Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.
Adios Argentina! At the airport.
What a strange new connotation this word has taken on for me after being away for 24 days. The loss I felt while abroad was twofold, as I mourned the absence of both the familiar comforts of home as well as being away from my husband and children.
FAMILIARITY: In terms of familiar comforts, I quickly learned just how differently cultures can function in everyday, mundane things. These differences are often hidden, and can only be experienced to be understood. For instance, Argentineans have a very different perspective on personal space. This became apparent to me often when waiting in line or fighting my way through a crowded area. As someone who has been raised in a culture which has pretty clear standards about acceptable personal space, I was often confronted with misguided feelings of trespass on the parts of others. Returning to my comfort level in this was something I craved while away, and found immediate relief in upon my return.
View from an Argentine elevator =)
FAMILY: Missing my family was something I had done my best to prepare myself for, but could only truly understand and accept through experience. This loss often came at night, at the end of my insanely busy days. I missed the cuddles and the goodnight kisses. I became frustrated with the difficulties provided by a 4 hour time difference (when I was going to bed they were still out and about in their day, and I left for school when they were still sound asleep). I grasped the privilege that accompanies having your loved ones by your side each and every day, and relished the knowledge that this would be returned to me in short time.
…and New Friends
LANGUAGE: There was also the sense of helplessness that comes with being immersed in a language one is not fluent in. Exhausting at best, I often struggled with the fact that I did not have a command of the language that would allow me to argue my position, clarify events, or truly understand the many intricacies of different situations. If I felt I was overcharged in a store, I lacked the vocabulary and comprehension levels to defend my position with the clerk, and would usually just accept the price. When I didn’t understand happenings around me, I was thrilled to merely have the ability to translate the basics, never mind the details that might provide more meaning. And in most conversations between others (and sometimes even those that included me) I did my best to catch enough words to maintain a general understanding of the topic, with the full comprehension that I was missing a good portion of the dialogue.
“Do not let a day pass without doing something good for the world”
Coming home has taken those weights off my shoulders. Once again in my native language, I can understand dialogues without having to relentlessly concentrate, and I can argue any position I might be inclined to. I can understand the subtle intricacies of situations and discuss their often abstract meaning with others. I have been handed back the power, after placing myself in a position of powerlessness.
And what has all this taught me? Have I accomplished those goals I set for myself so many weeks ago? How will this experience continue to resound in my future?
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I do think one of the greatest lessons I have learned is how to place my trust in strangers. As U.S. citizens (not “Americans”, as we so often like to refer to ourselves, as though the term reflects only our own country and not the 34+ other American countries) we have a tendency to form tight social circles and seek assistance only from those closest to us. In Argentina, I was constantly forced to look to others around me for clarification and understanding. As scary as this was initially, I didn’t encounter a single rude reaction. Even when people were pulled away from their own routines and circumstances, each and every one was happy to help me in whatever way possible. And it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I always braced myself for annoyance or frustration. I don’t know if my surprising outcomes stem more from the fact that I put myself out there more than I usually do, that Argentines are overall fabulously friendly people, or a little of both. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. From my perspective, and at the risk of sounding hokey, my faith in humanity was restored just a bit through this trip.
Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things- air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky- all things leading toward the eternal or what we imagine of it.
One of the major goals I set for myself was to speak only Spanish while abroad. I didn’t accomplish that, but it is not with regret. I spoke more Spanish in these three weeks than I have in my lifetime. My fluency jumped leaps and bounds, as did my confidence. And sometimes yes, when my brain hurt so badly from the constant translating and lack of ability, I did revert to English temporarily with those around me who also spoke English. But I don’t feel this took away from my immersion experience as I originally feared it might. Rather, it gave me a chance to recharge and recoup just a little bit, and that left me refreshed and ready to return to Spanish wholeheartedly once again. I think that had I not had these opportunities, I probably would have grown so tired and overwhelmed that many days I would have retired early just so that I could shut down. Instead, I found myself eagerly seeking out new and exciting cultural experiences and conversations late into many nights. And it was through these experiences that I learned so very much and saw the most personal growth within myself, both linguistically and culturally.
Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.
As for how this experience will continue to resonate in my future, I can’t see a single minute of it not playing a role, as I myself have changed so very much. I have now experienced firsthand the trials and predicaments of being linguistically immersed in a foreign language. Although there were times I was jealous of my peers with greater Spanish skills, it was though this struggle that I experienced my own growth. I now have personalized experience from which to draw empathy and understanding for my future ELL students as they labor daily in learning a new language while being surrounded by it. And ultimately, that was my greatest objective in this experience.
But even more so (and unexpected) is how much I have changed at my very core. I was prepared to deal with cultural differences, but I was unprepared for how they would change my own perspective on my home culture. It is with new eyes that I examine everything around me now. Having experienced such differences in schools, customs, habits, language, and general personalities, I can’t help but constantly notice how the American culture compares. It makes me grateful for so many things I took for granted previously, and gives me vision for changes I’d like to be a part of. All of this will reverberate in my relationships with my family, friends, and future students. And I can’t help but think, how lucky for all of us.
An author and traveler named Mark Jenkins once said:
Adventure is a path. Real adventure- self-determined, self-motivated, often risky- forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind- and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will challenge you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.
I carried this quote with me for inspiration so many weeks ago. I thought the words were beautiful and the ideas were captivating. Now I get it. I get every word of that quote with my very being. And I realize that I truly did see so very much in shades of black and white those many weeks ago. Even when I thought I was seeing gray, I really wasn’t. But Argentina has opened up a whole new spectrum of grays to me. And those grays paint my current and future world in more vivid colors that I ever could have imagined. Jessie
A great place indeed
I couldn’t agree more
Celebrating el dia de los ninos with a new toy
A final day, marked in flowers
Hasta la vista, Buenos Aires