Reflections on a Year

Here it is, one year later. 372 days ago, I boarded the plane: destination Buenos Aires. I can’t believe it.

My first semester was extremely challenging. With an unbridled idealism, I expected myself to be bilingual in one year, to have an ample array of Argentine friends, and to travel all across the country. I immersed myself in every way I could fathom: speaking only Spanish, going to la UBA, listening to only Spanish music, and joining teams to meet Argentines. Being so hard on myself only made me miserable and time seemed to stand still. In December, I couldn’t have been more ready to board that plane.

I look back at my goals, laugh at my sheltered vision of the world, lament at those days of tears and suffering, but mostly, see it as part of the necessary whole.

The same goes for my winter/summer break in the US. Yes, I am still fighting not to feel ashamed of this respite. Instead of seeing it as “cheating” in my year-long stint abroad, I remind myself that like my first semester, it was absolutely necessary. In reality, when I look back at my months in the US, I see it as a period of continued growth that had begun in Buenos Aires. I feel so thankful for the support of my family and best friend. Being confronted with US culture, family and friends taught me valuable lessons, including, perhaps most importantly, learning to relax and learning to be genuine, that would later shape my second semester.

These last five months have been a blur. I was able to successfully put the lessons I learned over the previous 7 months into practice-and the results were stunning. I became more comfortable in my own skin, I learned to reflect and listen to myself and, most importantly, I learned the power of selecting friends wisely and the importance and benefits of being authentic with them.

Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability expresses much of what I’ve learned this semester. I find it truly inspiring.

Buenos Aires became my second home: I missed it when I went on trips and was fascinated by everything it had to offer. I no longer “studied abroad” in Buenos Aires; I live there. Spanish became such an integral part of my everyday life that I began to have problems speaking in English, including literally translating incorrectly from Spanish. My days of loneliness, uncertainty and anxiety, while not always enjoyable, became moments of reflection and a chance for personal growth. I learned to appreciate them. I finally became comfortable sharing these darkest moments with my friends, allowing them to also strength our friendships. In another country, so far away from home, these friendships formed a sort of quasi-family, providing me with a much-needed support system.

Goodbye letters to my quasi-family friends
Goodbye letters to my quasi-family friends

I look back now and realize I’ve done a 180. Sure, I may be seeing the last 5 months through rose-colored glasses, but I feel that overall I was able to find more moments of joy than in my previous semester.

On the one hand, yes, I feel it is time to go home. The city already feels incredibly empty without my extranjera (foreign) friends. I want to see my family: run with my mom, watch a movie with my dad, and take my brother out to dinner. I want to work and work off too many nights of milenesas (fried meat) with my host mom. I am excited to be a peer advisor for prospective study abroad students so I can share my story and help others write theirs. I look forward to being a BRIDGE advisor for exchange students in Madison, hoping I can help them adjust to the US as they likewise help me readjust.

But this time, I feel a deep inner sadness at the thought of boarding that plane. Part of me can envision myself here for another semester, or even another year. I feel wounded when I think about my friends: remembering our goodbyes and imagining living in different states, countries and continents makes me feel like I have a gaping hole in my chest. I am going to miss speaking Spanish everyday, my running route in los bosques de Palermo, playing soccer, watching Argentine news and trying to grasp politics, miserably failing at folklore lessons with my friends…

My host mom astutely observed one day that I’m like a sponge. It makes sense that I’m captivated by living in Argentina, because I’m constantly able to observe and learn.

Call me a masochist, but I feel lucky to have to say such a painful goodbye. I am so fortunate that in the end I have reasons to miss Argentina. It means I have put my heart and soul into this past year.

My “study abroad experience” officially ends on Sunday, as I step off the plane and return “home.” But, official or not, I know this is not the end. I have so much more to learn as I readjust to life in the US. This is simply the next step.

I ask for one, albeit fairly lofty request: please have patience. You may not understand why I start shamelessly crying to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (to stem all doubts, it has nothing to do with a boy), why I tote around what appears to be a child’s book in Spanish, why at 5pm, like clockwork, I start craving a red delicious apple and some sleepytime tea, or why I anxiously start expecting a phone call around 10pm.

Sometimes I may want to be alone, I may be inexplicably tired, I may be glued to my iPod. Sometimes I may want to tell you everything; sometimes I may be completely aloof. Maybe all of these things will happen, or none of them. This step will be as unexpected as the first. Have patience.

But as I ask this of you, I also ask the same thing of myself. I will move forward with the same lessons I have learned: relaxation and authenticity, and incorporate new ones. If I need an afternoon after work drinking mate and writing alone, I will do it. If I need to talk to my family and friends, I will ask. I will hang up my Argentine flag, mark the places I’ve been on my map, create a collage of the bits and pieces I’ve saved, and fill picture frames with a year’s worth of memories. I will reflect, mourn and remember. And step-by-step, I will keep moving forward.

Living abroad has profoundly impacted me. Buenos Aires, Argentina, thank-you for this life-changing year.

Let the next adventure begin, wherever the world may take me.

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From your year-long traveler,

Jess

4 thoughts on “Reflections on a Year”

  1. Yeah, this was excellent. Our Peer Advisor team is always made of exceptional students 🙂 (Andy at IAP)

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