Concluding remarks

First thoughts upon entering Kansas City

As our airport taxi drove down one of the main streets in my area, I asked our driver, in what I assumed was a very legitimate query, “Where are all the people?!” Like, was there a game on or something? (Was it football season??) Were they all at work? Had KC suddenly developed a mass transit system?? Had they ALL MOVED AWAY? I was very concerned. The driver just laughed, as if I’d been joking, which meant that… everything must have been the same? This was shocking. In BA, I saw thousands of people a day; the streets were crowded starting at about 7:30 AM until, in a lot of areas, around 11 or midnight. And they got crowded again in some neighborhoods at around 5 AM again, when people started leaving clubs. This city was always crawling with people, so it was quite strange to realize that I could very easily spend multiple days at home seeing only my parents, and maybe 10 other people if I took a walk around the neighborhood. Suburbia is just absolutely vacant, and this has possibly been the single strangest thing to adjust to since arriving home.

And 2 days into my self-imposed English language pledge…

I’m began talking to myself in Spanish. After greeting about 5 shopkeepers with “hola!” the first day out, I segued right into translating things I was thinking into Spanish, by myself, while driving around town. This is legitimately strange.  Also interesting is the fact that I sound waaay better at Spanish when I’m talking to myself, probably due to the fact that I’m not nervous.

Another revelation: it’s kind of boring to speak English. Ok, so I LOVED speaking English in Buenos Aires. Anything to make me feel interesting, intelligent, or funny; speaking English, by the end, was the biggest relief in the world. However, it’s not as fun once you’re back in the U.S. Short story: I went shopping the other day, and it was underwhelming. In BA, it’s true that I was always nervous interacting with service people, worried they’d ask me a question that I didn’t understand and that I’d get embarrassed or — the very worst — that they’d switch over to English. But at the same time, little things like making a purchase and without any miscommunications were immensely satisfying. You appreciated any successful communication in Spanish. It’s almost too easy now, and that makes it kind of boring.

Things I will miss about Argentina

  1. Mate culture

An Argentine friend once told me that, like with major world events or major milestones in life, “everyone remembers the first time they drank mate alone.” It’s a social drink that one usually brings out and circles up the group to enjoy, and it’s much less common to drink alone. That’s why, as he told me, drinking mate alone always means something big is going on in one’s life. He told me it was when he was a brand new exchange student in the U.S., and my other friend said it was when she’d first come back from a year spent on exchange in Argentina and missed it immensely. My first day back, I made my first mate while alone, and it was the best mate I’d ever made.

I really don’t know what it is about this stuff, but I’m just obsessed with it, along with the majority of my program here. I guess people always need something to talk over, and mate fills the non-food, non-alcohol, non-drug niche of “well, we don’t really want to go out/buy anything/be under the influence, but all just wanna sit and chat and have something to do other than stare at each other …” ; mate is such a social drink. I think it’s hard for people who haven’t seen it in action in Argentina or Uruguay to completely get it. I remember some friends were trying to introduce it to some British people at a hostel once and the conversation went vaguely as follows:

  • Friends: We love mate! You guys should try it!
  • English people: Yeah, definitely! Wait, it has way more caffeine than coffee, right?
  • Friends: No, actually about a quarter of the caffeine. And it makes you have to pee every five minutes and there are lots of strict rules governing its making and consumption.
  • English people (tasting drink): This is disgusting and bitter!
  • Friends: Nawww. Ah! And you all have to share the same straw! And you can’t wait for it to cool down! You have to drink it close to boiling.
  • English people: But what about germs!? And I’m burning my tongue off!
  • Friends: Don’t worry about it. Isn’t this stuff great?!?!

They were not wildly successful.

2.    FERNET

The following couple paragraphs and music video are geared towards college-age friends… others are free to skip riiiiight over this.

So. There’s this alcohol called Fernet Branca about which I feel obligated to enlighten you all. It is magical. Not an exaggeration: it is all I ever ordered at bars while in Argentina. And to prove that it is awesome, I shall refer you to a song called “I Drink Fernet.” Two things to note: Fernet is huge in San Francisco (according to the Fernet blog I just found, San Franciscans consume 30-50% of all Fernet sold in the USA) and one comment in the comment section, and I quote, “You STUPID YANKEES, you’re wasting 750cc of fernet while drinking it STRAIGHT UP!!! FERNET MUST BE DRINKED WITH COKE!!!” (major sic). Yes, Fernet and Coke is the way.to.go. And the vid:

As a second piece of evidence, I refer to a slightly more reputable source. In this NY Times article, they discuss the miracle that is Fernet. Read and learn here, friends.  

In conclusion, I shall quote from a blog devoted to Fernet, fernetiquette.blogspot.com, for the following, “Fernetiquette’s Official Rules of Fernet Etiquette,” though I have omitted a couple points due to their absolute ridiculousness (San Franciscans don’t understand that Fernet is not taken in shots; it is mixed and consumed with Coke):

  1. If you’ve never tried Fernet, you must seek it out immediately. I mean it. Look, whether you like it or you think it could peel the paint off the walls, Fernet is distinctive enough that it absolutely has to be sampled. Nay, not sampled: savored. Contemplated. Experienced. You must try it or you are not a complete person. Yes, Fernet is that powerful. Get to it.
  2. Don’t think about it. Don’t smell it. Don’t hesitate. Just drink it. Whether you decide to shoot it or sip it, just dive right in. I will warn you: You will hate it the first time it touches your lips. That said, as soon as that warm clean menthol feeling hits your gut, you’ll start to understand what is the big deal about Fernet. But I assure you my friend, it will be just a start.
  3. If you meet someone who hasn’t tried it, you are obligated to buy them a shot. This is non-negotiable. Iron-clad.
  4. If you are in somewhere outside of San Francisco and you see Fernet behind the bar, you are mandated to order it under penalty of law. Also non-negotiable. As a corollary: if the bartender then asks you if you are from San Francisco, you are obligated to tip like a Rockefeller and buy them a shot of their own.
  5. The artificial “You are not supposed to drink alcohol until X time of day” rules do not apply to Fernet. Fernet is not just a delicious spirit. No my friends. It’s also a hangover cure. It’s also a fantastic digestive. In short: it’s a miracle drink. Therefore it is appropriate for consumption twenty-four hours a day. If anyone looks askance at you, refer them to me. Besides, it’s always noon somewhere.

3. Music

I didn’t notice until my last week in BA, when I found myself sitting next to a flower stand whose 70-year-old owner was rocking out to electronic club tunes, how much I loved the music I heard in Argentina. For one, there’s the fact that I for the first time found an entire city full of people who go just as crazy as I do when “Danza Kuduro” comes on. Then there were my discoveries of electronic tango, cumbia, and Argentine rock, all of which are fantastic. I’m going to miss hearing the reggaetone baseline (like, the most recognizable bar of syncopation in the world) emanating from ¾ of vehicles driven by young Argentines around BA.

