That’s the “witty” title that Emory came up with for that blissful time in our lives as freshmen. Those first few weeks of orientation at Emory, as with most other schools, camps, programs, etc., consisted of awkward “getting to know you” games, endless lectures, and a ton of silly questions like “Do I need to raise my hand if I need to go to the bathroom in class?” My apologies to all of those dedicated Orientation Leaders out there, but everyone knows that orientation is seldom “GREAT.”
These are the expectations with which I came into Orientation in Buenos Aires. And to a certain extent, I was accurate in my hasty judgments. There are always awkward moments during orientation (i.e. when you accidentally ask if the potato comes to speak at the universities, when you actually mean the pope). And there are always lectures about safety and security (if you haven’t heard about the “mustard scam,” I recommend that you look it up). But to a much larger extent, I was mistaken. Orientation this week has not been so awkward after all.
And what better way to start orienting oneself to a new city, new country, new continent, than to be thrown into a cab alone and left at the address of a woman you have never met? On that sidewalk alone in BA, I felt the most pure and intense sensation of fear I have ever endured before. It took me what felt like hours to finally get into the building, and what felt like days to figure out how to work the elevator to get to the 12th floor. It’s one of those cage-type elevators that looks like something out of a spy movie. I successfully, though clumsily, made it to the apartment, and met my host mom. Nelly is a 70-something petite woman with the most welcoming smile and phenomenal culinary skills. Seriously, this woman knows how to cook, and she also knows how to ensure that I am constantly stuffed to full capacity. Each morning, she sets up a whole tray of food for me, complete with café con leche (coffee), pan tostado (toast), dulce de leche (if you need a translation, you haven’t lived), and various crackers and fruits. I’m typically on my own for lunch, which is great because I get to explore all the incredible cafes and restaurants with my friends. Around 5-6pm, Argentines enjoy a merienda or snack, which is actually just dessert before dinner (AKA the greatest idea of all time). Nelly and I finish off with dinner around 9 or 10pm, consisting of mostly meat, carbs, and a salad. And of course, dinner is always followed by dessert #2 of the day (Nelly’s flan with dulce de leche and whipped cream is to die for).
With all of this food, I seriously thought that I would swell up like Violet from Willy Wonka in no time. And then I realized how much walking I would be doing every day….which leads us away from my tangent about food and brings us back to orientation. On the first day, we got a pocket guide to the colectivos (buses) and subte (subway) and were given vague instructions on how to use it. Now, I haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit my father’s impeccable sense of direction. I’m not as bad as my mother, but I’m somewhere in between. And “somewhere in between” just doesn’t cut it when you’re living in another country trying to figure out the transportation system. The first few days, I purposefully got lost alone in order to try to find my way back home (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I was in a safe part of the city). And I made it successfully, which by the way is a lot more fulfilling when you don’t have any wifi to rely on. But over the weekend, when our days were free to explore, just as I thought I had gotten a feel for the way things work around here, I got desperately lost for over an hour. When I finally got home, I had to change quickly and head out to meet some friends for dinner. Long story short, what was supposed to be a 15 minute bus ride ended up taking an hour and a half. It was discouraging and frustrating, but it’s all part of the process of acclimating to life here. Plus, people on the streets are usually super helpful when you ask them which way you should be going. A few people have even come up to me on the street and asked me for directions, thinking that I’m from around here!
The only way to get over the frustration of feeling like a complete rookie in this city is to swap similar stories between fellow study-abroad friends. One of my friends almost kissed her host mom’s elderly sister on the lips because she turned in the wrong direction for the right-cheek-to-right-cheek typical greeting. Another one of my friends admitted to me today that he hadn’t taken the colectivo or the subte yet; that he had just been walking around for hours and hours every day to save himself from the inevitable confusion of BA’s public transportation. It’s been a bit of a struggle for all of us.
Luckily, orientation has offered multiple opportunities to lift our spirits with exciting outings around the city. We went to a famous cemetery in Recoleta and were given a guided tour about the political history of Argentina. On the second day, we were told we would be going to “el teatro,” so I expected a high-class opera or something of that sort. Instead, it turned out to be a much more thrilling cirque-du-solei-esque performance, but with a lot more strobe lights, drumming, dancing, and Argentinian chanting. It was unlike I anything I had ever seen before. Plus, we’ve gone to multiple restaurants, cafes, and plazas, and parks.
So I’ve survived my first week here in Argentina! I have overcome the language barrier (more or less), I stayed out until 5:30 am (even though the Argentines really party until at least 7am), I have made some wonderful friends, explored this gorgeous city a bit, and I finally got a local phone today! All is good in the neighborhood. Next step: figure out classes so that I can actually “study” abroad. Until then!