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2 posts from September 2013

09/26/2013

"The Dive Of My Life: Skydiving" by Kalyssa King, Allegheny College


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Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do one thing every day that scares you." 
Well this past Friday I really took this quote to heart and conquered one of my biggest fears and checked off a major thing on my "bucket list," meaning that I went skydiving. For those of you that know me and my fear of heights well, you clearly know that I will not get on a roller coaster without being forced and as my Grandma put it "You did what?!...you wouldn't even ride the ferris wheel!" My fear of heights is almost as extreme as my fear of drowning, but regardless heights completely terrify me. When I turned 18 years old I decided that I one day would want to skydive and added it to my mental list of things to do but never would I have dreamed that I actually would have followed through with it.
How did this happen? Great question, and I am still asking myself how life escalated so quickly and I made the choice to take the plunge, but it all began a week before when my friend Sarah sent me a link to an international student group in Buenos Aires that was going to be skydiving the next weekend. I had (some may say foolishly) told her that I wanted to take the dive before I died and so of course life presented me with the opportunity. I was nervous, I mean who wouldn't be? I could only think about how I was going to be hurled at the earth and die. I looked up different ways that people had died when skydiving and the percentage of risk that I was going to be taking and pictured myself in every situation imaginable. I only decided to make the choice final the day before at 4 pm when I put down my reservation and my deposit. That night I surprisingly slept well, but the second my alarm went off in the morning I was up worrying about what would happen and if I would even make it back later that day, and of course I packed multiple forms of identification and my insurance card for the "just in case."
1238372_10153284613345714_552560814_nI left my house at 7 am to meet Sarah, Ania and the rest of the group to take the van provided to the jump location that was an hour and a half outside of the city but the van was full. The driver informed us that an instructor that was in the city would come pick us up and then drive us out to the location with him. The he was Sebastian and he was a professional tandem instructor that had made countless jumps. I asked him so many questions about the jump that I probably annoyed him to no end, but he helpfully answered every single one and put my mind a little bit at ease. When we arrived we paid 980 pesos and signed a form saying that basically if anything happened then the center would not be responsible. This form made my heart jump into my throat and then the fact that the info course on how to safely do the jump only consisted of a five minute video did not help my nerves. Luckily for the sake of my nerves and that the weather got progressively better during the day, we had to wait a few hours while other people did the jump until it was our turn. The jump was a tandem jump meaning that I was strapped to an instructor, and when my time came, my instructor approached with a video camera and to my complete surprise and relief, it was Sebastian! I felt a little bit less panic knowing that he would be making the jump with me, but as he helped me into my harness and fastened each buckle, I was getting more and more scared of what the next hour would bring. When then loaded the smallest aircraft that I have ever been in, it was only the pilot and me and my instructor and another friend and her instructor. As the plane took off into the air I could feel my stomach starting to turn and as we got higher and higher into the air I grew more and more concerned about the distance between me and the ground. When we reached 10,000 feet the pilot told the first group (my friend and her instructor) that it was time and before I knew it the door was open and wind was quickly filling the cabin. I watched in horror as her legs dangled over the side and as they took the jump, hurling their bodies toward the ground. WHAT WAS I ABOUT TO DO?!? With my face full of fear and doubting the choice I had made, my instructor told me that it was time and I scooted, already buckled to him, toward the door. As instructed I let my feet dangle outside of the plane and I prepared myself for the experience of a lifetime, thinking that it would be the end of my lifetime. My instructor then stood on the wing for a second and positioned and before I could think or blink we hurled our bodies toward the ground. I do not know if I could accurately put the experience into words if I tried. I couldn't breathe at first, not from the air, but that my breath was taken away. Though I was scared, a smile quickly spread across my face. After about a minute of free fall, my instructor pulled the parachute and with a quick and violent jerk we were floating. It was beautiful to look over the land and float not so rapidly towards the ground. My instructor turned us quickly in circles to add some more excitement, but after about seven minutes of floating with the parachute we made it back to the ground. 
GOPR8608 072The second I landed I couldn't believe that the experience was over so quickly and that I had done it and lived. I was so proud of myself, considering that I had really not done anything in all actuality because my instructor had made sure that everything had went smoothly, but I had conquered my fear. It is one of the craziest, most incredible things that I have ever done and I am so thankful that I followed through even though I was deathly afraid. If the opportunity came up this second, I would do it again in a heartbeat and for anyone reading this that has ever debated doing it, or is just getting the idea now, I completely recommend it, even for the people afraid to ride the ferris wheel.
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09/16/2013

"ESMA Hearings in Buenos Aires" by Rachel Shippee, Elon University

Rachel Shippe

Rachel Shippee, Elon University

In 1976, a military junta seized power in Argentina. For the next seven years, it carried out the National Reorganization Process, a period of state terrorism against left-wing guerrillas, political activists, and anyone believed to be associated with socialism. The repressive regime instilled great fear among its people by extreme acts of violence including kidnapping, torturing, and murdering many young people – as well as elderly, children, and pregnant women. The number of people to be killed or “disappeared” during this time ranged from 10,000 to 30,000.

