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My Bates-funded trip to Patagonia, Argentina

Patagonia pic source- beauty-placesI first heard about the Bates Barlow Grant from a now-alumni friend that traveled back to Germany during February break of his senior year to conduct research for his history thesis. When he told me about the unreal deal (Bates paying for him to return to his study abroad country to peruse museums, stay in hostels, and meet fellow travelers), I knew I had to figure out a way to do the same.

But after living in the exhilarating Buenos Aires metropolitan for over five months, I felt I had exhausted the city. I had successfully site-saw almost everything and knew the neighborhoods, the bus routes, and the “subte” (subway) like the back of my hand. I enjoyed my classes at three different universities in the city and loving my caring, generous host family. Of course I look back on Buenos Aires as a city very dear to my heart but I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of running back to that crazy city. I also was having a hard time thinking of an appropriate thesis topic that could tie in Buenos Aires.

According to the Off-Campus Study website, “David Barlow established the Barlow Endowment for Study Abroad to enhance study abroad for Bates students and faculty. Mr. Barlow ’79 (a sociology major) studied in the United Kingdom and found his year abroad to be a powerful learning experience, both inside and outside the classroom. This generous gift to the college provides opportunities for Bates students to enrich their study abroad programs, to link them more closely with their academic program at Bates, and to share their experiences with the rest of the campus and community.”

Dean Sawyer explained that this program has a long history and is very unique to Bates. He sees the thesis research grants as an extremely affirming experience for a student to be able to return to a foreign country and “recognize how much they know and how much they learned.”  When asked about past research projects he has overseen, Dean Sawyer says it’s hard to pick out any few extraordinary projects because they are all so individualized and “wonderfully imaginative.”

The amount of Barlow Thesis Research Grants awarded per year fluctuates:

In 2009-2010: 22 grants

2010-2011: 19 grants

2011-2012: 12 grants

and this year, 2012-2013: 7 grants

The grant stipulates that the student must travel back to the country studied in. In my own experience, I thought of all the places I had visited in my eight carefully planned trips throughout South America, from the grandiose waterfalls to the deserts, the mountains, and lastly, the Patagonian icebergs. When I reflected on all of those adventures, the place I was most eager to return to and investigate further was Patagonia.

Patagonia covers a huge expanse of South America and during my semester abroad I only visited two towns, El Calafate (to see the Perrito Moreno Glacier) and El Chalten (for the rugged Patagonian hiking experience). There were other places in Patagonia I did not have the time nor funds to visit during my first taste of South America – namely, Bariloche (more Northern Patagonia) and Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego (the bottom of the Earth, the most southern tip of the continent).

So I fixated on the idea that I wanted to research Patagonian travel writing. At the end of my junior winter semester, I met with Professor David George in the Spanish Department because he is the faculty member specializing in travel writing. When I told him about my experiences in Argentina, he encouraged me to start investigating the topic over the summer and that during the fall we could put together a Barlow Grant application.

Fast-forward to senior year and quite a few things have been accomplished: I applied for and received the Barlow Grant and I purchased a round trip flight from Portland, Maine to Ushuaia, Argentina during this past Thanksgiving break.

But why Ushuaia? And what exactly did I investigate? During the fall, as I began to read travel narratives through Patagonia, I realized that almost everyone made it to and wrote about Tierra del Fuego, or the end of the world. So as a place I had yet to explore, I made Ushuaia my destination. Before leaving, I recorded important quotes from eleven authors that wrote about Ushuaia and while there, I presented some of these pieces of information to either travelers or locals to see how they interacted and dialogued with antecedent travelers and Ushuaia locals.

I questioned whether travelers are ultimately indebted to each other in a sort of “travel community” via travel ultimately indebted to each other in a sort of “travel community” via travel writing. In reading the narratives, I discovered that each writer successively built off of and used the descriptions of the place from travelers before them to craft their own experiences.

Now, almost two months later, I’m back at Bates and ready to use all of the information I collected (including 82
video clips) to put together my thesis. I can’t give away too many details about my findings because the final project will be presented at the Mt. David Summit. But if you’re a junior returned from abroad, first-year, or sophomore interested in studying away someday, be sure to consider the possibilities of a Barlow Thesis Research Grant to enrich the connection between your semester abroad and your academic goals at Bates.

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