On my most recent adventure in Bariloche, I talked quite a bit with the other people staying in our hostel. And like many interactions between travelers, it’s easy to find yourselves swapping experiences, going on about how traveling changes you, how your friends and family react to your experiences once you come home. In the moment, I didn’t realize how valuable those conversations would be as I transitioned to living back in the states. But now that I’ve been back for over a week now, I couldn’t be more grateful for those pep-talks.
My expectations before I left to study abroad were relatively far off, nervous for things that turned out to be a breeze, (remember when I was afraid that most people in my program would be Spanish-speaking pros? Yeah, we were all mostly in the same boat) and completely unaware of what would turn out to be the considerable difficulties, like sometimes feeling alone in a city of 3 million people.
Coming home has been a similar process of feeling simultaneously comfortable and frustrated. I feared that I would return home and everything would suddenly be invalidated; that my life in Argentina would be separate from my life in the U.S. and the links between those lives would suddenly dwindle like the silk of a spider web brushed away by a hostile hand. And to a certain extent that’s true. Luckily, those conversations in Bariloche prepared me for that. I’m fresh out of my experience and want to share everything I saw, heard, ate, smelled, did, lived for the past 5 months of my life, and quite frankly, not everyone is as eager to listen as I would have thought. But, thankfully, my brother was also studying abroad this semester in Chile, and we were able to go on and on about our experiences to one another, comparing everything from our goodbyes with our host families to the items we brought back from our respective countries. That has helped the transition immensely.
It is sometimes frustrating to be incapable of capturing the essence of Buenos Aires and Argentina when faced with reductive, generalizing questions like “Are they religious?” or “How was the meat?” These questions don’t even scratch the surface of the complex, chaotic, marvelous, rich culture of my new home. But when I’m asked an open-ended question like “What are you going to miss the most?” or “Do you have any good stories?” the wheels in my head start turning and I’m instantly transported back. Suddenly I’m walking back on Sante Fe, I can smell the strong smell of fish from the shop on the corner of my block, hear the classic 152 bus that I took so many times roaring past, see the carnations poking out of the flower stands on the street. I realize now that my experience can never be invalidated because it is mine. And no one can change that.
I’m incredibly grateful to live in a beautiful part of the world, with the ocean minutes away from my house. And I definitely soaked in all of that beauty as soon as I returned home, going for little hikes and long walks on the beach. But I missed being out of my comfort zone, challenged to expand my vocabulary and improve my grammar every single day, exploring new parts of the city and country, overwhelmed with constant newness. At home, everything is familiar. Everything. So I decided that it’s best not to stay home for too long. After all, “the core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.” I decided to head down to Florida, partially to escape the winter in New York, mostly to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who always cook up some great adventures. I’ve gone through beekeeping 101 (complete with ridiculous bee suit), gone searching for chameleons, and learned a bit about the art of brewing beer.
There are of course a number of cultural adjustments that will take some time to get used to. Take punctuality for example. I went on a group hike with my parents the day after I got back, and it was scheduled to start at 10 am. At 10:01, I kid you not, the leader of the hike hadn’t arrived yet, and the concern and panic that the group articulated was almost laughable. We’re not in Argentina anymore, I thought to myself. And the men. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not miss being cat called in the street, but I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the type of chivalry (I suppose that’s the best word for it) I’d experienced in Argentina. Even if I were getting on a bus with a group and I didn’t know the direction to tell the bus driver, the guys would always let me and the other girls get on first. I would rarely walk into a room behind a male. Now, here in the states, whenever a man walks in front of me to go through a door, it just feels strange, almost rude. And this is coming from someone who considers herself a feminist! There are plenty of other “reverse cultural shocks.” Produce sections at grocery stores are so abundant to the point of absurdity. You actually pick up your pizza here, instead of cutting it with a knife and fork. I am now a minor again, and cannot even buy a bottle of wine from the liquor store, nonetheless a beer at 8 am if I wanted to. I find myself trying to throw in Spanish phrases in my everyday speech (things like ya fue and poco a poco come to my mind before any English equivalent now), catching myself before I sound like a strange, pretentious fool.
So, where do I go from here? I keep learning, keep watching movies and TV in Spanish, keep growing, keep pushing myself outside of my comfort zone (that’s where I’ve ironically become most comfortable) and keep gaining Life Profit.