood against all odds during Argentina’s ruling militant dictatorship and the Dirty War (1976-1983).


Therefore, part of my study abroad journey is about understanding where my family came from and what exactly about the U.S. appealed to them. I think with understanding my own family immigration and process of assimilation comes a greater appreciation and understanding for my Argentine-American identity. By sharing these stories and testimonials, others like myself can be inspired to pursue cross-cultural educational experiences while also developing a profound relationship with their personal roots.



My parents, Carmen and Jose Penna sometime during 1980s.

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america

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