Traveling to South America from Finland never seems to be easy and straight forward. I once had to go Jyväskylä-Helsinki-Amsterdam-Bonaire-Quito-Guayaquil, a series of plane rides that dragged on for thirty-eight hours. But this time the trip to Buenos Aires was a bit shorter than that, and every bit as rewarding. Argentina is a magical place of contradictions and complementary sensations. If anything, Buenos Aires is a mashup of many ethnic and cultural influences, a place where immigration in the distant past from around the world set the stage for a cosmopolitan menu of modern dance, food, and, of course, wine. I found a similar place in Lima, Peru, but Buenos Aires is certainly the most “European” place I have been to in South America.
But lest you think this was a pleasure trip ; ) the purpose of my visit was to deliver an intensive course in intercultural communication at the University of Argentina de la Empresa (UADE), specifically to their new Global Business Management degree students. Perhaps continuing the mashup concept, this new degree is modeled after JAMK’s own GBM program, but one that features a local flair and imagination. So like all things Argentine, it faintly resembles on one hand a European product, but is first and foremost a distinctively local, regional and national product.
For me, the biggest challenge in delivering my program had to do with getting the Argentines out of their tango shoes. In my course I use a lot of cultural simulations, since I never seem to have a budget for actually taking students abroad, and these sims require that I ascribe cultural characteristics to individuals and groups that they are not used to. In the case of the Argentines, I found that they are, in a word, inseparable! Argentines are so utterly social and so interpersonally and group interconnected that I had a very hard time getting them to assume, for example, the roles of Russian, American or European. Nonetheless everyone had a good time, and in our International Space Station sim the UADE students actually out-engineered the students I had last semester back home. However, I can say that my home students in Finland are typically more “efficient” when it comes to the process of designing and building rockets : )
Outside of this course I accomplished a lot in Buenos Aires in a short period of time, thanks in part to taxi drivers who seemed to think they were competing in a city-wide rally competition. From UADE colleagues I also enjoyed several outstanding “street-level” tours of Buenos Aires; I attended numerous asados; and I attended a very exciting youth football match. I also attended a professional match between Club Estudiantes de La Plata and Club Atlético Independiente. This particular match will not be forgotten, as I was fully immersed in the passion of Argentine football.
The Argentine people are among the most industrious, creative and innovative people I have encountered. A financial crisis in 2001 means that today’s Argentine must work hard and long hours, and be constantly vigilant and flexible in response to rapidly changing local, regional and international conditions. The Argentine youth seem to thrive in this environment, and so I have faith that the future of Argentina is in good hands.
The only unsettled business had to do with the question of whose wine is better, the Argentine or Chilean versions. I could not locate any Chilean wine in Buenos Aires, something that rather mystified me. So I must hope for another assignment in the near future so that this ongoing international debate can be settled in a proper way. In the meantime, our cooperation network here at JAMK is healthy and steadily growing.