“Your college experience goes beyond just what you do during the school year. Value the opportunities that your summer vacations and winter breaks give you to explore your personal interests, career paths, and everything else the world has offer.” This was perhaps the best piece of advice I received as a freshman at Penn a few years ago. Since that time, I have not only spent my time in between semesters at Penn working at different companies from tech startups to large financial services corporations in both the technical and business development roles, but I have also been able to take summer classes, run a camp for high school students, and travel to many countries.
During this past winter break, I traveled through South America. I went with one of my closest friends and fellow M&T senior, Rebecca. We had previously spent a summer working in India for an M&T alum’s startup. Both of us are avid travelers and thought that it would be fun to experience Brazil and Argentina over winter break and visit a few of our Penn friends along the way. During the course of our trip, we visited Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Patagonia. Luckily for us, the timing of our trip was perfect since the southern hemisphere was in the middle of the summer season.
Our first stop was Rio, where we spent time exploring both Ipanema and Copacabana Beach and enjoying the local cuisine. During our four days there, we visited many of the popular tourist destinations, including the Sugarloaf Mountain, Escadaria Selarón, and the Christ the Redeemer statue. At night, we met up with a few other friends from Penn to party in Lapa, a neighborhood in Rio known for its popular nightlife scene. Perhaps the highlight of our time in Rio was experiencing the New Year firework show on Copacabana Beach. Literally over 2 million people, all dressed up in white, were on the beach to watch the firework display launched from boats about 100 km (60 miles) off the coast.
Buenos Aires was the second destination of our trip. The city was made up of beautiful European-style architecture and lived up to its nickname as “the Paris of South America.” The culture had strong Spanish and Italian influences, which could be seen by the animated hand gestures of the locals as well as by the type of cuisine offered at most restaurants. The city is also known for its busy live theater and tango scene, and we were able to visit Teatro Colón (the Columbus Theater) and few other theaters in the local area. My favorite experience in Buenos Aires involved visiting La Cathedral de Tango, one of Buenos Aires’ signature tango spots. The place was an old warehouse with a small bar and a large dimly lit dance floor, where people of all ages and levels of experience were dancing to the non-stop tango music.
After Buenos Aires, we spent that last week of our trip in San Carlos de Bariloche in Patagonia, a region located in the southern end of South America known for its natural beauty. The area where we stayed was reminiscent of Switzerland, and we spent a good amount of time exploring the region and got to do a good number of outdoor activities. Our first activity involved sailing with a local Argentinian family, which included three college-going kids as well as their two parents. It was particularly interesting interacting with them and sharing stories about daily lives, especially since we would make our best attempt at speaking Spanish with them while they would try their best to speak English with us. Our other outdoor activities for the week included kayaking, rock-climbing, and biking through the mountains in the region. While biking, we were also able to visit the Hotel Llao Llao, one of the most famous hotel resorts in Argentina, and experience their well-known afternoon tea service while enjoying the breath-taking view of the mountains.
The most exciting of all the activities from the week involved climbing Cerro Tronador, one of the tallest mountains in the region located in the Andes. We trekked for almost 5 hours before arriving at the mountain hut, Refugio Otto Meiling, which is located about 1200m directly above the mountain’s base, Pampa Linda. There were about fifty other hikers who were also trekking along the same trail, and we all spent the night in the mountain hut on Cerro Tronador sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor of the hut. While at the mountain hut, Rebecca hired a guide in order to attempt to climb closer to the peak of the mountain and was able to climb to within 200m of the peak before unsafe conditions prevented them from climbing further. We began our trek down from the mountain hut around noon the day following our arrival and got to the base camp in the late afternoon before taking a bus back to our hostel in Bariloche.
Overall, the trip was absolutely amazing and was one of the best experiences that I have had during my time in college. Between spending time at the beach, watching tango performances, partying in two of the liveliest cities in South America, and climbing a mountain in one of the most scenic regions in the world, I feel that I was able to experience everything anyone could want to experience during a vacation. Better yet, I was able to do it all while spending time with some of my closest Penn friends during the trip. I strongly recommend all prospective and current M&T students to take advantage of opportunities they get while in college to travel the world and explore new things. Looking back on my college experience as a second semester senior, the only two things I wish I did more was travel to new places and do other things that I had never done before.
Ulhas is a current M&T senior in the Class of 2014 from East Windsor, New Jersey. He studies Computer Science within Penn Engineering, Finance, Management, and Operations & Information Management in the Wharton School, and South Asia Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.