Writing this final blog from my living room in Wisconsin feels a bit surreal. As I was driving home from O’hare airport on Monday, watching the fields roll by and, later, the Welcome to Wisconsin sign, it was like the past five months hadn’t happened. It felt like I’d never left. After more than 24 hours of traveling, letting myself into my house felt like a breath of fresh air, a sigh of relief, and maybe a bit of a letdown. The rest of my family is on vacation in Europe right now, leaving me home alone for my first week back in America. Following five months of living with a host family and never being home alone, this week has been a strange adjustment, reacquainting myself with cooking my own meals being one of the biggest changes.
Argentina was challenging. With all of my free time this week, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned the past semester. Buenos Aires is a huge city that literally never stops. 4 am can feel the same as 1 pm. Cars honk all night, people yell constantly at whatever football match they’re watching and walking to and from the subte stop can feel like you’re running through an obstacle course on the crowded sidewalks. This was something I wasn’t quite prepared for. Sure, I knew Buenos Aires was a huge city, but I didn’t grasp the enormity until we flew over a never-ending sea of concrete before landing for the first time. At times it could feel stifling, a feeling magnified by the numerous transportation strikes or general disorganization of the city that could leave you with a two hour walk home from class because the subte didn’t work that day and the line for the bus wrapped around three blocks. I expected to become familiar with the city, be able to recognize landmarks and cafes and street names, which I did to a point. But drive ten minutes in a new direction and you’d find yourself hopelessly disoriented.
Aside from the vastness of Buenos Aires, the language was another challenge I was faced with day in and day out, and one that I expected to become less noticeable as the semester passed. Going to Argentina, I felt relatively equipped to at least understand the Spanish being spoken to me, but stumbling through my first meeting with my host family proved pretty quickly that I wasn’t nearly as proficient as I thought I was. To further complicate things, the dialect of Spanish spoken in Argentina, called castellano, is not quite the textbook Spanish taught in Americans schools. Letters and words are pronounced differently, “vos” replaces “tú” and comes with it’s own unique set of conjugations for various verbs. Initially, castellano was difficult solely because it sounded different than any Spanish I had learned. By the end of the semester, I felt pretty confident in my ability to understand, to read, and to write in castellano. Speaking however was a whole different ball game. There was a point about mid-semester where I felt pretty confident, like my language skills were improving pretty quickly. But that hit a wall around May, when I realized that there were so many things I wanted to say that I just didn’t know how to express in a fluid way. Complex thoughts and complex conversations were and are still out of my reach in Spanish, which is disappointing but is also a feeling shared by many of my fellow students. I went into the semester expecting to be fluent when I came home. That didn’t happen, not for lack of trying but because of the complexity of learning any language. It takes time, unfortunately more than five months. As challenging as it was to arrive in a country immersed in a different language from the moment I stepped off the plane, it was equally as challenging to leave Buenos Aires knowing that my Spanish still had a ton of room to improve.
Argentina was also delightful in so many ways. The same overwhelming expanse of city that at times felt stifling provided endless opportunities to learn, to explore, and to experience things that are unique to Buenos Aires. As an avid coffee drinker, the endless list of cafes at my disposal was bad for my wallet but great for my caffeine intake. The theaters and museums that speckle Buenos Aires are world class. Palermo has nightlife to keep you out until all hours of the morning and cafes to wake you up afterwards. Recoleta is home to art galleries, artisan markets, and the famous Recoleta Cemetery. Villa Crespo, while slightly off the beaten path, has the best shopping in the city. As someone who is from a relatively small Wisconsin city, being able to have all of these different outlets at the tips of my fingers for five months was an invaluable experience that both challenged me and provided me endless memories.
The people I met in Buenos Aires undoubtedly made the city a little brighter, a little happier. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful home-stay that, due to some unforeseen circumstances, ended up including my host mom’s parents and her sister for the majority of my time. However, as the age-old adage says, the more the merrier. Not only did I make connections with more people, but I was able to gain unique insight into various aspects of life in Argentina both in the past and now that I wouldn’t have without a home-stay and without the family that I was placed with. Leaving Buenos Aires was made much more difficult knowing that I was leaving behind all of these wonderful people and relationships that I was lucky enough to build with them.
Five months in a foreign country is a long time. It’s enough to get acquainted with your new home but also enough to start missing your old one. Buenos Aires will forever hold a special place in my heart, as will Argentina as one of the most gorgeous countries I have had the opportunity to visit.
With that said, ciao for now Argentina, nos vemos.