Spring semester 2016 in Buenos Aires Valerio Farris and Marsha Ho served as facilitators at Breathing Room, a drop-in group made by students for students to have a safe space to talk and share their experiences while studying away. You can read more about the establishment of Breathing Room in an earlier post. They share their experiences in this conversation.
1. What are your class years, school affiliation, and majors? How long have you studied in Buenos Aires and why did decide to do so?
M: I’m a rising senior with Liberal Studies and my major is Global Liberal Studies. I’ve been in Buenos Aires for 2 semesters and staying the year is actually a feature of my major but I like to think even if it wasn’t, I would’ve stayed by choice.
V: I’m a rising senior studying Media, Culture, and Communication in Steinhardt. I arrived in Argentina in September and spent the whole of my junior year studying at the Buenos Aires campus.
M: Valerio and I are basically facilitators of Breathing Room, we get the food ready, start the conversation, try and make everyone feel included and welcome. I became involved last semester when it was first started by the Silver School of Social Work Masters students by simply attending and really enjoying the space they had set up. For me, the main aim of Breathing Room was always to just be a safe space for students, by students where we could just be ourselves, talk about what we needed to talk about and have this place be ours.
V: What Marsha and I do is basically provide the support for Breathing Room to grow. After being approached last semester by two social work students, and Breathing Room’s founders, we were tasked with making sure the program got on its own two feet this semester. But after that, it really took off on its own. The students who come week after week to fill the space with their words and their thoughts are really the reason it has been such a success. We make the flyer and bring the food, but once the room fills with students every week and the conversation picks up that’s when Breathing Room really comes to life.
3. Can you explain how you approached your work with Breathing Room? How did you organize or structure the process in the Breathing Room meetings?
M: It was really organic and surprising to me really! Monika and Nohelia just approached me one day asking if I would be interested in filling their shoes when they left and I was just like, yes of course! When we started facilitating it, Valerio and I would just find some time to talk about what we wanted to bring up in the session but we were also always really open to talking about whatever the group wanted to discuss.
V: I agree with Marsha, organic is a word we really stuck to this semester with our approach to BR. Because neither of us came from a background in social work, nor were we graduate students, we wanted to really make sure everyone felt like they were on the same level. We would enter the room with some semblance of what we wanted to discuss but also made sure to let the conversation flow in whatever direction it needed to. Usually we started with a topic or theme that was relevant to current events or something that was going on around campus and from there conversations would spring forth. We often ended up discussing something completely different that what we originally intended.
4. How many students on average took advantage of the programming to go there? Was there a core group that came regularly, or were most students one-time visitors? If there was a core group, how many students were involved?
M: On average, there were about 7 each week and there definitely was a core group who came consistently. The core group had about 3 or 4 people that we would always see each week.
5. Was there an external unique event or local or world circumstance that prompted more use of Breathing Room?
M: There were events like the US elections and spring break which were definitely topics we talked about a lot in Breathing Room but none that particularly called for more sessions.
V: Because Marsha and I were second semester students we drew a lot upon things we knew students grappled with upon coming to Argentina. We tried to focus on ways that our personal identities (race, gender, sexual orientation) played out in a new setting. You’re dealing with a whole host of stimuli when coming to a new place to study and we wanted Breathing Room to be a place where you could hash things out that maybe you don’t get the opportunity to in a classroom or in a homestay setting.
6. What theme was most recurring?
M: Hmmm, this is a tough one. I think we did talk about identity quite a few times and how being in a different city causes us to ask questions about ourselves and who we are/who we think we are. We also brought up politics, both US and Argentine, and those conversations were always interesting.
7. I understand that Breathing Room is not a clinical space. Did you ever need to interact with pertinent site staff — Assistant Director of Student Life, the Wellness Counselor, or Site Director in cases where a clinical or administrative response was called for? If such interactions occurred, how did that unfold?
M: No, never.
V: No we didn’t, but we knew from the beginning that if we needed to that was always an option. We got a lot of support form the site’s administration but they also let us take the project in a direction that we saw fit. I think I speak for both of us when I say that the freedom allowed to us from the school was greatly appreciated and very necessary for the growth of something like Breathing Room.
8. What would you do to improve Breathing Room at NYU Buenos Aires?
M: Due to difficult scheduling, Breathing Room was kind of at a weird time this semester and I think it would be nice if NYUBA could set aside a time for it, the same way they do with Tuesday Lectures so that more people can attend if they want to!
9.Do you think you could successfully bring Breathing Room to NYC or your home base? Have you thought about doing so?
M: I definitely think Breathing Room would be really great on the New York campus and I have thought about it but because the audience is also so much bigger and varied, the logistics of making it happen to the same effect and level of intimacy might be difficult. However, it’s not out of the question!
V: I think that Breathing Room would be a great idea anywhere. I think it’s so important, however, to think about BR in the context of study abroad campuses where the resources for students to discuss amongst themselves might not be as varied or abundant as they would be in a place like New York or Shanghai or Abu Dhabi. Studying abroad is such an enriching, but taxing, experience and while each site has its own wellness counselor, I think BR provides something for students that is completely unique. It’s a time for us to melt away the world outside and bounce ideas and opinions off of one another. When you’re living in a new place there’s so much for you to think about, so much to keep track of, but BR really became a place to leave all of that at the door, step inside and take a deep breath.