A not-so-typical 21st

Almost twelve months ago, when I arrived to Argentina, I had reservations about celebrating my birthday in another country. After all, what a shame it would be turning 21, perhaps the most widely revered birthday in US culture, in a country that hardly noticed the difference between turning 21 and 22.

It’s incredible how attitudes change in twelve months abroad.

I woke up as a 21-year-old incredibly, almost uncontrollably, frustrated. And I couldn’t figure out why. Perhaps I was stressed for my final? (No, I already studied sufficiently and felt very comfortable about the test). Was it stress about having to leave Argentina? (Not more than usual). Was it a lack of sleep? (Perhaps. I have had a lot of goodbye parties lately…)

And as I prepared myself to go for a run, I realized the root cause. I had woken up that morning to find a picture of my best friend and me, accompanied with a “Happy Birthday! I miss you!” message, along with an email from my mom. I was just incredibly sad, frustrated, almost to the point of being angry, at the thought of being so far away from my family and my best friend on my birthday.

In reality, this semester, I’ve felt a lot less homesick. It’s not that I don’t miss my family and friends. It’s more that I’ve grown accustomed to living a continent away and learning to accept when I miss them, but at the same time not letting it paralyze me from enjoying my everyday life here.

But on special occasions, the distance always seems to be amplified.

After a long run, taking my final and getting a chance to skype with both my best friend and my mom, I felt like a new person.

Throughout the whole evening, I was pleasantly surprised. It began at the local chino (supermarket). My friend Emma (who lives a block away from me) and I always go to the same store. We know all the grocery store workers, and, given how many fruits and vegetables we both eat, have made friends with the produce vendor. I went to buy an apple for merienda (a late afternoon snack), and the produce vendor gave it to me for free! Later, as Emma and I were buying food for the evening’s dinner, he gave me a 10-peso discount on the veggies I bought. Sure, it didn’t add up to much monetarily, but I appreciated the gesture!

Later, dinner was fantastic. My friends in attendance were from all across the globe (Buenos Aires, the US, Canada, Colombia) and three languages were represented (French, English, Spanish) between 6 people. We cooked a delicious stir-fry and apple crisp (both of which don’t exist in Argentina and are very hard to explain in Spanish!).

Making dinner with my friend Emma
Making dinner with my friend Emma
Still learning to eat like an adult…
Still learning to eat like an adult…

More than anything, I just felt incredibly lucky. After all, I’m in another country, speaking another language, in another culture…and yet, I had managed to surround myself with friends who I truly cared about and who, at the very least, cared about me enough to show up and celebrate my birthday dinner. Even my friend Miguel, who wasn’t able to come, called me to wish a happy birthday-a big deal in Argentina, because cell phone credit is expensive! My friend Emma was especially generous and an incredible host-she opened up her house for me to have the dinner, helped me buy all the ingredients and cook, and wouldn’t let me even touch the dish soap to help clean up afterward.

All and all, it was a simple night. There were no stereotypical 21st birthday celebrations-no bars, no boliches (clubs), no copious amounts of adult beverages. I remember everything. But to be honest, I had everything I needed-good food, an even better dessert, lots of Spanish, and most importantly, some really incredible company.

Sorry America, I’m glad I turned 21 in Argentina.

The birthday dinner crew
The birthday dinner crew
A new year, a new spelling of my name :)
A new year, a new spelling of my name 🙂

Here’s to another year of adventures!

From your traveler, another year wiser,

Jess