“Mother isn’t here now
(Wrong things, right things)
Who knows what she’d say?
(Who can say what’s true?)
Nothing’s quite so clear now
(Do things, fight things)
Feel you’ve lost your way?
(You decide, but)
You are not alone
No one is alone
(No one is alone
Hello, all! It’s that time again, time for me to update you on my life here in Mendoza. But as I sat down to write this blog post I had trouble coming up with many concrete things to tell you. Because the past few weeks haven’t really been about seeing or doing new things, they’ve been about connecting with the people I already know and gaining more comfort in my daily life here. After having been here for three and a half months life has to take on some semblance of normalcy or I wouldn’t be able to function. I’m finding that, though I enjoy going on adventures, I can’t have them be my everyday life, I need something more reliable to fall back on, and I need the assurance of being around people who I trust. Luckily that’s starting to take shape for me here.
For some time I’ve had very good friends in the IFSA program who I could go to to complain about cultural differences or to seek comfort from in a weaker moment, but those relationships have continued to deepen in the past weeks and I’ve grown closer to even more of my IFSA friends. As the weeks go by I realize more and more how grateful I am to have a community of fellow study abroad students who will understand what I’m going through when no one else will, and to remind me that I’m not crazy, or stupid when words and cultural differences don’t translate. On top of that I feel extremely lucky to have spent the semester with a group of such interesting, kindhearted people. In many study abroad programs exclusive cliques form quickly and people keep to themselves but everyone in our program has been open and welcoming to everyone else, and it has made this experience so much better. So, thank you, my IFSA friends! You’re awesome!
A hiking adventure
out for drinks!
I’m also excited to say that I have Argentine friends as well! Though schedule differences and social inhibitions have prevented me from spending as much time with them as I do with my friends on the program I make the time I cherish every moment I do have with them. Some of my best moments in Argentina have been spent at bars chatting with my amigos argentinos while we wait for our beer, pizza, and peanuts to arrive. Spending time with locals is the best way to learn the language and learn about argentine culture. Communicating with foreigners is not the easiest of tasks, and my Argentine friends have all demonstrated immense patience and encouragement towards me as I strive to make a connection. One example is when we all played pictionary one night and the argentines let us consult them if there was a word we didn’t know, or even pick a new word if we couldn’t understand what it meant. I’ve come to not take that willingness to get to know another person for granted, I am so grateful for the Mendocinos who, despite the difficulties, have stuck around long enough to get to know me, and for me to know them. My argentine friends, you are the people I will remember long after I forget the name of the best empanadería or the color of the bus I took to class every day, I hope you know that every act of kindness you gave me fueled my heart anad soul and made me feel more accepted and safe in this new place. ¡Muchas gracias, mis amigos, ustedes son fantásticos!
Invited out for Lomo sandwiches
Invited on a hiking adventure!
Another turn of events is that my host parents came back from their trip through Europe and Israel. I’ve been so happy to have them back in the house, things are more interesting when they’re around, I have more opportunities for conversations in Spanish and I have more people I can ask for help. An interesting result of their absence is that I can markedly see how my language skills have improved by comparing the ease I have in communicating with my host parents now versus when I first arrived. Also, I can see that I’ve gained much more comfort in fitting in to my host family and determining what is and is not expected of me. It’s not as hard for me to speak up for myself or to ask clarifying questions. It feels good when I can tell that I’m growing and learning from this experience, and it reminds me to be proud of everything I’ve accomplished in my time here.
Despite all of this, I still have days when I can’t get the words together to say what I want to say, or I get unnecessarily frustrated about a cultural difference, or I’m just tired and don’t feel like I’m making the most of an opportunity. But I guess those moments are just a part of life. I try to remind myself to focus on the good moments I’ve had here and the growth I have experienced, and remind myself that it makes all the not so great moments worth it.
