BUENOS AIRES – Minerva’s first semester ever outside the U.S. has ended as the Class of 2019 finished its classes in Berlin on Thursday, December 16, 2016 and has since moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Since Minerva does not have final examinations, students spent the last week of classes writing final essays and response papers. The culmination of Fall semester classes was celebrated with a late-evening feast, dubbed “Continuum,” organized by the local Berlin staff, San Francisco staff who flew in for the celebration, and a team of students.
Some students stayed in Berlin through winter break while others departed for home for the holidays. By Tuesday, January 3, most students arrived in Buenos Aires, where they will be staying at a hotel in the Retiro district. The second semester began on Wednesday, January 4 with “Elevation,” Minerva’s semesterly orientation. Classes began, marking the official academic start to the semester, on Monday, January 9, 2017.
As students prepared to travel to Buenos Aires for the first time in Minerva’s history, the excitement was palpable. Some even arrived before the New Year to get a head start and take part in Buenos Aires’ New Year celebrations. Students are also enjoying the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, particularly after enduring Berlin’s increasingly cold and short winter days.
One challenge in the transition has been that some students had experienced significant delays in receiving their Argentinian visas and others are still waiting for their approval. Students from some countries — including China, India, Nigeria, Vietnam, and others — must receive a visa before they can enter the country, and as the application process had only begun in November, some students were not able to secure an appointment or receive approval in time for their flights. This required some students to change their travel plans and initially prompted Minerva to consider extending the leases on some apartments and internet service in Berlin to allow the students still waiting on their visas to continue classes.
However, Minerva staff worked tirelessly to address the challenge and despite the bumps in the road nearly all students received their visas before Elevation. Currently, The Quest is aware of only three students awaiting visas. For more details and reflections by students and staff, read The Quest’s longer article to be published soon.
For some Minervans, another challenge has been leaving Berlin after just four months, particularly when Minerva’s city immersion allows them to make friendships and connections which then become harder to maintain after just one semester. One student has decided to remain in Berlin for the coming semester to continue their career pursuits. Then again, other students are enjoying the continuous rotation despite these time constraints, particularly considering the breadth of exposure that the frequent relocation offers.
One student who has been in Berlin since June and who preferred to remain anonymous told the Quest, “Berlin becomes a very different city if you have witnessed its dynamics in both summer and winter. Summer is a paradise, Winter a parasite. Summer is vibrant but relaxed, Winter quiet but tensed. Although summer is optimal for discovery and exploration, winter has the same effect, albeit through force, but its focus is inwards.” The student also highlighted the dilemma of frequent relocation. “I do not want to leave; Berlin is the first city I feel home in. Or maybe that is exactly why I should leave. Maybe this is what people felt when they left their homes.”
As classes began on Monday, Minerva’s everlasting challenge of providing sufficiently strong WiFi connections to every student resurfaced. Though most classes worked properly, there were some hiccups in connectivity, because despite Minerva’s large investment in building a strong internet connection within the hotel, its thick concrete walls continue to pose a challenge. However, the Minerva Tech Team has been rigorously working to eliminate the last trouble spots, sending frequent emails to update the student body on the progress that is being made and pursuing evermore creative solutions to provide strong WiFi for every room of every student.
The general mood among students during the past week remained upbeat as new Student Affairs and Student Experience staff welcomed the class in Buenos Aires with programming they had been preparing for months.
Elevation weekend was launched with a welcome at Argentina’s Ministry of Education, where students were introduced to Minerva’s Buenos Aires team and also to more than a dozen local professionals — dubbed “Civic Partners” — who are collaborating with Minerva to provide students with opportunities to engage with the city. Further events were held at Buenos Aires’ innovative Metropolitan Center of Design. Students also partook in an exploration challenge (“scavenger hunt”) to start to engage with the culture and history of the city, which included a flash tango lesson and visits to historical landmarks.
In addition, each student received an individually tailored “Golden Ticket” to an event or place in the city connected to their interests, to provide a more individualized introduction to the city. Some students interested in social justice and urban planning were given the opportunity to walk through the urban slum “Villa 31” with a city official working to improve its conditions, others interested in dance were invited to Argentinian dance classes, and others to various museums and musical performances.
The weekend culminated with Minerva’s first-ever “Pool Feast”, a pool party that allowed students to celebrate their arrival, grill in Argentinian style, and share their thoughts and excitement on the upcoming semester.
As students have now settled in to their new home, Minerva’s Buenos Aires Student Experience Team is launching its weekly “What I’ve Learned” speakers series and various community events. Students are also now starting to engage with Civic Partners and, in typical Minerva fashion, seeking out the best WiFi cafés across the city to study and take classes.
With the start of classes, Minerva Schools, and the Minerva Quest, are now tri-continent organizations.