While most Penn students spend spring semester rushing Greek organizations, counting down the days until spring break or longing for the fun of Spring Fling, some Quakers choose an alternate agenda. One of these people is Meg Pittman, senior midfielder for the women’s soccer team.
Pittman, a Virginia Beach, Va. native, spent her spring in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She knew she wanted to go abroad because she had heard only wonderful things from students who had gone in past semesters, and she wanted to fully experience another culture. After debating between Spain and Argentina, she settled on the latter in the end, figuring that she “would eventually go to Europe and that Buenos Aires was the more original abroad experience.” Spring semester was naturally the time to go since the Quakers were technically in “off-season,” but her time away proved to be anything but a break.
Pittman, and a dozen other Penn students participating in the COPA abroad program, attended the Universidad del Salvador. All classes were in Spanish, so she had to read, study and test in the language. A Hispanic studies major and political science minor, Pittman took a small seminar on International Contemporary Politics taught by a professor who was also employed by the United Nations, a Systems of Comparative Politics course, classes on Argentine art, culture, and literature and Advanced Spanish Grammar. Pittman’s coursework took her far beyond the classroom and into the opera house and museums. This, when combined with going to church, playing soccer, traveling, and living with a host family, led to “incalculable” improvements in her language skills, far beyond what is possible in the traditional classroom setting. Real life “provided situations for learning unique vocabulary and ways of communication,” Pittman said.
“Following along in class and being able to add to the conversation was one of my biggest personal achievements with the language.”
“Buenos Aires itself just blew me away. It was much more cosmopolitan than I expected. I had planned on traveling all over Argentina, but I loved just being in the city. There are still a million places I want to visit. My younger brother, Chase, visited for a week, but the rest of my family has to see it,” Pittman said.
Being a soccer player and fan, there was really no better place to go than Argentina. “Fútbol” is the national sport, and “a professional league game there is bigger than any NFL game,” Pittman testifies. “The popular section (cheap seats) is absolute chaos, with non-stop jumping and cheering. After games, there are often fights between opposing fans, and after one game we had to sprint away from the stadium because the police were tear-gassing everyone. I also saw Argentina v. Brazil. It was quite possibly the most beautiful game of soccer I’ve ever witnessed. Argentina was on fire, and ended up winning 3-1. My friend and I bought huge Argentine flags after the game and ran home from the stadium waving them and singing.”
But that was just life as a fan. Her experiences playing soccer are even more amazing. “I lived less than a mile from River Plate Stadium, home of the Club Atletico River Plate professional men’s team, so I just showed up and asked about where I could play. I had a three-day tryout with the River professional women’s team and then was invited to play. The league was technically the highest level of female soccer in the country, but the women’s soccer program is basically just starting out. Because of the culture [machismo’], most women don’t play sports. People either laughed or thought I was lying when I said I played soccer.
“One weekend, I played with guys from my Salvador classes, and the next week they informed me that the university had changed its rules. I was a girl, so I was no longer able to play with them.
“With River Plate, we had to give up our fields to 10 year-old boys and often had to play on concrete or run through local parks instead of practice.
“One week, practice was cancelled because the players were on strike for not receiving pay,” recalled Pittman.
She lived with a 65 year-old woman named Elena and a 22 year-old Argentine girl that was renting a room in the apartment.
The apartment was small for American standards, but very comfortable. There was a garden, a cat and I had my own room. I got really lucky with my host family. I loved my host mom. She was very sweet and patient with my Spanish. She always tried to cook food that I liked and invited me to whatever social activities or family events she attended. We got along really well, even though she is a Boca Juniors [River’s arch-rival] fan and made sure I knew every time River lost.”
When asked about some of her favorite things to do outside soccer, Pittman said, “I found an amazing church the second week I was there, Rey de Reyes (King of Kings), and ended up spending almost every Saturday and Sunday evening at the services there. I made great friends through retreats, picnics and Bible studies with the church. It had about 20,000 members and over seven services weekly to hold everyone.”
On weekends, Pittman went to fairs, visited museums and festivals, ate out, went to church, and studied. The abroad program also took her to Uruguay for a short trip, and another weekend she visited the family of a friend from church, which lived about two hours from the city.
Pittman, a senior, “would love to work with an international aid organization, through the U.N. or a religious program, focusing on Latin America.” She said that international comparative legal studies is a possible in-between step and would be a great chance to use both her Spanish and political science coursework.
-Written by Maren McCauley, C’05