This is my first attempt at producing anything close to a blog and I'm not quite sure what this medium of social media is supposed to contain, but here we go!
I decided to create this blog in order to be able to later reflect on this very unique experience that I am fortunate enough to have. Having never studied abroad before, or done anything similar, I am entering a culture completely different from the one inside my comfort zone. The last time I took any form of a Spanish class was about three years ago and let's just say that there is an extremely large amount of room for improvement. I am going into this once in a lifetime experience with only three things: an open mind, a bottomless pit of a stomach, and a spanish to english dictionary. Thanks to anyone who reads my entries -- it's pretty cool to have others along with me on my journey!
Okay, I'm in the airport, ready to depart for my connecting flight in Houston, TX. The closer and closer I get to my gate, the more and more the nerves build. I'm finally in my seat. We make it 5 minutes in the air and just as I pull out a book written by Chelsea Handler, the plane makes a sudden 2 second drop. A collective gasp from all thirty passengers sucked the recycled air right out of the plane. Soon the captain informed us that we were leaking fuel from the left wing of the plane. Just what a nervous flyer like myself wants to hear. Long story (a little bit) short(er) I ended up back in my home town of Cincinnati for one more night with the family, and most importantly my chocolate lab, Kobe (and yes, he is named after the one and only greatest basketball player Kobe Bryant).
The following day I would set the marker for take two on my trip to Buenos Aires. So I go through all of the motions performed 24 hours ago like a pro. I didn't forget anything in my pockets through security, I knew exactly where my gate was, and I didn't have to check 46 times whether I still had my passport -- well I still did that, that's a hard one to get over.
And then I sat in my seat. Right next to the right wing of the plane behind a dad and his two year old daughter. Just because of what happened yesterday I immediately started to freak out (internally of course) when the plane began to ascend -- but then I took a glance at the small human in front of me. She originally sat in her dad's lap until the stewardess told her she needed to sit in her seat with her seatbelt on. As soon as her father's fingers finally released her and fastened her seatbelt, she made sounds that I would imagine were quite similar to a heated debate between a grumpy cat and an angry bird for the 20 minutes we sat on the runway waiting to ascend. What she was emoting externally was how I felt internally. Then, as soon as the plane took it's first move forward, the kid finally got quiet. She was now calm and fearless. I remember being so young and on an airplane. You watch the whole process of that ascent into the clouds in complete awe of your surroundings. And that was the moment when I decided to stop being such a baby about everything. Yeah nerves are natural to have, but why let them overtake the excitement that is natural as well? That's when I realized I needed to do a little growing up. Yeah, I would be traveling over five thousand miles completely alone into another country where I barely spoke the language, but I would be alright -- I just needed to trust that I was my own seatbelt. So from that one instance of self-realization through the embarrassment of a two-year-old taking a plane ride better than my near 21-year-old self, I decided to take in all of my surroundings with eyes wide open.
So I'm here. In Buenos Aires, Argentina. The anticipation was over, I had actually made it! I made my way to la Residencía where I would be staying for the next 28 days and all I could think was, "Wow, this place is small" and "Wow, my roommate left me the top bunk." The third thought I had was, "How American of me!" and I put the somewhat negative, but also somewhat warranted thoughts aside. I met my roommate, let's call her Hadley, she recommended going out for food, and I liked her instantly. We went to get lunch and the moment when my taste buds connected with a Croque Monsieur I knew that the next month of my life would be one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Not only because of the great sandwich, but that along with the coke I ordered that only came in a bottle, the new culture surrounding me with the news being presented en español, and my order for a cafè con leche after I was done with my meal. I was entering a world unlike one that I had ever experienced, and the first hour had already been magnificent.
It only took eight days. That is about 192 hours that I have been in Buenos Aires and now I finally feel like I somewhat belong. For the past 11,520 minutes I have been immersed in a place that is completely new to me where 42.5% of the people speak English and 95% of the population do not look like me. I went through a rough period of time where I experienced a new type of homesickness. I've been away from my home in Cincinnati for college and other travels, but I had never left the country without anyone I knew. Coming to BsAs completely alone is a very unique experience. It feels like you're completely alone, but never actually alone because you are surrounded with the three million people that make up this busy city. I started to find myself questioning if I could make it another three weeks and if I was really cut out for this. However, today my mindset completely changed.