And piggybacking on that, and not trying to play into stereotypes, the dancing here is magnificent. There’s no standing still at concerts here; almost everyone I met loves to move. And people dance differently, too. You know how grinding is the go-to move at college? Surprisingly enough, in a city filled with enough sexual tension to cut with a blunt knife, they never grind. In fact, you immediately identify yourself as American if you do, and most people think it’s disgusting. When someone asks you to dance in Argentina, they actually dance with you, which is awesome. Just another dichotomy in a culture that simultaneously constantly objectifies/demeans women and treats them with amazing amounts of chivalry and devoted attention.

4. Fanny packs worn non-ironically

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have got to say: I had been talking about the potential of a 21st century fanny pack trend for many months before arriving in Argentina, where I was immediately completely validated. This happens, and it is fashionable, and I am bringing it back to America. Get ready for my leather fanny pack: the most functional and classic party wear a girl could have!

5. People being chill

The following is a list of dead giveaways that identify people as “not having been living/traveling in South America for more than a couple weeks”:

  • Checking one’s watch frequently: everyone knows that concepts like “early,” “late,” and “on-time” are nebulous at best in South America, and that all precautions should be taken to guard oneself against any concrete expectations as to when someone/something will arrive. Checking one’s watch is a clear sign that an individual has not grasped this concept and will probably become nervous/fidgety/unhappy if something does not happen on time. This is unfortunate.
  • Appearing stressed: I was legitimately freaked out the first time I saw a couple looking stressed out in Argentina. They were Americans in the Brazilian consulate in line in front of me, and had lost their passports the day before (note to all who are not already aware: don’t carry your passport- carry a copy! duh!). I was at first very confused as to why this scenario struck me, then realized I hadn’t seen people appearing flustered or in such a tizzy for months (outside of fútbol fans, I guess). These Americans — doing typical American things like speaking in shriller-than-necessary voices, recounting in horrified voices the story of their pickpocketing, begging to be let to the front of the line, complaining about how much time this all took, etc. — were just so magnificently at odds with their surroundings. It was very strange.
  • Attempting to maneuver oneself to get farther ahead in line or appearing annoyed for waiting in line so long: you have to wait in line for everything in South America, and generally for a while. I remember watching some European tourists in Brazil trying to slide around a get in front of a crowd getting on bus and being really amused. I hadn’t seen anyone care about beating people to a spot in line since America. I mean, they were in Brazil! Brazilians are too relaxed to care about waiting just a little bit! The clear desire to stay on schedule and to beat people out to get on a bus that everyone else was going to board a mere 15 seconds later seemed so… foreign.

So obviously all these points relate to my main idea that South Americans are [— or tend to be, generally— ] very chill. I didn’t really notice this until I started doing touristy things and observing travelers, who all just had something off about them. I realized pretty quickly that it was their lack of the “go with the flow” mentality that you pretty much have to adopt in order to survive in this kind of culture without developing stress ulcers. The vibe changes noticeably as soon as you’re in the U.S., which is something that’s a little difficult to get back into.

On the change from BA nightlife

I’m slightly ambivalent about how I’ll feel about Middlebury’s social scene after having lived in a city like Buenos Aires. On the one hand, there are some pros to college parties, like the fact that you know everyone, which is by far the best part. You walk into a fiesta, see a bunch of people that you’ve been meaning to talk to all week, meet a few new people every time who you see in passing the next day and say “hi” to, and it’s comfortable. On the other hand, there are no glowsticks. Or confetti dropping from the ceiling, or famous DJs, or light shows, or drinks other than cheap beer. You also can’t adopt as your mantra, “I’m never going to see these people again!” at Middlebury, a phrase which was a staple of my internal dialogue in BA, whether after making an embarrassing mistake on the bus or deciding to teach an entire club how to doughie. Basically, nightlife in BA isn’t real life. But I’m also really excited to (and this is directed to the smattering of Middkid frands following this) SEE ALL OF YOU because I’ve decided that the comfort level and the fact that you’re constantly surrounded by friends, potential friends, and generally interesting people completely outweighs the lack of glowsticks, lights, and confetti. College is great.

On things I’ve learned you should always do or say around someone who is learning English 

Most important: “Your English is very good!” even if it’s not. I’m serious. People in Buenos Aires complemented my Spanish all the time, even at the beginning, when I’m sure it was absolutely horrific. It made my day every single time. So, tip, even if someone’s English isn’t that great, I’ve learned that the best way to encourage them in something that is extremely difficult is tell them they’re doing a good job. I am so excited to enact this policy and watch the first person’s face light up.

Don’t speak so quickly! No, you don’t need to speak louder. And you don’t need to say it again just the same way. Also, even if you do speak their language, first try again more slowly before switching over. It bugged me to no end when a porteño would say a phrase as fast as humanly possible, then, as soon as they saw I didn’t understand, either say it again in exactly the same way or switch to English (which was usually difficult to understand anyway). I understand Spanish very well when it’s spoken slowly, and not so well when spoken quickly if I have no idea of the topic. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand Spanish, just that it’s necessary to slow down a little bit and enunciate.

Be aware of regionalisms or slang. Just, avoid them more. I can think of a lot of things that I’d only say in front of a foreigner if I was going to explain the words as quick asides, and sometimes it was annoying how porteños — knowing that they use vocabulary unintelligible to even other Latin Americans and that American students don’t learn castellano argentino in school— wouldn’t adjust or at least explain a little more when they were talking. Again, it’s a proud culture and it makes complete sense, given the typical porteño personality, that they wouldn’t want to translate. But I think we could all do this.

And to cap it all off, a story

I’ve been volunteering at this charity called the “Crosslines Christmas Store” since around middle school, and it’s one of my favorite things to do in life. It’s the type of amazing volunteer experience that I would have written about gushingly in my Common App essay if every single essay-writing guide I read had not explicitly forbidden that type of behavior. It’s essentially a collection of food, clothing, toys, and housewares that needy families can collect every year before Christmas.

So this year, I arrived at Crosslines to find a collection of headbands with reindeer antlers and bells at the volunteer check-in table. Naturally, my reaction was to immediately pick one up and arrange it on my head, a decision to which the elderly volunteer coordinator responded, “Oh honey, you can only wear those if you’re bilingual. We need those to identify our Spanish-speaking volunteers.” And herein I encountered a dilemma. Was I bilingual? I mean, I was already having some major internal debates as to whether I was actually fluent in Spanish, so did I have to be fluent to be considered bilingual?? Whatever; I wanted to wear antlers. So I told her I was, and went on my way.

Great decision.

As I walked through all the stations to my own, I realized that I was the only volunteer so festively bedecked in holiday headwear. Well, there was one other. And as much as I would not like to delight in the misfortune of others, I would have to admit that I was secretly thrilled when the other volunteer sporting antlers approached me and began speaking to me in absolutely God awful Spanish. With every incorrectly conjugated verb and horribly pronounced vowel, I began to realize that I was officially the best Spanish translator this organization had. And lemme tell you, I freaking took advantage.