One of the hardest things right now is still feeling very purpose-less. In the states I feel like an integral part of my community. I can help others and I can offer words of wisdom, and I know that I am appreciated and valued. In Argentina, it’s much harder to have those moments. Because of the language barrier I can’t always offer words of comfort or advice, because of cultural differences I don’t always know how to help or how to make myself useful. Sometimes I feel like it doesn’t matter to any Argentines that I chose to live in their country, they would have gotten on just fine without me being here. And, though that makes sense, their lives have been going on fine before my arrival and will continue to go on after I leave, the thought that I’m not a significant part of any Argentine’s life is a surprisingly frustrating one. But that frustration has made me realize an important part of myself; I need to be needed to feel fulfilled. I think that partly explains why I’m drawn to teaching and why I like it when people rely on me. Here in Argentina it’s harder to find moments to teach and to be relied upon but there have been some and they are some of my most precious memories from my time here.
One of the best things about IFSA-Butler’s study abroad program is that it gives us the opportunity to volunteer in the community. There are many options, including recording books in English for blind students, sewing blankets for the hospital, working at a center for people with special needs, or working with children. I chose to work with children because after only one month abroad my lack of regular interaction with children was already getting to me. I lucked out even further by getting the opportunity to teach English at a local elementary school. Getting to explore my interest in teaching and English language learning all in a friendly welcoming school setting? Yes please!!
The school I worked at is actually a Spanish-Italian bilingual school, and they additionally instruct in English as a third language. I spent most of my time in the 6th grade because they were the most advanced and therefore able to get the most out of the presence of a native English speaker. I was given the opportunity to basically teach the class on my own some days, and other times I tutored students one on one or evaluated their progress. I also spent a lot of time collaborating with the English teachers, sitting in on meetings, lesson planning and problem solving. I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t just the opportunity to see the workings of an Argentine school that was so wonderful, but the familiar community it created for me. From spending many hours helping at the school where my mom teaches in California, and in other schools in Massachusetts for my education classes, I’m very comfortable in the teacher’s lounge, and it was so nice to find a similar community here, it’s a language I can speak and a space where I feel that I have something to contribute.
Me and my wonderful students!
All the teachers that I worked with were wonderful, but I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to work with Anabel, who is the director of the English department. Anabel was extremely welcoming and supportive of us IFSA volunteers and, furthermore, was eager to learn about us as well as share her experiences. Being able to communicate with her in English also made it much easier to express my ideas to her and to form a strong connection quickly. Though I understand the value of connecting with Argentines in Spanish, the opportunity to connect with an Argentine in English was such a relief and helped clarify a lot of my confusions with Argentine culture, and it has been greatly appreciated!
Our wonderful directors!
As a thank you for our work at the school, Anabel took us to La Difunta Correa, a shrine in San Juan that honors a woman who died in the desert while searching for her husband, but miraculously saved her baby’s life by continuing to breastfeed him for days after she’d died. Ever since, Argentines have worshiped her as a saint and ask her for things like protection while traveling, success in their endeavors and a healthy family and home. Legend goes that if La Difunta Correa grants one of your prayers you have to leave her a token of your gratitude, or she may become vengeful. As a result, the hill on which the shrine is located is covered with offerings of gratitude. Thousands of model houses dot the land as well as less conventional objects such as plastic hard hats, hub caps, and plaster casts. Half of the Argentines believe in this fervently while the other half think it’s completely crazy. Whether you believe or not, It was fascinating to see all the things people have brought to La Difunta Correa over the years, it gives you a tiny insight into their lives. It’s nice to think that each of the many objects there represents a good turn of events in someone’s life. Though I may not believe in La Difunta Correa, I’m definitely a fan of finding a way to express your gratitude for the blessings in your life!
As the weeks go on, and I get a little more tired from being abroad, I find myself seeking more of the things that connect me to home, one of which is musical theatre. That, and the Tony awards last week make the lyrics from this song from my favorite musical, “Into the Woods” especially pertinent to the events of the past weeks. Even in my lonely moments, I am not alone, and even when I feel like I’m not making a difference, I am, just by being present, and being myself. In the coming weeks I hope I’m always aware that I’m not alone and that I remember to cherish the connections I have with my friends, both near and far.
“You move just a finger
Say the slightest word
Something’s bound to linger
Someone is on your side
No one is alone”