I woke up to the sound of my host siblings fighting for the 150th time. I got out of bed, went into the kitchen and had a conversation with my host mom, and then I got dressed and went walking through the city. It was another gorgeous day in Mendoza, and I couldn’t be happier to be living there. And then I woke up for real.
This is what I dreamt about last night. It is the second time since I have been home that I have had a dream that I was still living my Mendoza life. My reaction when I wake up is bittersweet: I love finally being at home with my own family, celebrating the holidays with cold weather, snow, and Christmas carols (none of which seemed to be important aspects of Christmas there), sleeping in my own bed and exchanging stories with all of my friends from high school about our previous semester, but I miss the warm weather, the daily walks through Parque General San Martín, the wonderful new friends that I made and the laid-back way of life.
It has been exactly one week since I saw Mendoza last. Saying goodbye to my host mom at the airport was when it really hit me that I was leaving for good: knowing that this experience, this way of life, and these memories that I have made over the last five months would truly only be memories. But this past week at home has made me realize something: It’s not over. In fact, it’s nowhere close to being over. The memories that I have made are not just memories. They are life experiences that I can add to my repertoire. All of those times that I was forced to use Spanish (at the doctor’s office, in class, in the airline office, at the bank, at the tailor, in the restaurants, at the bus terminals, etc.) make doing everything in English in the States seem like the easiest thing in the world. All of the music professionals that I had the opportunity to meet in Argentina are now great connections to have for the future, and the materials that they have given me to improve my playing are invaluable. My new-found love for Argentine folk music will never die, and I have spoken to my Mendoza friends (and IFSA friends) just as much this week as I did when we were all in South America. Yes, things may be a little different now. Sharing a cup of mate over Skype with my Argentine colleagues is not the exact same as sharing a cup of mate with them in the park, but it’s still pretty close. There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Mendoza some day, which also makes the transition back to my “’normal” life much easier.
I have been thinking a lot this past week about what I have brought back with me from my time in Mendoza (no, I am not talking about souvenirs!). I think it goes without saying that my Spanish is significantly better than it was last summer (although I am still far from being fluent, I realized that truly being comfortable in a foreign language takes much more immersion time than one semester can offer, and I am still proud of where I have come in these five months). In addition to my Spanish, the geography, history, and culture of Argentina and South America make a much clearer picture in my mind now. I am also comfortable now with traveling across borders and planning trips on my own, something that was very stressful for me at the beginning of the semester. The things that I have learned about my own country and culture while abroad, through comparisons and questions from my Argentine friends, are pretty remarkable, too.
The biggest part of Mendoza that I have taken back with me isn’t the knowledge or the Spanish, but rather all of the things that I realized that I was taking for granted. Heating and air conditioning are two of the big ones, but there are so many other things that I have appreciated more in this past week than I ever did before. I am so thankful that I have my own instrument on which to practice, my own car for transportation, a family that loves each other, and reliable health care. I realize even more now what great professors I have at Shenandoah, and what amazing opportunities the university offers to become an active member of the school community, to travel, and to make the college experience much more than just sitting in class. Never again will I take for granted that we have consistent and reliable running water, electricity, and Internet in our home and at my university. I also still can’t believe that I can use public bathrooms for free, and that they are almost always supplied with toilet paper AND soap! My family doesn’t have to have our laundry spread out all over the house to dry because we have an automatic dryer, and putting dishes in the dishwasher instead of washing all of them by hand has never been so easy! I can text or call my friends on our phone plan, and I don’t have to worry that they won’t have enough credit to call me back. Some of these things are certainly just luxuries and less important in my life than others, but it is all of the little things that add up that make a huge difference in daily living.
Lastly, I am thankful for the opportunity to have studied abroad. These past five months, without a doubt, have been the best five months of my life, and they have taught me more about myself than I ever could have imagined. Mendoza will always be a part of me. These experiences, these people that I have met will always be in my thoughts and memories. Studying abroad is so much more than living in another country and going to school. It is life changing, and it is difficult to put into words the role it has played, and will have played, in my life. If you are planning to study abroad, I promise you will not regret it. If you are thinking about studying abroad, finish that application and follow through with it! If you aren’t considering studying abroad, I really hope that you will reconsider, and regardless of your major, I guarantee that it will be the most rewarding experience of your time in college.
I will leave this post, and this blog, with a few final photos of my last night in Mendoza with my host family and my Mendoza home, and the first two pictures that I took in the States with my parents. Thanks for letting me share my experiences with you! As always, if you have any questions about Mendoza or studying abroad, I am happy to answer them the best I can! Comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also want to thank IFSA-Butler for everything that they have done to make my study abroad experience a positive one. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been without them, especially with regards to the ridiculously unorganized Argentine school system! They have been with me every step of the way, and it has truly made my time studying abroad “more culture” and “less shock.” ¡Hasta la próxima vez, Argentina!