Wrapping up a dream
Every time I leave a place, it doesn’t seem to hit me and leaving Mendoza is no different. I walk through the tree-lined streets to my universities, meet in one of the plazas with friends, laugh over the stories of my host brother and pop into the IFSA office as if this will go on forever – not like it could be one of the last or the last time I do so. I’ve gotten so comfortable, life has become so normalized and routine and real, that I do not feel it can end. Fewer new experiences surprise me and there are less times that I am faced with a situation that leaves me lost. I guess I should take this as evidence that I have adapted pretty well.
I still pause when I speak and need to ask what words mean or for synonyms all the time, but I’m not struggling and re-conjugating every verb like I was at the beginning. More and more my professors and the other students have been mentioning how far I’ve come, as easily one of the poorest Spanish speakers (maybe the poorest of our little group of 10) when I arrived. This honestly has surprised me a lot. At the beginning, which was somehow just 4 months ago, I remember being so intimidated and self-conscious. I convinced myself, at my level, it was impossible to improve vastly in less than 5 months. I improved pretty quickly in the first month, but felt I hit a plateau in improvement. At that time in order to not disappoint myself, I accepted that maybe my Spanish wouldn’t improve greatly from that point, but I could work on expanding my vocabulary at least. Something happened in the final month. Out of nowhere (it appeared to me) I could speak with so much less effort. Even effortlessly at times, something I never expected to feel. I felt it most when chatting with my host family or fellow volunteers about topics I used to feel I did not have the adequate words to describe and then just resolved to listen. I also felt it during unexpected class presentations when we were supposed to just talk on our own, naturally and freely about different topics we studied. It’s like the words I got tongue-tied over were finally flowing out! I have to say it felt good, reassuring and gave me a new confidence to contribute more to conversation and share more of my ideas and opinions in different settings. Looking back at my personal notes where I wrote to just accept where I was at, despite the low level, and just do my best to improve, make me smile now. Although there were times where I had serious doubts about how effective my studying was and how well I’d be able to manage the language throughout the program, it seems at least some doubts were definitely unfounded. I am not done yet, but I feel I will be able to leave Mendoza with a sense of accomplishment and pride in my efforts and of course, great appreciation for the teachers, students, my host family and countless other Argentines that shaped my learning experience so profoundly.
Amidst these quiet feelings of joy, I carry that same sense of strangeness I alluded to earlier. I feel like I’m going to do finals and suddenly, it will be time to go. With no chance to return to all the places I love and see the people I will miss so dearly. I would like everything to be nicely wrapped up before I leave, but I wonder if that can happen. A month ago, I thought : “Just a month left! Got to mentally prepare for this!” but now even closer, I still don’t feel any better prepared. I guess I am also realizing that a lot of things I hoped would happen or I hoped I could do, simply won’t or can’t happen at this point – it’s almost finals! I’ve done so much, yet my time here feels unfinished. It’s hard to explain, but I honestly feel it doesn’t make sense that I’m leaving. Like the little reminder email I just got for my flight is unreal or just incorrect.
I especially feel sad leaving the other IFSA students. I didn’t really expect to get quite close to them. I thought it was a situation where we’d all be dropped in our study abroad location, make friends for the semester out of necessity and for support and then drop it after. I didn’t think anything deeper than that would form. Yet, our small group ended up getting quite close. I could call every single student a good friend that I am incredibly thankful for meeting. Some of us have already exchanged addresses so we can write each other letters when we get back, others are attending one girl’s wedding in July and others are planning visits to each other’s campuses and hometowns. It amazes me how close we’ve gotten and I truly hope we can all stay connected and see each other in the future. After seeing them pretty much everyday and inviting each other to everything that happened in our Argentine lives, it feels like a dream. Soon I won’t see them at all and if I do, it may be years from now. This current everyday life I’ve gotten so used to will suddenly vanish, with just the fragments of memories left as if it were a dream. I will go home and I will be the only one in my life carrying those fragments. Whenever I mention Mendoza or Argentina or San Juan or Bariloche or Chile or any of these memories, it will be in sharing them with those around me…not in reminiscing with anyone who was actually there. Study abroad will be past me – I will speak of it in past tense. This is all quite hard to imagine honestly. Maybe I sound kind of dramatic but this is my most honest words for the funny sensations overtaking me lately.