This year, I had the opportunity of a lifetime: to live and study in three major cities around the world.
Through a new study-abroad program at the University of Pittsburgh called Pitt MAP, 13 fellow Pitt undergraduate students and I explored Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa; and Beijing.
The three cities could not have been more different. Buenos Aires has the cafés and boulevards of a European city, its hodgepodge art and architecture a result of Argentina's immigrant past. Cape Town, sandwiched between a mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean, is an exciting and diverse city that still bears the weight of its colonial history. Beijing - bleak, massive, and utterly foreign - struggles to maintain its cultural identity in the face of rapid modernization.
Because we spent more than a month in each city, I got to know each of them beyond the tourist attractions. I soon came to have my own local supermarket and favorite place to eat. I learned the subway systems by heart, and after awhile I found that anyplace can begin to feel like home.
We also took short trips outside the cities. In Argentina, we spent one weekend at a ranch in the countryside, where we rode horses, kayaked, and ate delicious beef; another weekend, we visited Iguazu Falls, where we hiked right up to waterfalls that would make Niagara jealous. And while in Beijing, a friend and I made a last-minute trip to Inner Mongolia, which is visited by few Westerners and made us feel like aliens.
One of our courses was taught by a local professor, who covered cultural and historical topics related to the city we were in. In Argentina, for instance, we discussed Eva Perón and the state terrorism of the late 1970s; in Cape Town, we focused on the lingering effects of apartheid; and in China, we covered the history of Tiananmen Square and the Chinese writing system.
Better than reading about these things in a textbook, living in each city made the history come alive.
I did many unforgettable things: horseback riding and trying to tango in Argentina; climbing mountains and going to wine tastings in South Africa; karaoke, seeing the Great Wall, and dealing with the language in China.
Buenos Aires, Cape Town, and Beijing offered very different climates, cuisines, and customs, and yet at the end of my time in each city, I felt I could call it home.