Education Abroad Global Ambassador: The Value of Supporting Local Artists When Studying Abroad by Gabrielle Thornton
Hello everyone! My name is Gabrielle Thornton. I am a senior in the Tourism and Hospitality Management Program, and a new Global Ambassador with the Office of Education Abroad. Back in March of 2020, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Mendoza, Argentina on an MTSU Signature Program. Like all students who travel abroad for the first time, I wanted to make sure that I had something local to remember my experience by. My family and friends had also requested small things from Argentina—as compensation for how much I talked about my excitement for the trip before my departure date.
On the first night of being in Mendoza, we went out to explore the city a bit. There were several shops in the city that were meant for tourists. They had plenty of Mendoza and Vendimia merchandise and souvenirs that were inexpensive and “authentic.” I decided to wait to start my shopping, and I am so glad that I did. Within the next few days, one of the things that our group stumbled upon was a local artists’ open market at Plaza Independencia—one of the local parks in Mendoza. This open market was home to many talented Argentines who were dedicated to their crafts and were passionate about the people that they were able to meet through this market.
Some of the things that these artists specialized in included jewelry, pottery, leatherworking, clothing and blankets, paintings and drawings of famous sites throughout Mendoza, and handmade mate gourds—a significant part of the social culture in Argentina. The open market quickly became one of our favorite places to visit as visitors to Mendoza. Every night, there were new artists added to the market and we were able to make friends with some of the artists who were frequently set up on the nights that we visited.
Although it was more expensive to buy items from the local artists, I believe that it is part of what made my experience abroad so successful. Plaza Independencia gave me the opportunity to connect with local individuals on a level that I would have never experienced had I just bought my items from a tourist shop and went on my way. I would never trade this experience for the world. Not only was it influential in my experience, I was able to support these talented artists directly and contribute to their local economy in a more meaningful way than if I had purchased the items at a retail location. This is one of the first things that I will tell someone who has decided to go abroad: don’t take the first and easiest opportunity to spend your money. Dig deeper into your experience and not only will you not regret it, you’ll be making a difference.
Photo L to R: Miranda Duncan, Carlee Reilly, Gabrielle Thornton, Josefina Sagui, Allison Hotard, Cassie Kennedy, Christine Travis, Gabriella Ortega at Josefina’s table at Plaza Independencia.