Imbued with the confidence I needed, I jumped at every opportunity to translate for someone or guide a Spanish-speaker through our station. Previous Crosslines experiences had seen me speaking Spanish, but I’d always get stuck at now seemingly simple questions or words, which made me quite timid in volunteering my translating services. But this time, I was happy to find that we didn’t have communication difficulties! The most phenomenal part of the experience was the look of relief on the shoppers’ faces as soon as I greeted them and started explaining the process in Spanish. They were so grateful and appreciative, even putting up with my Argentine accent with very few requested repeats (even though I could tell at times that I forgot to adjust to Mexican Spanish and was completely unintelligible). It was kind of a perfect capstone experience, because this is why I learned Spanish in the first place; I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with the non-English-speaking Latino population in the United States. I was able to help with so many little communication issues all around the stores, which I hope — I think!— made the experience less overwhelming and uncomfortable for the shoppers. I could tell by all their reactions that gringos hadn’t often spoken Spanish to them, and they were so incredibly relieved, comforted, and empowered by the sense that they could communicate what they wanted immediately, precisely, and without sounding foolish. There’s a noticeable change in someone’s demeanor when they switch from a language in which they are weak and timid to the one in which they feel the comfortable, and it was so amazing to watch all these people perk up and become completely different people as soon I spoke to them. It was wonderful, and it was everything I had been hoping for.

So, mission accomplished.

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Música argentina: more than reggaetone

First of all, I’m home!

I have a whole wrap-up post I’ll get around to posting sometime soon, but while writing that, I realized that my “music” section was getting a little long. So here’s an entire post— complete with lots of visually appealing and exciting content like music videos! — about music that’s popular in Argentina other than Daddy Yankee and Dom Omar-type stuff. No one thinks “soft rock” when they think South American music, but it exists! And Argentine reggae, too! I feel like Americans don’t really know all the much about international music, which makes sense given that a huge percentage of the music people listen to in other countries — whether they speak or understand English or not — is American. However, it’s important to know that there’s always a lot more to a country’s music scene than 1) the country’s “traditional” music, whatever that may be, 2) what you hear in clubs and 3) American music. And Argentina has a really thriving music scene, which is lucky because there are definitely other South American countries who are not putting out as much. So, I present: A Short Review of Argentine Rock and Other Things.

  1. First up is a song called “Sera” by a band called Las Pelotas. It’s one of the most famous rock songs in Argentina, and I chose this video because it shows the fan adoration, the general Argentine look, and, by accident but also very important, there is lots of public making out, which is Argentines’ favorite pastime after chain smoking. 
  2. And I’m gonna go back on the “other than club music” thing for one second to post this next song, “La Bomba Loca” por Gustavo Cordera. He used to be in a band called “Bersuit” that was very popular, but put this out as part of his solo career. It’s super catchy, and I think a good mix of boliche sound and Argentine rock influence. 
  3. This next song is by a band that’s really popular right now (if you can tell, about half of these are a little older) called the Babasonicos. The song is called “Putita,” which literally means “little bitch” but which might also mean “whore.” I really have no reason to choose this song out of the rest of theirs other than the fact that the title caught my attention, the song’s pretty standard, and you get a good look at typical Argentine male hairstyles. Enjoyyy. 
  4. Argentina has a good bit of reggae and ska music, and I chose “Tus Ojos” by Los Cafres because it’s good, it’s famous, they’re famous, I like brass instruments, and there are lots of shots of Argentines. And also, heads up, lots of making out again. I get the sense that this is their favorite music video filler. 
  5. Here’s another one, called “Runaway” by Los Pericos. Pretty well-known. 
  6. No Te Va a Gustar is a band from Uruguay (which, as we all know, is just another province of Argentina) and put out this really popular song called “Chau” recently. The kids in this video are so adorable. Also, the lead singer looks like at least 50% of Argentine males, to the extent that when I first saw this, I was immediately convinced that I’d met him.  
  7. Next up, a band called “Los Intoxicados,” which means, as you can probably guess, “the intoxicated [people].” I chose this example because the music video is a fútbol game! Typical. 
  8. And because I think No Te Va a Gustar is a really good example of Argentine rock, here’s another song, called “Cero a la Izquierda.” 
  9. These last two are just possibly the two most famous famous Argentine rock songs. I couldn’t find actual music videos, so you’ll have to do with the lyrics. Which can also be interesting, though, because you get to see the weird Argentine pronunciation of words! Note the sound on the “ll” and “y” especially. First song is “Lamento boliviano” by Enanitos Verdes. 
  10. Second is “Soda Stereo” by Música Ligera, a classic Argentine rock band in the 80s and 90s. 

That’s it!

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Last Post from the South

So, looks like this might be my last post before heading off on my Patagonia adventure with my parents and then arriving HOME mid-December. Although I know I’ll miss Buenos Aires immensely (and if not Buenos Aires, definitely the fugazetta pizza, the dogs — cannot believe I have continued to neglect writing about them — and the cheek kisses), I’m extremely excited to go back. I feel like studying abroad has made me appreciate America (and yes, Argentina/foreign cultures/etc… but also America) a lot more. Also, I guess I’m also not too bummed to be returning home because I know I’ll come back to South America. Especially since my two good friends down here who have already graduated from college are going to be living here long-term — one is already teaching English and the other is returning in April with a one-way ticket— and the fact that I didn’t make it to some must-see areas in Argentina and Chile, I have a lot to come back to. Buuuut more deeply introspective and incredibly insightful reflections on study abroad later. Now, to finish up some loose ends…

On the host family

I’m still trying to figure out how ever to condense my thoughts on my host family into less than what I’d estimate to be over five pages of excruciatingly detailed analyses of what exactly was not right. Basically, the main problem that I’ve diagnosed is that they are just tired of having exchange students every semester for so many years, which means that they don’t make the effort to explain things, teach me, chat with me, or help me out that they probably did five years ago when they got their first one. The reason I think the friend who recommended this family to me had such a great experience is because she basically arrived fluent in Spanish, so bonded very quickly. I would be much closer to them if I was at the level of Spanish that I am at now when I first arrived, but as it was, I think I was way more shy than I usually am with them because I honestly didn’t know how to say what I wanted to express and didn’t understand them, and then we just got into a rut. So that’s it in a nutshell. And then there’s everything else, but I have this theory that if I don’t document it all, maybe I’ll forget the frustrating and only remember the positive! Unsure as to whether this is a sound psychological strategy, but if you ask me in 5 months how my room was and I say “cozy!” or “really nice!” you’ll know that’s done the trick.

