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Antes de que me voy (Before I Leave)

Time June 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Hello, internet!


I’m Yona, but you can call me Paloma. (One is Hebrew and one is Spanish, but they both mean “dove.”)


This is going to be long, so I’ll give you a sort of “table of contents” and you can use ctrl+F to skip around to the parts that interest you.


Today I’ll be talking about:
I. My Background
II. Goals for Argentina
III. Preparing for Study Abroad
IV. El vocabulario de la semana
V. La música de la semana



I. My Background


So…I guess I’m going to Argentina, guys. It’s a little surreal.


For me, studying abroad feels like a rite of passage, because everyone at my university has to take a foreign language and study abroad in a country that speaks that language to graduate. I’m a junior at a small, secular liberal arts university called Soka University of America, not to be confused with our sister school, Soka University of Japan.  I’m working on my bachelors in Liberal Arts, with a concentration (which is basically a minor) in Environmental Studies. At SUA, we’re all about fostering global citizenship (though, of course, what exactly what that means is debatable) and humanitarianism. Studying abroad is a great way to understand and connect to another culture, and you can’t have world peace if you don’t have mutual understanding first.


Soka also does Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and French, but I chose Spanish because 1) I genuinely love the language and 2) I wanted to finish what I started. I grew up in rural New Mexico, an hour from Palomas, Mexico, so speaking at least a little bit of Spanish is required just for self-defense. I’ve had Spanish classes since kindergarten, but I wouldn’t call myself fluent yet. I still speak very slowly, I lack the vocabulary to talk about certain things, and my grammar is a bit wonky. So, I’ve got a lot of room to learn!


See, I love to talk. For me it’s not just a way to convey information, it’s also a way of moving through and exploring the world. My voice is like my third hand. When you can speak multiple languages, you can open doors that other people can’t, and there are entire worlds beyond those doors. When I speak different languages, I feel like I even express different sides of my personality. Living where I do, speaking and understanding Spanish is a really big deal.


In January, I had a chance to beef up my Spanish a little more. I was very fortunate to get into a month-long class (a block period we call Learning Cluster, which allows students and professors to build a class together to learn practically whatever they want) to study mining and deforestation in Guatemala. We were there for 16 days, speaking to locals, companies, NGOs, and governmental organizations, almost exclusively in Spanish. We met so many wonderful people and saw so many things that you just would not believe… but that’s an entire blog unto itself.


On the roof of the hotel in Zacapa


The only problem is that my Spanish is all mixed up with weird border slang (like lonchar instead of almorzar for “to have lunch”) and Guatemala-specific vocabulary (like poporopos for popcorn and chucho for dog.) So finding my way in Argentina will be an adventure, haha.


I decided on Argentina, and on Mendoza specifically, because the university there offers classes in environmental studies. It’s a little terrifying to think about taking university-level classes in Spanish, but mostly I’m excited to take a look at environmental issues from an Argentinean perspective, especially because Argentina has some unique issues: desertification due to overgrazing in the north, glaciers melting in Patagonia. I can’t wait to talk to environmental science students in Argentina.



II. Goals for Argentina


1. Learn how to tango

2. Learn how to cook Argentine food

3. Meet as many interesting people as possible

4. Find an Argentinean friend who’ll have a music exchange with me

5. Make time to write poetry (posiblemente en español)

6. Go hiking in the Andes


There are also a few people I want to see…

1. My lovely friend Ranya will be in Chile at the same time that I’ll be in Mendoza, so I really want to find time to visit her. I mean, not that I need an excuse to want to visit Chile.

2. Another friend, a Soka alumna, lives about an hour away from Mendoza.

3. I found out after I chose to study in Argentina that I have a slew of cousins in Buenos Aires and Uruguay that I’ve never met. After my program ends, I’m going to stay with them for about a month, which will include the Christmas holiday.



III. Preparing for Study Abroad


The most major change I’m making in preparation for study abroad is my eating habits. Argentina is renowned for its beef…which is funny because I’m renowned as a vegetarian. This summer I’ve gone omnivorous again, because the last thing I want is to show up at my host family’s house to find that they’ve roasted up some animal for me and then have to try to explain to them why I can’t eat it. I don’t want to be ungrateful to them. Besides, I’m there to immerse myself in the culture, right? It’s not going to be worth the hassle to try to stick to veggies only. I’m starting now so I don’t shock my system and make myself sick. When I’m back in the U.S. I’ll go back to veggies, and then I’ll have an adventure trying a little bit of everything. :)


I also had a bit of packing-panic: how much clothing is enough for 5 months? Part of the problem is that whatever I take for Argentina is what I have for the summer, because I had to put the rest in storage until I come back in January. I’ve been torn between my vanity and the need to not have 80 billion pounds of things to tote around. The Butler website and friends who have previously gone abroad have both warned me not to over pack. I finally settled on about 2 weeks of outfits. I’ll let you know whether or not that turned out to be the right amount. I’m hoping to get more use out of my summery clothes (which I’ll need for December in Buenos Aires) by layering them up with tights and long socks during the winter. It’s unfortunate that it’ll be winter when I show up at the end of July, because that means I only have 1 pair of shorts and a whole lot of long sleeved shirts for this summer here in sunny California, haha.


I’m staying in California for the summer instead of going home to New Mexico, which is nice because it allows me to visit friends and work, but it’s also sad because next time I do go home I’ll have been away for an entire year. I’m sharing an apartment with friends, and by some weird coincidence all of us speak at least some Spanish. It’s great to have people to practice with, because for me the hardest part is trying to switch into SPANISH MODE after being in ENGLISH MODE. I’ll be all warmed up by the time I leave.


We’ve watched a few movies in Spanish together. The first was Sin noticias de dios. (Sorry—I don’t remember the English title. It’s got Penelope Cruz and it’s available on Netflix instant streaming.) We also watched Como agua para chocolate, which you might know better by its English title, Like Water for Chocolate. It’s cute and silly. I’m also reading the book, which I’m very excited about because it’s actually at my Spanish reading level. I tried reading Cien anos de soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez before, but I kept having to refer back to my English copy of the book to figure out what was going on. (I’m only on page 15. Scuze me while I weep in frustration.) Como agua para chocolate is also very short—only about 100-and-something pages.




Other than that, I’ve mostly been hanging out with friends, trying to get a little writing done, working, cooking, and relaxing. I’m saving my energy for Argentina, I guess, haha.



IV. El vocabulario de la semana




These are words I came across because I needed them to explain/understand something. Maybe they’ll come in handy for you too.


Enjuagar – to rinse

Cochinero – mess

Amistad – friendship 😀

Comprobar – to prove



V. La música de la semana




My Argentinean friend has warned me that some of my most beloved websites, like Pandora, won’t work in Argentina, so I’ve been trying to stock up on tunes while I can. Mostly I’ve been gathering music in English because I have a feeling I’m going to miss it, but I also stumbled onto this cool Venezuelan band called tomatesfritos (or, Fried Tomatoes, en ingles).


If you want to check them out and practice your Spanish, you can download their album Hotel Miramar for free right here (and it’s completely with the artists’ permission, too.)