I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for about 6 months last spring. I say “lived” instead of “studied abroad” because it better describes my time. It only felt like I was just on a study abroad trip until a very specific moment, a bit over a month into my experience. Funny enough, my defining moment in Buenos Aires, the turning point and crux of my entire abroad experience, started with leaving the city.
Unlike many of my peers, I only left Buenos Aires once, on a roadtrip up to los Esteros del Ibera, near the Paraguayan border. One distant friend of mine invited me, and everyone else in the car were strangers to me and only recent friends to him. The trip seemed doomed from the start when we scrambled around Parque Centenario searching for one another for nearly an hour before finally leaving the city. I packed my guitar, backpack, and several bags of mate into the trunk (among several bags of exactly the same contents) and off we went. We were gone for 5 days and traveled on the cheap. We drank mate the entire time, despite driving on deeply rutted dirt roads for most of the trip, and we built makeshift parrillas (grills) next to the car at night and slept in fields in the middle of nowhere. A few people got sick, we only showered once, and we spent next to nothing. Through the whole trip, we almost never stopped talking. Nothing tests your Spanish like a few glasses of wine after several days of travel and excessive caffeine. Classes (language and otherwise) abroad are extremely important, but what you are learning. even more than the explicit content, is the under-layer, some kind of cultural fluency and adaptability that can’t be taught. So I went on this trip, big deal. I met some people, ate some things, saw some sights. Big deal, right? Well, yes. Big deal. It wasn’t just the trip so much as what changed inside me through the trip that left an impact. You pick up a certain amount of things through sheer experience that you aren’t aware of until after.
The next morning I woke up early and walked around Belgrano before starting my day, my normal routine. But something was markedly different.
My trip away was impactful in part because it was my only one. We arrived back in Buenos Aires on Sunday, exhausted and hungry. The next morning I woke up early and walked around Belgrano before starting my day, my normal routine. But something was markedly different. I woke up to texts from Argentine friends, to men at the corner kiosko that recognized and greeted me, to the old woman a block away who told me the same stories about her husband every day with her morning coffee and cigarette. I felt like I belonged. I wasn’t home, per se, but for all intents and purposes I was. There is nothing quite like going back to your own city, and I was lucky enough to have that experience only a month into my life in a foreign place. I managed to grow roots, roots that were recognized by those around me as substantial, regardless of how shallow others may feel them to be. I never left the city again on vacation. I reluctantly said goodbye when it was time to head back to Kansas City and I had no other choice. That morning after my road trip there was no other place I could have called home. In Buenos Aires, I learned to live in the moment and to love my immediate surroundings more than I ever have before. I forgot the concept of “wasted time” and learned to love every moment for exactly what it was, knowing that it could have been no other moment. Leaving was hard. Leaving was really hard. I cried with the coffee and cigarette woman, the man at the kiosko gave me a free feca (lunfardo for cafe) with the agreement that I come back one day to pay him his 10 pesos, and I had to leave a place I had learned to love for the love that it gave to me. I can only hope now that when I do eventually return it feels like that one morning after my road trip.
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