More on the internship

So I’m realizing more and more that this group Generación Política Sur (they have a sweet website if you’d like to look them up and read lots of Spanish!) gave me an awesome network of people down here. This group was formed about 10 years ago basically by a bunch of friends at la UBA and this other private university called Di Tella, many of whom had attended the French Lycée in Buenos Aires together (they’d often break out the French in front of me, which always led to a good 3o seconds of panicking that I literally did not understand a word of Spanish before I would calm down enough to realize they were in fact speaking their mutual third language). And they’re everywhere. For instance, one of the coolest guys in my Argentine history class walked up and introduced himself one day when I wore a Middlebury sweatshirt (another example of the complete and utter abandonment of the whole “look like a porteña” plan…) and told me he was in GPS and Pablo (my boss) had told him I was in his class. Now we’re friends! And then I was at a bar the other night talking to some people and they had all gone to the Lycée and so knew Pablo, and so we hung out with them, too! And the people at GPS are just all really neat people in general who are doing really interesting research. Most have jobs in the government or in academia or are working on a first or second masters or doctorate degree. So basically if I ever want to do any kind of political research in Argentina, GPS is my go-to for sources. They know everyone, and my boss was absolutely awesome and super helpful, consistently offering to help explain my readings for class or talk about my immigration project, inviting me to asados (BBQs) with all the members, giving advice about Argentina, etc. Overall, great experience. Two thumbs up.

My Spanish is affecting my English, it seems. I have realized this in the following scenarios in which I have said things just, kind of… weirdly in English as of late.

  • In English: “Can you pass me the information?”

Spanish origins: Pasar = they use it for so many things, but basically to pass along.

  • In English: “Yeah, I obtained three bottles of wine at the chino… 20 pes each!” (By the way, that is not a typo. Bottles of wine for $5. Good ones for $8.)

Spanish origins: Obtener = to get. And its cognate in English sounds super weird and formal whenever I use it by mistake.

  • In English: “Yes, we’ll see each other!” as a parting line.

Spanish origins: “Nos vemos!” is the most common goodbye here (usually it’s something like, “Así que bueno dale, besos, nos vemos chauuuu!”- “So ok good, kisses, we’ll see each other byeee!”), and it’s like “See you later!” but sounds kinda weird whenever I hear it slip out directly translated in English.

  • In English: “Uyyyyy!”

Spanish origins: “Uyyyyy!” which basically can mean “ohh!” “ahh!” “wow!” or “whoa!” It is literally a compulsion at this point. I say it every 10 words.

So that class…

The one where one where everyone thinks I’m a capitalist pig? The presentation was o.k., except for the fact that my group member told the class that I took a conservative perspective, which hurt me to my very core and when I teared up when explaining impassionedly that my paper would be considered solidly on the left in the United States (awkward…). Otherwise, my teacher privately told me my essay was great, which was exciting.

But the whole experience in that class really made me question the education that they receive at la UBA. I had known that the facultad of social sciences was known to be quite liberal, and that political science was especially Marxist. And for me, this was an interesting educational experience and a chance to learn about issues from a completely different perspective. But what about all the students who only get that perspective? I couldn’t help but think every day as we sat in class discussing once again why America sucked how these students weren’t learning very useful skills. It’s good to know that America is often really horrible and manipulative and ruthless when it comes to international economics and politics. I know that. Lots of people know that. But I feel like it’s more valuable to get that point across, talk about Marxism and then talk about something else. The degree to which they dwell on ideology that will almost certainly never be implemented in a real-world context and the time they devote to discussing American imperialism is amazing. It instills in them 1) pretty deep distrust of/resentment of the U.S. and 2) overly idealistic political philosophies. Which are both justified, but don’t really contribute in themselves to a well-rounded education.

Related to that, one issue I encountered in my presentation of my paper on privatization is just this completely blind progressiveness (“progressive” = “liberal” in the U.S.; “liberal” here means economic liberalism) and idealism. For instance, in the critique after my presentation, a girl in my group was like, “Well, after the privatizations, the government stopped providing services to everyone. People had to start paying for electricity and water.” I get it; those should be basic human rights and maybe the U.S. has made me forget that people don’t always have to pay for everything and that water and electricity are not always dirt cheap. But when I responded with what I thought was a politely-worded, “Yes, I totally agree, but the government literally could not afford to keep doing that; they had no money,” I would expect to be greeted with a well-reasoned response, not a completely baffled and confused look followed by an exchange of knowing glances with other students in the room. Come on! I get idealism; I think I’m an idealist… but a fairly pragmatic one. And these people are definitely not, which is something that’s a little hard to reason with.

FINALE. Here’s the plan:

  1. Tomorrow, I am finishing up the remainder of my schoolwork whilst sitting in the park by my house that I have recently discovered HAS WIFI (is that normal for cities?!). Probably surrounded by wild parrots and in the 80 degree weather. Ok, had to throw that last one in for those of you in the northern hemisphere. Sort of sorry.
  2. THEN, the padres get here on Thursday.
  3. THEN, we have a magnificent 3 days in Buenos Aires and hopefully also Uruguay before heading to Patagonia on Monday (Nov. 28). Getting back sometime in the following two weeks. (Embarrassed to say I consistently only get through the first couple days of the itinerary before stopping and sending a message/email to someone with content along the lines of “soooooo excited for Patagonia!!”)
  4. USA for Christmas. :]
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I am here for ONE more month.

(and have clearly exhausted all energy to create clever titles)

On castellano

So as I come around to the last couple weeks of living in BA and last month in South America (for now!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how my language skills have progressed. I can pretty much discuss anything if I look up some key words beforehand, and understand most of what people say to me. Does that mean I’m fluent? It’s tough. My conclusion as to what fluency means is this: thoughts directly translating into words. In English, as soon as we think something, we say it. There’s no period of wondering how to express it, and sometimes I feel like I only realize what I’m thinking because it comes out of my mouth first (or this could also be specific to me…?). That would never happen in Spanish. At this point, I don’t translate from English phrases in my head, which is a huge step; I think of things in Spanish first. But I still have to think when I’m talking. Unless I’m saying something fairly simple, I still have to pay a lot of attention. So I feel like I have a ways to go.

That’s not to say I couldn’t convince someone who speaks low-level Spanish that I’m fluent, or convey to a native speaker that I know more than I do by consciously avoiding complicated grammar, words, or topics. But there are definitely big gaps in my knowledge. For example, I can speak about random academic things pretty well, but I realized the other day I had not learned a some of the food names at the vegetable stands (or, the less common ones) because I’d just point at things and say “one of these, two of these, a couple of that…” and never actually use the names (for instance, it took me a full month of ordering red bell peppers every other day to finally learn the name). Random other gaps I realized today: I had gotten around the word “maid” by always calling her “the woman who cleans the house,” and hadn’t picked up the different words for different types of bags (“sack” vs. “purse” vs. “briefcase” vs. “messenger bag,” for instance) by just calling everything either a “bolsa,” a bag, or a  “bolsita,” a little bag. And I still describe a lot of things as “things” without using the actual term. Which I think is all normal. But in the end, I still have a lot of vocabulary that I should probably learn.

It’s also kind of a bummer that I’m leaving because I would definitely become fluent if I stayed one more semester. That’s the kind of time it takes. I have this feeling now that I’m riiiiight on the cusp of being completely comfortable, but I’m just not practicing/listening/speaking enough. But still satisfied with how far I’ve come!