The military officers created a frightening atmosphere that kept Argentines from speaking up about the disappearances of their loved ones. Following the fall of the junta, many Argentines sought answers from the government in order to learn the truth about los desaparecidos (the disappeared). The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organization that confronted the government of the past, constantly fought for justice and the memory of their disappeared children. The government responded by telling them their children had fled the country, or “perhaps” they were dead without giving any concrete confirmation of their exact condition or whereabouts.

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La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) was the deadliest of the regime’s secret detention camps. The officers allegedly burned victims while others were drugged and thrown out of planes flying over the Atlantic Ocean. An estimated 100 babies were born to detained mothers in ESMA, and were given away to military families – thus adding to the demographic of people with lost identities known as the “living disappeared”. Legal action against the crimes committed and officials associated with the military dictatorship began in 1983 once democracy was restored. President Alfonsín brought an end to the trials in 1986, arguing that the country needed to look towards the future rather than dwell on the past.

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Eight years ago, then-President Néstor Kirchner re-opened the cases, overturning the existing amnesty laws.  In October of 2011, the biggest trial against the military dictatorship occurred, sentencing 19 military officials from ESMA for crimes against humanity. There are 70 more accused of crimes committed at the ESMA against 900 victims. These trials are currently occurring under the titles ESMA I, II, III, and so forth. The trials include hearings over 800 testimonies of witnesses including family members o the disappeared as well as survivors.

William Janover, international student from Brown University, attended a hearing this past week of two men who were detained in the ESMA at ages 11 and 14. “It was strange to hear how calmly and bluntly the witnesses were able to describe the horrible things that happened to them and their family. When I spoke to my host parents about the hearings, they said they had heard of them but had no plans to go; they brought back too many bad memories”

On Thursday, a woman whose two older sisters were disappeared gave a testimony to the courts. She was 14 years old at the time of the first disappearance. Claudia, the eldest sister, was taken on October 4, 1978. Her middle sister, Andrea, was three months pregnant when she was kidnapped by the front door of her own house. Neighbors believe they saw the disappearances, but it was always difficult for people to speak up and recall what they may or may not have seen. The woman was asked to describe her sisters, from their eye to hair color and give any details she might know about their disappearances. She explained that no one could deliver correct information to her family about her sisters’ disappearances. Many times the woman said, “No me recuerdo. Nadie sabe exactamente.” She said she was prepared for justice now. When the final question was complete, she was asked if she had anything more to say. She responded, “Nada más.” as tears filled her eyes and she exited the stand.

Many other Argentines agree that although they are happy that justice is finally being served, they have no intention of attending the hearings. 28-year old freelance artist, Victoria ** said it is still a very sensitive topic for most people. “My parents had friends who were of the disappeared. One of my high school friend’s uncle was a desaparecido as well.”

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The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women who have told and retold the story of their disappeared children, are still pained by their tragic pasts. Ilda I. de Micucci, a Mother, lost her two children Victoria and Daniel in 1977. “We are fighting for justice, memory, and an end to the violence. It’s been many years, but it still brings me pain to tell my story – to talk about my children. But it’s important to our mission of their memory.” “Estamos luchando por la justicia, la memoria, y un fin a la violenica. Ha sido mucho años, pero todavía me trae dolor a contar mi historia – a hablar de mis hijos. Pero es importante para nuestra misión de su memoria.”

Many hope to find solace in the trials and the accused finally committed for their crimes. Clara Franchini, Student Coordinator at the CIEE Buenos Aires Study Center, said, ““The trials for the memory, justice, and truth are the beginning of a long road that seeks to recover the social ties the dictatorship wanted to destroy. The recovery of memory; learning about our history and realizing the process of social reorganization attempted on the entire society are just the start to recover social solidarity, empathy and political participation.” "Los juicios por la memoria, justicia y verdad son el comienzo de un largo camino que tiene que ver con transitar una recuperación del lazo social que la dictadura quiso destruir. La recuperación de la memoria, aprender sobre nuestra historia, darnos cuenta que el proceso de reorganización social atentó sobre toda la sociedad, es solo un comienzo para recuperar la solidaridad social, la empatia, la participación política."

 The trials are expected to last 24 months.