Today marks 2 months that I’ve been abroad here in BA, and as with all time-crunched anniversaries, it’s only natural to become reflective….and completely freak out. Two months down means I only have three left. Have I been spending my time wisely? Have I been aprovechando (taking advantage) of as much as I can? In my time of crisis (and I fully realize what a privileged crisis this is), I can’t help but compare my own experience to that of my peers. I know there are other IFSA students who have been traveling a bunch–from skiing in Bariloche, to wine tasting in Mendoza, to visiting the waterfalls at Iguazu, to exploring pueblos in the northeast near outside of Salta, to whale watching in the south…have I been doing enough? Amidst my whirlwind of thoughts, I found reassurance in an unexpected encounter.
Last week, I spent a chilly afternoon reading for my Sociology of Education class in one of my favorite spots, El Ateneo, an old theater transformed into a bookstore, I think I’ve mentioned it before. Surrounded by such a wealth of knowledge in an awe-inspiring setting makes studying a special experience. As I sat sipping my coffee and munching on some medialunas, I struck up a conversation with a man from Madrid who was traveling around Argentina. I asked him what he had done so far and where he had been in BA. He told me, “The way I like to travel, the best way to get to know a place, is not necessarily by trying to fit in as many places or activities as possible, but instead to do exactly this, to just sit in beautiful places like this and strike up conversations and get to know people, to eat the food, experience the culture, to live like a local but with a tourist’s mentality….” I don’t know that he will ever know how refreshing it was for me to hear those words. I realized that I’d been living here with that same mentality without knowing how to put it into words. In that moment, I remembered my older brother’s words of encouragement he gave me before I left home: “This is one of the only times in your life when all you will be expected to do is be a sponge–to soak in as much as possible” (he studied abroad in Spain for a year back when he was in college). I think I’ve been a pretty good sponge so far. Reflecting on my time here thus far, what I’m going to remember and cherish most is not necessarily what I’ve done or seen, but how I’ve been touched by my experiences.
As I draft this post, I’m sitting on a bench, pen and notebook in hand, in a plaza surrounded by people enjoying the radiant afternoon. The woman sitting next to me asks me for the time, and we end up talking for a while, sharing stories. That’s usually how it begins, with a simple question. With the man from Madrid, “could I borrow your pen?” turned into over an hour-long conversation. When I stumbled over a word, he was kind enough to encourage me, “You realize that we have been talking for over an hour, and that was the first mistake you’ve made.” Virtually everyone I have met has been equally encouraging, and elated that you’re making an effort to get to know their language and culture. Alba, the woman sharing the bench with me, is waiting for her daughter, son-in-law, and her two-year-old daughter to arrive. “This is Sociology,” she tells me with a serene smile, after asking me what I’m studying and apologizing for interrupting my writing. She’s absolutely right. What better way to study social behavior in another culture than to participate in it oneself? Once her family arrives, she introduces me to them as “her new friend.” It’s moments like these that I will cherish most. This is me soaking it in.
A few nights ago, in the same plaza I sit in now, my frisbee friends and I threw around a disc at 2 in the morning. Tonight, I’ll go to my weekly bachata class, keeping in mind what happened last week after class: dancing in the streets with incredible friends and continuing to dance until sunrise the night before my 9 am class. Tomorrow, I’ll catch someone at the end of a prayer doing the sign of the cross on the bus, and I’ll pass around a cup of mate with my classmates to try to stay awake. I’ll pass by gray-haired men playing chess and cards in the park on my walk home. I’ll hear the raspy voice of the neighborhood clown who gathers all the kids on the playground together for a show. I’ll stand up in a jam-packed pizzeria scarfing down the mountain of bread and cheese that porteños consider to be pizza, while of course not using my hands, but a knife and fork. I’ll watch Esperanza Mía, our favorite soap opera, with my host mom, Nelly. I’ll live like a local with a tourist’s mentality, soaking in every changing landscape I see and every mala palabra I hear.
There came a time during my Almost-Mid-Semester Crisis where I strongly considered staying here for another semester. There is still so much to experience, so many people to meet, so much more castellano to learn. “All I have to do in life is be happy,” I thought to myself. “Why not stay, rent an apartment, take online classes, and keep soaking this all in?” While the idea still excites me, I know Argentina isn’t going anywhere, and that I can (and most likely will) return after graduation. All I know for sure is that I’ve got three more glorious months in this city, and I’m going to keep aprovechando.
Chau, un beso, un abrazo,