 New thoughts on travel

So as I was sitting in a café the other day daydreaming about all the places in South America that I want to visit, I realized that my perspective on travel has completely changed. For one thing, I now find it much more distasteful to imagine visiting a place where I can’t communicate with locals; the thought of travelling in Latin America or Spain, where I have the tools to bond with locals and really learn about the culture, sounds infinitely more attractive than being a tourist who either forces people to speak English or is never able to really connect with people. You take for granted here the fact that you can communicate with people until you meet or observe tourists who don’t speak Spanish, and then it hits you: they are missing out on so much. They don’t catch passing conversations, can’t joke around with a street vendor, can’t ask for recommendations from locals, can’t read the graffiti or the newspapers or listen to the radio, can’t blend in… although I’m sure they have a great time, but unless they find themselves a local guide, they’ll never really be part of it. And when I imagine myself being that tourist in Asia or Europe or Africa, it just seems so much less gratifying.

Second revelation is that some of the vacations that I’ve imagined taking in the past now seem way too tame; I can’t muster up hardly any enthusiasm for Europe at this point when I think of everything I could do in South and Central America if I returned. My three trips to Europe were great: lots of museums, food, marveling at cobblestone streets, small cars, really old amazing stuff, and interesting cultural observations. But then I think about the crowds of tourists, and what it would feel like to look out over Machu Picchu, the islas de Colombia, Rio de Janeiro from a paraglide, the coast of Valparaiso, the sunrise over Punta del Este, the Bolivian countryside on horseback, the Galapagos Islands, Mendoza in the summer, Bogotá from a gondola, a scene of Carnival revelry, or the Panamá canal. And then I can’t imagine doing anything else but coming back to South America. I freaking love it.

(Disclaimer: this does not mean that I still don’t want to at some point visit all the other places I haven’t been. Buuut it is also really cool that Spanish gives you an entire continent’s-worth of travel where every country is completely distinct.)

The pros and cons of blending in

So I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the main things that I think affects a study abroad experience: the degree to which one can blend in on the street. I feel like this is a big factor affecting how different the experience is for friends studying in Europe vs. those studying in Africa or Asia, for instance. On the one hand, I love that I blend in here (in Buenos Aires — probably wouldn’t in other areas of Argentina); people initially speak to you in Spanish, treat you like they would anyone else, and don’t make you feel like a spectacle. That’s all really cool and makes you feel like more a part of a culture. On the flip side, people aren’t as interested in you. A friend who lived in Peru the summer before this semester said it was really different when she stood out so much because people approached her to talk more often and were generally more interested in her, giving her more of an opportunity to speak Spanish to random people. I get the sense that in countries where Americans stick out more, although you’ll always be the gringo, at least you’re an interesting, exotic gringo who warrants a conversation. Or maybe I just feel a little envious of people in situations where they’re a novelty because my host family has had Middlebury students every semester for five years and so almost nothing I contribute to the dialogue is novel. Another benefit of being somewhere where you stick out is that people might appreciate more the fact that you speak their language and understand the culture, as I feel like they would more in either a more rural area without tourists or a country where gringos never speak the language (like pretty much all of Africa, for example). But then I think about how nice it is to also be able to observe the culture naturally and without the stigma of being a foreigner — at least until I decide to speak. I guess both experiences — blending in and sticking out — are just better for different things, or different people. I feel like the ideal combination would be a country like Brazil, where I could sort of blend in (I coulddd be from the South…), but where it’d also be sufficiently impressive to speak good Portuguese (I think?). Another point for Brazil!

YES! I now represent an entire ideology!

Remember how I talked about how it might get awkward to be from America in my class on economic liberalization? Well. As it turns out, I am now the de facto in-house representative of capitalism.

Yep.

I didn’t think my paper on privatization in Argentina was very biased; my main thesis, after all, was that private and state-run enterprises can both be successful strategies, but that it’s the degree to which economic policies are well-managed and the effectiveness of the leadership in a country that determines the system’s success or failure (but more specific on what is “well-managed”; otherwise I guess that sounds like a “well duh” thesis…). So I was very taken aback when, after having gone around in a circle in class briefly summarizing our papers and conclusions, my entire class decided to focus on the fact that my paper was biased, extremely neoliberal, advocated privatization, and essentially represented all that had destroyed Argentina. Say what?!?! So of course, my teacher asks me to rebut these critiques in front of the entire class, which was frightening and stressful. And next Monday I have to give a 20-minute presentation about this with a “debate” at the end, and am positively terrified.

Other things I should probably write about… later:

  • Host family. I realized I haven’t talked much about them, so I’ll do a little thing on them next time. We’re not… super tight.
  • Visiting Uruguay- SUCH A GREAT PLACE.
  • How my immigration project is progressing. I now know all about the Chinese mafia here, which is cool.
  • How my internship ended up going. I’m done with it now, but it was overall just a really neat experience, and I went to a really interesting talk at “La Casa” de GPS the other night on Brazilian politics. It’s just fascinating to be surrounded by people who basically constitute the young political elite of Argentina. They’re all so cool.
  • La UBA en general. The university system here is really interesting. Also, comparisons to how US universities are set up. One thing that I’d never appreciated before is how unusual and fantastic it is to get to live on a campus with 2400 really cool other people around my age. Although this is possibly a quintessential example of cultural relativism, I’m also convinced that this is pretty objectively true: college is way more awesome in America.

Guys. I am so excited to come back to Middlebury. 

Oh! I almost forgot about my idea to add a music video to spice this post up a lil bit. Here’s my current favorite song, by a band from Cuba (=impossible to understand when they get going).

  • Another thing I forgot: the other day someone told me I looked, “like, so porteña right now.” I didn’t know how to handle how delighted I was. Absolutely giddy. Highlight of the week, for sure.
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Brazil: A Story of Silver Linings

Things that could have been frustrating about our trip: the fact that we had to buy a $150 visa to go to Brazil after accidentally buying airplane tickets there, my being sick for one of our two full days there, missing the bird park/Brazilian falls due to this illness, it pouring rain the one day I did go to the waterfalls, and the “natural thermal springs” being swimming pools in a trailer park.

But you know what? This was the best trip ever.

One of the top reasons this trip was so wonderful is that it turns out that Brazil is incredible. Even without going to any of the cities that would probably be better to visit in Brazil — like the pretty beach towns or a famous city like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo — I could still tell that this is a great county that I want to come back to. One of the first things my friend and I noticed upon arrival is that Brazilian men don’t give piropos (the remarks you always get walking down the street in BA). It was a breath of fresh air. We talked to the bartender at our hostel about it, and he was saying that Brazilian men think porteños are ridiculous in how aggressive they are with females. I don’t know how true this is, but he asserted that machismo doesn’t exist in Brazil, which I’m surprisingly liable to believe. The difference in how men treated you there was almost tangible; the most striking example was that almost as soon as we’d crossed back into Argentina for a day trip, some guy calls out, “¡Qué lindas!” (How pretty!) to our group of poncho-clad female tourists. Really?! It’s so constant in Argentina that I’d almost forgotten it bothered me.

