50+ hours wasn’t enough; I was so craving more hours on the beloved omnibus that I set off for Córdoba, Argentina this weekend! Our entire study abroad program, plus the one from Montevideo, Uruguay, went on the trip, which meant that after over 2 months of trying my darnest to blend in, I was once again part of an enormously obvious yankee (in castellano argentino, “jank-ee”) pack. Córdoba is amazing; it’s much smaller than BA, has the oldest university in the country,
and is much more like a college town than BA. The good thing about the trip was that the city was beautiful. The bad thing was that every hour or so my friends and I would all look at each other and go, “I wish I was studying abroad here.” (For the 0 people reading this blog who this applies to: Midd is starting a program there next year- go!) It was so much more tranqui. I think we’re all getting a little overwhelmed with BA, and that’s because even after over month for them and over two months for me, it’s still so hard to feel like you “know” the city because it’s so enormous and chaotic. As one friend put it, “I feel like I’m doing battle with the city every single day,” which is so true. You feel constantly vulnerable, whether it’s to getting lost, robbed, overcharged, harassed by men, or generally confused. Montevideo is much smaller, and the kids there say that although they still have stuff to explore, it’s nice because they now have a sense of the city and feel like it’s theirs. I think all the Buenos Aires kids were a little jealous. I’m sure it’s just a problem of the grass being greener on the other side, because everyone struggles in study abroad. But I also think that one thing I’m learning from this experience is that I don’t like living in huge cities.
Revelation #2 on the trip: it is very, very possible to live in another country for many months at a time and not become fluent in the language. On the trip we all realized we were having similar frustration with the fact that we weren’t progressing as fast as we thought we would; it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that I think most of us assumed that living in another country automatically means you kind of “soak up” the language. Not true. It takes a LOT of effort, and it’s entirely possible to improve hardly at all. I think at the beginning of the trip we were learning easier words and easier facets of the language — like the accent — and felt like we were progressing appropriately. Now it’s into more difficult stuff, which just — this is gonna sound juvenile but it perfectly expresses my sentiments — totally sucks. A friend on the trip who lived in Patagonia for a year in high school and is now completely fluent told us that living in a rural area is the key: no one speaks English, everyone in the town knows you, and you are a novelty, meaning that more people talk to you. So I’m getting a little nervous about my language acquisition now. At this point I’m pretty sure I’ll need to do some other kind of Spanish practice/immersion after studying abroad to get to the level I want to be at, but I guess it’s ok as long as I’m progressing at or above the pace of everyone else in my program. This week I plan to start making flashcards.
Revelation #3: I had an amazing weekend and am in the best mood I’ve been in in a long time. This was due to the fact that the entire trip, due to pure language exhaustion and the big Spanish dip everyone appears to be experiencing, we spoke English. I felt pretty guilty until I realized that I hadn’t socialized this much in about a month, and that my strict adherence to the language pledge had left me isolated and lonely. I decided that I can live in a country and be fairly depressed for 75% of the experience because I avoid English-speakers and don’t have many local friends OR I can work really hard at Spanish while hanging out with English-speaking kids who I enjoy and who make the experience 10 times better. At least they’re all from new schools, and at least some of them speak really good Spanish. I guess after 6 weeks or so of trying uber hard to do the language pledge whilst being fairly miserable, I’m realizing that I should probably stop putting so much pressure on myself to make porteño friends and speak perfectly. Although due to “Revelation #2” I will be working very hard on my Spanish, I’ve lowered my expectations a little bit to allow myself to be much more happy and generally relaxed. Yippee!
Cognates + Taboo = I can say anything.
Ok. I’ve never understood the whole “I understand better than I speak” thing, because I feel like I can use the words I know to say just about anything, but once other people start using vocabulary that I’m not familiar with, I’m completely lost. Bad thing is this means I still cannot understand my host siblings, but good thing is that I’m good at talking at people! The simple strategy is as follows:
Step 1: Attempt to create the word’s cognate in Spanish. This could require saying the word in a castellano accent; like funeral would be foo-nair-all, which doesn’t actually work. But wanna know some random words that do work like this? “Delivery,” “amenities,” “cocktail,” “crouton,” “shopping” (which actually means mall- same thing). Huh! Or could require adding an –o or –a to the end. This works 60% of the time, if only to get you close enough that the porteño can figure it out.
Step 2: Opportunity to flex my Taboo muscles and talk around the word! Veteran? (I’m getting all these examples from dinner a few nights ago, hence the randomness.) “People who fought in wars”! Hole punch? “When you use a machine to make holes in pieces of paper to put it in a folder with rings”! Real-estate agent? “The person whose job it is to sell and rent apartments”! This is a dream, since Catchphrase/Taboo (thinking it’s more like Taboo with my de facto vocabulary limit) are my favorite games in the world. Which is also me speaking in hyperbole, but not kidding about loving them; if any of you reading really want to make my day/help me re-learn English upon return to Midd, suggest Taboo. But I’m warning you: my already finely honed skillz + the ones I’m acquiring now may result in a pretty sound beating.
EVERYTHING IS URGENT
My cultural tutor’s e-mails to me scream, “LEAH THIS IS AGUSTINA HOW ARE YOU.” Our program coordinator sends texts that say “Call me now, urgent,” leading recipients to panic that there’s been a death in the family when all it is is that she needs to know the name of one of our classes for a form. Our writing teacher sends us messages WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS WHEN SHE CAN’T WORK HER EMAIL AND THINKS THAT NO ONE HAS TURNED IN THEIR ASSIGNMENTS. I can’t figure out why, in a culture that is so
acutely unaware of timetables or schedules, everything is urgent. Signs are in all caps, big news on the TV is in all caps followed with the ever-present “!!!!!!!!” It’s like a 14-year-old on Myspace has translated all communication from conveying appropriate emotional intensity and urgency to “AHHHHHH!!!”