TIES Argentina

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is developing an innovative program in immersive experiential learning known as Thematic Interdisciplinary Experiential Semester (TIES). The program seeks to provide participants with a truly transformative experience in a rigorous, challenging, interdisciplinary, project-based program designed to examine a central theme from a variety of scientific, cultural, economic and political perspectives. TIES Argentina is a pilot program launched in Spring 2011 involving a collaborative interdisciplinary effort by faculty in biology, economics, geology and Latin American studies focusing on the natural and cultural setting of Mendoza, Argentina. This pilot program involves a vibrant living-learning community of 17 students selected from across disciplines and across age groups. Courses are designed in 3.5 week concentrated blocks for project-based inquiry, with dedicated overlap between the blocks to provide interdisciplinary linkages.
This blog will chronicle the adventures, learning experiences and trials and tribulations of the participants in TIES Argentina. We will try to update on a weekly basis, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

History and Culture III - Present and Future Argentina

Our final week of History and Culture with Marcelo Reynoso began with a conversation with Nahuel "Gatito" Jofre, a musician who specializes in Argentine folk music. We learned about the history and how folk music has evolved throughout South America. That afternoon we had an eye-opening conversation with a man named Nino, who is a representative from an organization that attempted to publicize the events of the "Dirty War", one of the darkest periods in modern Argentine history.  The next day Marcelo discussed the topic of modern Argentinean politics and summarized the complete history from the Huarpes to the present day system. To complete the class we took a three-day trip to Valle de Uco to experience more Argentine culture.

Gatito explained Argentine folk music in words and music

     During the first day in Valle de Uco, our group attended a lecture from Jorge Difonso, the mayor of San Carlos, on the topic of mining and its effect on sustainability. Afterward we had the opportunity to speak with the mayor about these issues and gain further insight on the topic. To give us a different perspective on the mining issue, we listened to a women who belonged to the local anti-mining organization. She explained how the mine would affect the people in San Carlos on a personal level. To conclude the day, we shared mate and played games at Marcelo’s majestic casa.

Mayor Difonso explains sustainable development in San Carlos
      On our second day in San Carlos we had breakfast at Susana’s house. Susana shares one of eleven locations involved with the eco-tourism organization called Camino de Altamira. We learned how to make tostadas and had a delicious breakfast with her assortment of homemade jams. Then we walked to a nearby agricultural farm called El Melocoton, which is also part of the Camino de Altamira group. We learned about the honey making process and got to taste the sweet final product. Oscar, the farmer, showed us around the orchards and also displayed how he tills the fields with his tractor.

Susana and Marcelo explaining the concept of ecotourism embodied in Camino de Altamira

     In the afternoon, we went to an elementary school called Escuela de Viluco where we played with the children and learned about the modern Bolivian immigration to Argentina. It was really rewarding to spend time with the kids, even though they beat us in soccer, because of our mutual interests in each other’s lives.

Olivia making friends with a Bolivian boy

Kris showing the boys how to take photographs

Kelsey playing El Lobo with the school children

The last day in San Carlos we were interviewed by two different local radio stations. We were asked questions regarding the TIES program and also questioned our views towards current issues in the Mendoza province. Courtney Allen became a local star with her on-air performance of Amazing Grace.

Courtney making her radio debut.  She signed autographs for the locals afterward

     Following our radio interviews, we visited INTA, which is a government organization that researches the improvement of agricultural goods. Following INTA, we went to two very different wineries to contrast between the styles of production. First we visited Bodega Appon, a very small operation, which is run by two brothers from San Carlos who have been in the industry for around fifty years. Afterwards we toured an enormous winery called Salentein. The Salentein vineyards cover over 700 hectares of prime real estate and they boast some of the most modern facilities in the region.


Late harvest vineyard in the foothills of the Front Cordillera

     We had an enjoyable trip to the beautiful city of San Carlos and we are all sad to see the program coming to a close.  The TIES program has been very beneficial and educational for all students involved. Our experiences have been invaluable and have exposed us to new perspectives and ways of life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Economics of Mendoza

The TIES group has been working on the last unit of economics section with Dr. Avin for the last week and a half. The first field trip we took during this unit was a wine tour to local bodegas with a specific purpose.  The objective was to visit two wineries, one a very small,  family-run winery and the other a large industrial winery, and make comparisons between the two.
We first began our field trip at the small family winery, Familia Cassone.  The winery is set on the outskirts of the city of Maipu.  After we traveled through the city, we were struck by the tranquility and beauty of the Cassone bodega. The rows of dark green grape plants set against the backdrop of the mountains forced many of us to reach for our cameras.
View of the Frontal Cordillera from the Familia Cassone vineyard

 Here they not only had the grape plants, but also the production equipment required for production of wine, from grape to bottle.  This was interesting because we observed the whole process from start to finish.  During our tour we were treated with a demonstration of the winery’s new labeling machine. After the tour, we had tasting that included a detailed description of economics of family-run wineries by one of the owners, Frederico Cassone.  We then had an opportunity to purchase souvenirs from the winery, after which  we thanked our hosts and hurried off to visit the much-anticipated Norton winery.
Frederico Cassone discusses the economics of family-run wineries

When we arrived at Norton we were struck by the contrast. At Norton, instead of the being greeted by one of the co-owners we were greeted by a security guard. Where Familia Cassone blended in with the surrounding countryside, Norton stood out with its billboard-sized sign and security hut. We were ushered into a fancy room where Walter Pavon greeted us. Walter is an economist with Bodegas Argentinas, a consortium of wineries throughout western Argentina.

Waler Pavon of the Bodegas de Argentina describes the wine economy of Mendoza

After Walter’s presentation on the economics of the wine industry, we were ushered outside for a delicious lunch of roast beef and potatoes and, of course, Norton wine. After our lunch we were guided on a tour of Norton, during which we saw many different stages of production. Many students were struck by the massive scale of wine production. During the tour we were able to taste the wine from each stage of production. After the tour, the TIES group pillaged the gift shop and boarded the bus, tummies filled with delicious food and wine.

Brandon testing Norton Reserva from the barrel

The other field trip we went on was right across town at the Mercado Cooperativo de Guaymallen. This is a massive agricultural cooperative responsible for the distribution of fruit and vegetables throughout western Argentina.  The secretary and the vice president of the co-op showed us around the different areas of the operation.  Following our tour,  we interviewed different sellers about the market, the economics of the system, their role as sellers, and other aspects of the cooperative.   After the interviews we used our free time to roam about the co-op.  This gave us a good amount of time to explore and learn more about the co-op and buy from local vendors. We bought fresh fruits, vegetables, empanadas and sweets.

Brandon, Joe and Alicia discussing the economy of fruits and vegetables at
Mercado Cooperativo de Guaymallen
   At this point, we are finishing a 4-day break and are ready to start the final unit of history and culture. There is an interesting mood amongst the TIES members as our departure for home quickly approaches. In 14 days we will be coming home.