Also, turns out the rest of South America really dislikes Argentines because they’re perceived to be very snooty and racist. We had a really interesting talk with the bartender (he was very chatty) about race in Brazil, and although I think it’s true that there’s a little bit of prejudice in Brazil, for the most part, they are exceptionally open about race. Brazilians, almost more than any other nation in the world, can look like anything — of African, European, Asian, or indigenous descent. But much more so than in Argentina, it seems, they don’t identify as “European” or “African” or anything: just “Brazilian.” And there appeared to be much less of a correlation in Brazil between skin color and class. It was refreshing.

I also learned a bit about Brazilian politics and economics, and about their famed President Lula, who is basically known for making Brazil into one of the most robust economies in the world while simultaneously ignoring United States’ pressure for neoliberal policies. He left office with an approval rating of over 80%. Over 80%. And then the bartender was telling us how Brazil is just on fire; everyone, he said, has one or two jobs, poverty is lessening dramatically, and all around you things are being built, created, opened, etc. One important lesson I got out of this is: Portuguese would be a really, really useful language to learn.

Plus, we got to practice our Spanish a lot! All these conversations with the bartender were in Spanish (most Brazilians can speak at least a little) and we found that we could understand a bit of Portuguese! Depending on whether or not they spoke slowly or used hand gestures, our understanding was usually about one quarter to about one half of what they said, which was pretty exciting given I’ve never heard it before. I think that if I improve my Spanish for a little while longer (it can mess up your Spanish to try to learn Portuguese simultaneously if you’re not very solidly fluent), Portuguese won’t be very hard to learn at all. In fact, in the “Accelerated Portuguese for Spanish Speakers” class at Middlebury, they speak Portuguese from day 1 in Portuguese 101, and you’re expected to understand and pick it up! Very seriously considering taking that class senior year.

The falls were amazing. The fact that it was pouring monsoon-levels of rain the day we did an all-day tour of the falls actually turned out to be kind of cool because it created this really cool misty jungle-y feel the entire time as we walked in between the falls through the forest. And I don’t know if it was even more amplified by the amount of recent rainfall, but either way, the quantity of water in the falls was just mind-boggling. I guess pictures will probably to this more justice (but not as much as they should…), but basically, the falls are just utterly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I would go back in a heartbeat.

I can't even explain how incredible this was to stand next to. Too beautiful.

We loved the food. I can’t think of anything that’s actually very Argentine other than pizza, empanadas, steak, and facturas (pastries). I was extremely excited to eat some new things, especially given my host family’s aforementioned daily carboload. So one night we went to this all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse and buffet and found that Brazilian meat is just as delectable as the Argentine stuff! And they also have lots of cool fruit, many more flavors, more ethnic food (Arabic food in town was to die for), and in general a greater variety of options. My taste buds love Brazil.

South American backpackers again deliver on being the best. I can’t get over how cool all the people we meet in hostels are. First, they have the most interesting stories, and are pretty universally friendly and DTP. Second, I haven’t met a person yet who wasn’t travelling for multiple months; Australians and Europeans have this thing about travelling for huge blocks of time, and don’t understand why Americans only travel in two-week blocks because, “It takes at least 3 weeks to really get into the swing of things,” an Englishman who had been travelling for 5 months explained to me. To be honest, I can’t understand it now, either. I am already thinking that I’ll need at the very least 4 months to do and see all I want to do in South America, and I’m really impressed by how all these people manage it financially. I get the sense that they are very good at saving money and travelling cheaply.

As per usual, the Australians at our hostel were an especially perfect combination of fun/adventurous/outdoorsy/interesting/laid-back, and we actually ended up learning a lot about Australian culture and society through our late night chats around the bar. The two we hung out with lived really far inland, and had the coolest stories/insights from living in what isn’t the Outback, but… sort of is.

Conclusions on Brazil: I want to go back immediately. Since my visa is good for 90 days, I am sort of considering going to Rio or something for a short trip after I finish classes. Problem is that none of my friends who might be able to go during this time have visas, which is a little roadblock since travelling to Rio could be nerve-wracking when done solo. Either way, I am now more convinced than ever that I need to do a huge South American backpacking trip after college, and now I know that Brazil is not to be missed. I’ll keep you updated on how this progresses, but a nebulous plan to live in Brazil at some point is currently floating around in my brain. This was buoyed recently by the fact that my awesome Brazilian classmate from my first couple weeks in Argentina recently sent me an e-mail inviting me and the other two girls from my class to come visit Recife and stay with his family, which includes his three daughters. And the fact that Recife is beautiful, lined with idyllic beaches, and much cheaper than Rio doesn’t hurt at all.

So in conclusion, everything just keeps working out for the best, doesn’t it?

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On la dictadura, villas, y estadounidenses

On the dictatorship

I’m becoming increasingly sure that my host dad was, and still is, a supporter of the dictatorship. The last few times we’ve talked about my Argentine history/politics class, he’s brought up the fact that many of the desaparecidos were “terrorists” themselves, that the figure of desaparecidos is more like 10,000, not 30,000, and that there’s “another side to the story.”

This majorly freaks me out. I guess I had assumed that Argentina would be incredibly collectively scarred by the experience, and so thoroughly in shock that — like in Germany following WWII — it would be utterly taboo to express any sort of sympathy for the rulers who had tortured and killed people. But this isn’t Germany; a lot of things make it more complicated. For one, the desaparecidos were targeted because they were political enemies who were sometimes violent, which makes it easier (relatively?) for the former supporters to justify their killings to “maintain the peace.” Then there’s the fact that there’s major disagreement as to how many people were killed, since many of the bodies were never found and records were never kept. For instance, my host father maintains that many of the desaparecidos are currently living in Spain. But here’s the thing: even if the desaparecidos were extremely violent (don’t buy it) and only 10,000 of them were killed (don’t buy it), that still doesn’t justify the fact that at least 10,000 Argentines were kidnapped, tortured, killed, and dumped into the river by their own government. And the fact that there are Argentines who still defend this government (highly concentrated in neighborhoods like Recoleta… obviously) is appalling.

My host dad says all Americans are brainwashed as to what happened, but I can’t imagine that it’s much of a “brainwashing” if the best counterargument they can come up with is that the government still killed thousands of people… oh, but because they were disorderly. Talking to someone like my host dad is like talking to someone from another planet. I just didn’t think this kind of thing existed.

On slums

(Before reading: please don’t freak out about the following paragraphs Mom/Dad/Grandma/rest of family; being unsafe in South America had to happen sometime, and it’ won’t be happening again.)

Ignorance is bliss. Example: I avoided what would have been a sure panic attack at being in what I’ve now heard is one of the most dangerous barrios in Buenos Aires a couple weeks ago due to my complete lack of knowledge about where I was. The fact that I arrived in this area of a city to meet up with a friend to go to a soccer game alone, looking extremely out of place, for the first time ever appearing blatantly lost (as in, literally turning circles in place lost; apparently street signs disappear when you enter a slum) and was not robbed is, as I hear repeatedly, a miracle.