In the past week I have visited numerous areas of Buenos Aires. I attend a five hour Spanish class Monday through Friday in Belgrano and still made time to see and do so many things! I went to a classic art museum named El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. I have shopped in many different markets all over the city called ferias where I found countless artisan products. I took a trip to a government building called La Casa Rosada, or the pink house, where the president does most of her work. I was fortunate enough to take a tour to the oldest part of Buenos Aires called San Telmo and then went to Matederos, the countryside, to witness vast differences of culture in a matter of 30 kilometers. I stumbled upon the heart of downtown to view the monumental building dedicated to the explorer Juan de Garay(which can be seen as my background picture). I also traveled to La Boca, a beautifully colorful neighborhood of the city to have chocolate con churros. Leading me to perhaps the most important detail, I have enjoyed eating my way through Buenos Aires at each location having had different types of empanadas, pastas, salads, desserts, and much more that is particularly specific to Argentina.
Even though I had done all of these great things, I still found myself having this uncomfortable feeling of being an "other" - like I really didn't belong. I don't quite know how I overcame that feeling, but it happened this morning.
I took the subway downtown with my roommate to exchange U.S. money to Argentine pesos and got lost. My roommate had already left me to attend her class and I needed to find the location of the money transfer place in order to pay for the subway back to my residencia- so I had no choice, I really needed to find this place! And I eventually did. As I strolled through Tribunales by myself, I found solace in the fact that I knew things would work out and everything would be just fine. I was without my roommate, I didn't have access to all of the wonderful applications of my smart phone, and for some reason, I was not freaking out. Most of the time when I am lost I am inside my car with a GPS system - and I still freak out. But this instance was different. I took a couple wrong turns, but got to my desired location and took care of business. When I left the place I had money in my pocket and the sun was shining on a beautiful fall day in Buenos Aires with an invitation to be explored.
I continued my stroll through Tribunales, took a few pictures, and eventually took the subway back to Palermo, the city where I am staying. I started my journey to Tribunales by getting lost and ended it by discovering a clear and eased mind. By the time I got back I felt like I had finally completed something entirely on my own. I was able to successfully do something and it felt great. I no longer feel like I do not belong - and it only took eight days.
So here I am, exactly one week before my final class and I am in a state of disbelief. I have done and seen so much since I've been here, but oddly enough, I feel like I just got here yesterday. Who knew eighteen days could go by so fast? I find myself in a place where I am most definitely a tourist, but a comfortable one, and I think that's a great place to be a week before the study abroad experience comes to a close.
Yesterday, while on an hour bus ride back to my residencia, I met a family who had been traveling the world for the past six months. They explained to me how they had visited many more countries all over the globe than states in the U.S. The conversation we had was quite enlightening. After hearing about their different experiences with so many different cultures, I realized just how unique travels abroad are. It is the one medium of learning and understanding where you don't need perspective from an expert - the atmosphere surrounding you makes for the perfect classroom.
54 hours. That's all I have left in Buenos Aires and it's hard to believe. Hard to believe that I've been here for so long and hard to believe that I'm getting on a plane back home to the States and that I may never see this city again. This last month has been unforgettable and I am appreciative for every moment that I have experienced. I am excited to go home and see all my friends and family, but there is just something so unique and special about being in a place that is brand new to you where no one knows you and most people don't even speak your primary language. I wanted to study abroad for the complete cultural experience and that is exactly what I got. I've been introduced, welcomed, and acclimated into Buenos Aires and am honestly sad that I have to say goodbye in less than 54 hours.
A month in another country is a long time, but I feel as though I am still leaving sights unseen and experiences yet to be had. But would that feeling ever go away? Probably not. I feel that same way about Pittsburgh and I've been living there for almost three years now! It's just so crazy to think about leaving this incredible city. I've come to kind of have a life here. I was set into a routine during the week and on the weekends I was busy seeing and doing as much as I could. I feel like I have really gotten comfortable here and have developed a better understanding of myself in the process.
You know that line in the movie Sabrina (the '95 version with Julia Ormand) when she says, " I went for long walks and met myself in Paris" -- that's kind of what I wanted to do while I was here in Buenos Aires. Ambitious, right? But I think it was a great goal to have. Sabrina had two years to expereince her self discovery and she lived in a movie, but I think I got a sense of what this is like. I'm not expecting to return to the U.S. with a love triange awaiting my return - that doesn't sound very appealing - but I have a bit of anxiety about how life will be for me back home because I have definitely changed since I've been here. It's difficult to identify what exact qualities about myself have evolved, been ommited, or even made a first appearance in my personality, but I know I'm not the same person I was a month ago. If anything I have become a more independent person, who is now completely comfortable being by myself. This had to happen sooner or later, just becauses I'm really the only person that I have here!
