GoAbroad Interview

Dr. Monica Pagano - Resident Director Buenos Aires

Dr. Monica Pagano - Resident Director Buenos Aires

CAPA’s study abroad in Argentina is sponsored by Universidad Astral, a small university in the heart of Argentina. In this program, participants have the opportunity to study and interact with students from Argentina, thus giving them firsthand experience of the culture. 

With plenty of experience in the field of International Education and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in Administrative and Policy Studies in International Development Education, as well as a masters in Spanish and Culture and a bachelors in International Studies, Dr. Monica Pagano is beyond valuable to the CAPA Buenos Aires program. A native of Argentina, she is also an expert on the local culture and helps students to adjust to their new home immensely, not to mention she had studied and lived abroad in multiple countries, so she knows just what it feels like to be in their shoes.

LaBoca Walking Tour Fall 2013
LaBoca Walking Tour Fall 2013.

What were you doing prior to becoming a Resident Director for CAPA? How have your career goals changed since attaining the position?

I have worked in International Education Programs at different U.S. Institutions and also on International Service Learning Projects. I also have done extensive research on International Education throughout my career. My career goals have changed because now I am in a different environment as a Resident Director. I need to I act as an interpreter and facilitator of two cultures for CAPA, for our Host Institution in Argentina and our students. It is challenging but very satisfying to be able to “channel” a few cultures at once.

How do you utilize your own study abroad experiences to connect with students and help them have a well-rounded experiences in Buenos Aires?

It feels like second nature. I studied abroad for the first time when I was 15. I know how our students feel … even before they feel it! From my own research in international education, my almost 30 years in the field, my study abroad experiences, and living in different countries, I am certain that the best way to learn about the host culture is to immerse yourself, to be out there and to embrace what is different. Cultural awareness is much more than to just seeing the world… it’s about being involved in the world.

As a Resident Director, you encourage students to attend cultural events throughout their program, what do you think is the most important cultural event for students to attend in Buenos Aires?

Argentines are passionate people, so I would say that anything that makes them passionate is a great cultural experience for our students. It is hard to narrow down, but here is a list of a few prominent events: the International Tango Festival, the Argentine Open Polo Festival; anything to do with soccer (futbol) - remember that Argentina was in the finals of the Soccer World Cup this year. We have a vibrant independent film and cinema culture, and many of our films have won international awards. Buenos Aires is also the fashion capital of Latin America.

Students typically stay with host families in Buenos Aires and attend courses with local students. How do you ensure students adapt to the new culture? And how do you assist them in making meaningful connections with the locals?

Families are a key component of the program because they are a wonderful support system for students when they arrive and throughout their stay. We have a host family orientation, an orientation for the students upon arrival, and we continuously check in with the students to see how it is going. Our program is very small, so we get to know the students very well. Buenos Aires has so many things going all the time, so students don’t have that much time to think about being home sick. In addition, because we are based at an Argentine university and the CAPA office is located at the university, there are students and faculty around to assist with the adjustment to a new culture.

How does CAPA provide a safe living and learning environment for its participants in Argentina?

My experience and background working at U.S. Institutions has prepared me to know what concerns students and parents have. As an Argentine myself, I know the legalities and how to advise our students. In addition, the program is based at an Argentine university, so we also have the support system the university provides. CAPA gives us comprehensive safety and security training, and we are constantly monitoring world and local events that may affect our students.

What is CAPA’s biggest challenge maintaining programs in Buenos Aires? What is your biggest challenge as Resident Director?

It is always challenging to have students be outside their comfort zone; then you add in the language factor, and this is another layer to their experience. The teaching style is also very different, and students do have to adapt to this new style. However, my research and background experience tells me that is the best way to learn!

What should students expect their daily schedule to look like during participation in your program?

Students have a variety of courses and schedules vary. However, a student can take a Spanish Language course for 90 minutes two times a week (with a 15 minute break in between) and then take one of the content courses, which meet once a week for about three hours. There are breaks every 45 minutes or so. Students typically take four courses, which count for 12 credit hours. Most classes just meet once a week, except language, but students are expected to do quite a bit of work outside the classroom. 

What characteristics do you think a Buenos Aires student participants must possess to have a successful study abroad experience?

A student needs to be open-minded, patient, and non-judgmental (people abroad will do things differently from at home). They also need to be serious about learning and accepting the differences they see.

What is your most popular classes offered? What makes this major program enticing to students?

The most popular majors are: Sociology, Business, International Studies, Political Science, Communications, Law and Culture, Cultural Studies, and of course, Spanish. What makes our program strong is the fact that there are a variety of courses to choose from, and with the exception of the Spanish language courses, our students can take courses alongside Argentines in English. This allows for cultural immersion both from a social and academic standpoint. They mingle with local students and make new friends from around the world.

What are your future plans for the Buenos Aires Program? Do you plan on adding any new programs or majors in the next few years?

We will be adding courses every year according to students’ need and faculty expertise. We are also launching internships starting in Fall 2015. Students with at least four plus semesters of Spanish will have the opportunity to participate in a part-time internship with a local company. They will be able to gain valuable skills and knowledge, improve their Spanish, and best of all, interact with Argentine people in a professional setting. Internships will be available in communications, business, sports law, and NGOs.

We will also be offering a Spanish for the Professional Practice, which will facilitate the learning of language that is used in a professional setting. This will enhance our students’ ability to be successful in their internship.