My friend and I were going to the soccer stadium for a game in this neighborhood, but the fact that we arrived four hours early by mistake and had to walk a bit from both of our bus stops meant we did a bit of exploring. I must have subconsciously realized I was going to a less-safe area that morning, and wore my hidden money belt (thanks Mom!). However, this does little to settle the horror of porteños when they hear we were there; apparently most porteños would never even go there, and it’s known for being full of drug traffickers. Charming! My friend and I didn’t know how dangerous the area was, which meant that we were able to observe without being too nervous or preoccupied. Of course, this honeymoon period ended when a man at a kiosko blatantly laughed at us when we asked if there were any cafés nearby and told us not to go in one direction or we would be robbed at gunpoint (incidentally, the same direction as my bus stop… frightening).

Apparently, two things made us look less vulnerable: one was our confidence (/obliviousness to the danger), and the other, essentially our saving grace, was that my friend was wearing a soccer jersey from a poorer neighborhood’s team. Our program coordinator told us that if we had been wearing Boca jerseys (the team my host family supports), we almost surely would have been robbed. Also, it was noon. But anyway, it was actually really interesting to see a completely different area of the city and the types of people that live there; living in Recoleta, one might think that all Argentines look, behave, and interact in certain ways. The poorer areas are completely different ethnically and culturally. So, in conclusion, I will not be making this mistake again, but it turned out to be probably the most tranki way to ever see the scariest villa in Buenos Aires. Success?

On being way too American

Number one thing I have started doing recently that is embarrassingly American of me: hanging out at Starbucks. BUT BEFORE JUDGING ME, listen: I have avoided studying in cafés all semester due to the desire to save me some pesos, and Starbucks is the only café with the golden combo of no waiters, outlets for computers, great Wifi, comfy chairs, stellar people watching, yummy snacks and sometimes free samples, and nice music. I have become exponentially more productive, and it’s wonderful. I started this new thing where I’m trying to plan my work around my social/tourist life instead of the other way around, because I’m down to almost one month to see all the stuff I’ve yet to see here. And it’s working out wonderfully, thanks to my new haunt. Yay productivity!

Second thing: I guess this happened a while ago, but I have completely stopped trying to look porteña in my everyday dress. I gave up around when I realized my new running shoes were exceptionally comfy for long walks around the city, which also happened to coincide with my revelation that my NorthFace backpack — of course worn with the chest strap as well — was much better for my back than my more stylish messenger bag. And then I just decided that there was really no need to pretend anymore. I also realized that it’s kind of dumb to work so hard to blend in when as soon as I start talking or go anywhere with one of my blond program friends (one flies under the radar; two do not), they’ll know I’m foreign anyway. And actually, it’s not horrible for them to discover this, because they’re usually pretty impressed that we actually speak Spanish — and, bonus, with an Argentine accent!

But not quite: On, “I mean, I already have enough American friends…”

My friends and I are super antisocial with other Americans due to our one-track social minds focused entirely on making local friends. I realized this when my friend in my Argentine politics class turned to me one day, pointed to the other Americans in the class who we’d fairly snootily ignored since day 1 (they were speaking English!!) and was like, “Maybe we should just fuck it and be friends with them.” Then I realized that maybe we were fairly abnormal.

Americans in BA are over-the-top friendly because none of them have many friends, so it’s pretty much the easiest thing in the world to make gringo buddies here. But it almost just doesn’t feel like it’d be a really study abroad experience if all my new friends were extranjeros themselves, right? I’m still kind of conflicted on this, since it is true that knowing more Americans = more social events = more opportunities to then meet and talk to locals. But to be honest, I just don’t have the social energy. Which is why we do things like this: picture my two friends at ultimate Frisbee practice; approached by group of American students; Americans invite them to ice cream with them; my friends literally turn their backs and have a mini conference during which the following lines were said: “I mean, I don’t neeeed ice cream…” “Yeah, or more American friends…”; turned back to group of Americans and said, “Yeahhhh, I think we’re just going to stay here.” Extremely awkward.

Other things that may or may not be of interest:

  • The mosquitoes here are quite problematic. The most pressing issue is the fact that my face is now spotted with bug bites, which appear to be enormous red pimples. It is not attractive. And when surrounded by many, many attractive Argentines every day, it is fairly disheartening. I am contemplating putting on bug spray before bed at this point…
  • Looks like buying tickets to see Iguazú is harder than it appears. Know how my friend and I bought tickets to the Brazilian airport? Well, our friends who decided to meet us there mistakenly bought tickets to the airport in Paraguay, meaning that they too had to go buy visas because they couldn’t change their flights. So basically we’re all flying into three different countries and somehow going to try to convene at the waterfall.
  •  So I think I may have complained about techno music at the beginning of my stay here. Turns out, I’m capable of liking any type of music if I hear it enough, because —in a shocking turn of events — I have started to l-o-v-e it. I have even begun to find it — gasp! — danceable. I’m fairly certain I haven’t switched my itunes from my “techYES!” playlist for at least a week. (And by techno I could mean electronic? Little unsure on the distinction there.)
  • This is a super interesting article about Argentina. It kind of summarizes the issues I’m working with in my paper which I’ve almost finished for my class on liberalization (18 pages!). You should all read it. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/argentina-stuck-periphery-globalized-world
  • The carbo load continues. A perfect example is dinner a few nights ago: spaghetti, with a side of white rice, with a side of… white bread. I know, your mouth is watering. Mine too.
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Beautiful things

A very serious warning: this could easily be the corniest post I have written thus far. And if talking about parks (#1) doesn’t seem corny, just wait for numbers 2, 3, and 4. Yep.

1) Los parques de Palermo

       Porteños live for the summer. The city has completely changed around me now that it’s warm, and everyone seems happier. The outcome is some of the most idyllic summer scenes I have ever seen at the parks and lakes of Palermo. I was doing one of my massive get-out-of-the-house marathon walks the other day, and wandered into the most beautiful scene of summer revelry I may have ever seen. Think: hundreds upon hundreds of people, brightly-colored paddle boats, enormous white swans everywhere, BABY swans everywhere (yes, I did stand in a crowd of around twenty 5 -10-year-old Argentines marvelling at them for over five minutes), everyone wearing roller skates doing circles and tricks around the huge track, makeshift cafes set up on the grass selling snacks and beer, everyone drinking mate, amazing chateau-esque (everything here is inspired by France) rose garden on an island in the middle, lots of laughter, live concert down the block. And to top it off, the parks themselves — there is a series of 5 or 6 — are just as beautiful as Central Park, but have palm trees everywhere. (If you didn’t know, palm trees are my favorite fauna. As in, entire 1-2 years in elementary school where every art project I EVER did somehow incorporated them. This required a great degree of creativity at times.) So once of most blissful summer scenes imaginable. I would post pictures, but I was in this whole “it’s so much more meaningful not to take pictures and to just have to remember things” mood, and thus did not bring a camera. But I’ll be back!  