For instance, last night none of the friends wanted to go out for dinner and instead of staying in, I went down the street to my favorite restaurant and treated myself to a great dinner while I studied for my exam. No one was sitting across from me, not even on my laptop, and it was all good. I enjoyed my meal, took my time, and successfully studied my spanish. Below you can see my tagliatelle with salmon and shrimp and my porteño dessert. And Mom and Dad, that is the same glass of wine in both pictures, just a little clarification :)
Although I have a newfound sense of independence, I was alone for only a fraction of the time I spent in Buenos Aires. I met a lot of great people and made so many friends, who I probably would have never met outside of this experience. It had been a couple years since I had to make friends in order to have people to hang out with - and at first it wasn't so easy.
I only came to Buenos Aires with two other people in my study abroad program: my roommate and a girl of Mormon Faith from Iowa (neither of which I really had much in common with). I quickly realized that I definitely took my roommate and best friend for the past two years for granted. It really ain't that easy to live with a new person, especially in a teeny tiny room with bunk beds! About a day and a half in, I realized that I really needed to branch out and make new friends. Eventually, I met other students at my school and got introduced to their people and before I knew it I had multiple groups of people to hang out with. It all worked out beautifully. And I'm very glad it did because the people here are great and I've had some fantastic times with all of them.
Overall, indivudually and socially, I'm grateful for the experiences that I have had. Whether I was walking alone in the botanical garden across the street or having a great time in one of the best clubs in the world with new friends, the experience was well worth it. I learned things about myself through the time that I spent only with my thoughts and through conversations that I had with people from all over the world.
For the past twenty-six days, I took long walks, bus rides, and got lost a few times, but was finally formally introduced to the person that I hope to eventually meet.
So here I am, less than two hours before my taxi takes me off to the airport. I'm sitting in my favorite Cafè Martinez drinking what is most likely my last cafe con leche and media luna. I'm a bit sentimental right now. I've had such an amazing experience in this beautiful city of Buenos Aires that I am finding it challenging to say goodbye. Who knows if I will ever have the chance to visit this wonderful place again?
I just walked around my neighborhood one last time to get some last minute gifts, for friends, family and myself. As I walked around the different stores and the feria, I realized how many familiar faces I encountered. So many of the people I passed were familiar enough to say hello and ask how I was doing and how much longer I would be here. Some gave me their email so we could stay in touch just in case our paths crossed sometime in the future.
There is one guy, Jose, who works at the produce market a block away from my residencia who would sell me one apple every morning before school who gave me the biggest compliment today. He told me that when I bought my first apple from him he could totally tell that I was not from Argentina. He said my spanish was "no very good" and that he could just tell that I was not from here. Then he went on to say that now I walk and talk like I am a porteña. This was such a great thing to hear. While the month I had here went by extremely quick, it was definitely enough time to be able to observe and adapt to the culture of Buenos Aires.
Before arriving to Buenos Aires, I thought of the month that I had here to be something like a vacation. I was wrong. The time that I spent in Buenos Aires was more like a move. I actually lived here for a month. A month isn't quite a significant amount of time to claim as an actual change in homes or anything, but it did feel like it. When I look back to four weeks ago, it seems like forever ago just because of the changes that I've gone through since then. I wouldn't go out after it got dark. I didn't really know anyone. I was very prone to getting lost and not knowing how to articulate a grammatically correct sentence. Now, I feel as though I have made a temporary home out of Buenos Aires. I feel more than comfortable with going somewhere on my own and making pleasant conversation with the locals. I have made friends with porteños, Americans, and others from around the world. I have been able to eat some of the greatest food in the world. And along the way I was able to discover pieces of myself that I didn't know existed before.
As I sit here, in my favorite cafe, I feel nothing but happiness and appreciation. I am elated to be able to reflect on this fantastic experience with nothing but love for Buenos Aires. I am so grateful that I have been able to live here for a month. I feel as though I strolled through the streets of Palermo earlier with the biggest smile on my face. Elation is definitely the right word for it. I know that I will forever remember my time in Argentina, and cannot wait to tell my family and friends all about it.
I've encountered so many different people and places that have inspired me to decide to write a collection of poems about my experience here in Buenos Aires. I look forward to diving into this project and cannot wait to see what comes from it. I hope to keep this blog updated throughout my creative process. Thanks to everyone who read my blog - this is officially my last time writing in Buenos Aires!!!
© 2013 by GABRIELLE WEST