2) The Kindness of Strangers

When strangers are kind it’s always quite delightful, but it feels even better when you’re living alone in a foreign country. That’s because from the moment I walk out the door, I feel like I have to be “on.” I have to pay closer attention to my surroundings — what street I’m on, where I’m holding my bag or my valuables, what people are saying, who is walking near me, etc. It’s exhausting, and sometimes it makes me feel isolated from the other people around me. It’s too bad that almost everyone I know has been stolen from, touched inappropriately, or warned me about talking to or even making eye contact with strangers, because it just makes you wary all the time. And the piropos make you feel immediately defensive whenever passing any man on a street. So I was trying to figure out why a smile received from another girl on the bus as we laugh at the same thing or someone picking up something I dropped of makes me so grateful, and I think it has to do with how I don’t often feel connected to random people I see every day. At Middlebury, I feel like we’re just automatically connected; there’s no question that we’re all generally good, smart, trustworthy, interesting people. And there’s the fact that on the way to class, you might see fifteen people you know and have a couple stop-and-chats. Here, I just don’t know anything about anyone I see. It reminds me of this article I read about the really low retention rate at NYU because apparently psychologically it’s really easy to feel even more isolated when you’re around lots of people and still don’t know them. Interesting, huh? So how this relates to the kindness of strangers: I can’t even describe how good it feels when someone does something randomly and unnecessarily kind, because it makes you feel connected. I almost cried once because the empanada guy told me I could just pay next week for my $1 empanada and gave me a big smile. It just reminds you that most people are good, and most people want to help.

3) Mutual acknowledgement that speaking a foreign language is hard

So there’s this moment I’ve really started to appreciate, and that’s when a porteño who is trying to practice his or her English tries to say something in English, and the tables turn; instead of them being comfortable and you struggling, they’re struggling and you become the expert. And there’s this vulnerability in them opening up to you like that. You just kind of both look at each other and are mutually like, “Look how we both sound dumb now! Yeah, this is hard!”

4) Missing people

This might sound strange, but before I came here, I had never really missed anyone for an extended period. I was lucky because I skipped over prime missing-people months — the first few months of college — due to my absolute love for Middlebury and the people there as soon as I arrived. And other things like going away to summer programs and stuff? Nope, no homesickness. Ever. I assumed that I missed people, because I thought, “Oh, I like them! And they’re not here. And it’d be nice if they were here, so I must miss them!” And I’d tell people I missed them, because I totally thought I did. But then I came to Argentina, and experienced the very new sensation of actually, very acutely, missing people. And not just some people — like my parents or my very best friends —, but everyone. So much. Which is actually really wonderful in some ways, because it’s nice to realize how happy everyone around me always made me. I don’t give hugs very often, so take that into account when I tell you this: I will be so excited to see you all that I will very likely initiate some major bear hugs. Just beautiful.

5) School

My final essay for my class on economic liberalization is about the privatization process undergone by Menem’s government in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it is absolutely fascinating. (The topic was just “anything about liberalization in the entire world” and I decided that since I’m here, I might as well study Argentina.) A moment that really stuck in my mind after coming to Argentina was my last visit to the dentist before coming abroad (I promise this relates…). I was lying in the chair while my dentist talked to the dental hygienist about Argentina, and I remember him saying, really confidently, that the reason Argentina was no longer one of the wealthiest countries in the world was because they, “started socializing everything, and look what happened…” and then referenced “Obamacare” or something. I remember thinking that that did not sound like an accurate description of the cause of their economic crisis at all, but given my lack of concrete knowledge of the situation and given that the fact that my teeth were currently being cleaned left me unable to talk meant I just listened. And so I’ve had that conversation in the back of my head for a while, because I just really, really wanted to come back from Argentina with a good comeback to that statement. And success! Now I know all about it. The 2001 economic crisis was directly proceeded by a period of neoliberal policies designed to appease the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and Argentina was the poster child for these types of policies — like financial deregulation, privatization, lowering trade barriers — until the entire country fell apart. And there’s the fact that the privatizations were initially conceived as a way to ameliorate government debt… which was also accrued through neoliberal policies. So. It’s really interesting. I am also enormously stressed that I have to write a 20-page paper on this in Spanish that’s due in three weeks and spend a lot of my free time freaking out about it, but in the end, I’m learning a lot. And that’s an awesome feeling.

6) My immigration project

My second interview with a Japanese man fell through because he got nervous at the idea of a formal “interview.” However, I discovered that my boss’ fellow former Fullbright scholar is the director for a center for African immigrants and refugees, and so I was immediately all over this and set up an interview this week. Score! And then this other women working at GPS did her masters thesis on immigration, so she has been really helpful and informative, too. I’ve also visited a local film festival on migration and refugees and been reading some articles about the topic, so it’s really coming together as a cool project.

7) Being “tranki”

‘Tranki” is the most common command I hear from my (albeit few) porteño friends. It’s actually tranqui from tranquilo and is used to say, “Calm downnnn.” I receive this response whenever I 1) ask for a general timeframe as to when we’re meeting somewhere, 2) tell them I have arrived at said location, or 3) when I tell them apologetically that I’m arriving late somewhere. In the last two instances, the reason they tell me to be so tranki is that they’re almost guaranteed to show up about half an hour to an hour after I do, even if I’m late.

But it’s kind of struck me everything they use it, because they really mean it. People here are very, very relaxed about their sense of time. They don’t fidget and check their watches when friends are late; they don’t rush to get out the door; they don’t freak out when their bus is 30 minutes late; they don’t complain when waiters take 15 minutes to even bring you a menu. I was even in a taxi with a friend who lived here in high school and who came back here to live who — in English — said, “Yeah, he’s taking us the long way. That’s annoying… but whatever.” She didn’t even complain to him! They’re all so laid back, and sometimes it seems a little ridiculous. But then again, it’s probably a good thing to internalize. Yes, I still tap my foot impatiently when my buses don’t come on time, and check my watch in disbelief when my professors arrive 30 minutes late to class. But it’s also impressive; they’ve learned how to let it go.

7.5) Speaking of being relaxed

It is imperative — absolutely imperative — to be able to chill out when studying abroad. I’ve realized that one of the things that stressed me out most initially was not being completely in control: I didn’t know what people were saying, I couldn’t be as proactive as I wanted to be, I didn’t know what was going on in my classes, everything was unreliable, I was less efficient because I was confused, and wasn’t progressing as quickly in Spanish as I had hoped. I was all in a tizzy. But I think in the last couple months (the first month doesn’t really count; taking Spanish classes abroad with a bunch of Americans and living with 2 English-speakers = virtually zero stress) I’ve learned how to just relax. Lots of times I don’t know what’s going on — and it’s certainly weird to get used to not catching 30% of what people are saying to you or feeling confused on a regular basis — but it’s part of living in a foreign country and learning a language.  Maybe that’s why all the expats I’ve met seem so calm; they’ve relinquished the control of their surroundings that we’re likely to feel in our home countries. (Also, that’s also because most of the expats I’ve observed I saw at beachside restaurants Zihuatanejo. And they are of an entirely different breed.) But, I think the point still stands: in order to enjoy living foreign country, at some point, it’s necessary to decide that in every situation ever possible, you will just go with the flow.

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