Here I am, after my long, relaxing winter break, in Buenos Aires for Study Abroad, Round Two. The city hasn’t changed much. Santa Fe Avenue is still bustling with screeching motorcycles, honking cars, and grumbling colectivos (city buses). The streets are still filled with garbage, dog poop, and swarms of Argentines chatting away in Spanish. The subtes (subways) still run, there are still protests, and Christina Fernandez de Kirchner still governs. Albeit, the Linea A (Line A) of the subway has been remodeled, summer has now turned to fall, and it’s become difficult to watch TV without seeing news of the new Argentine pope. But the Rosedal (my favorite park), the University of Buenos Aires, and my program office are still right where I left them.
But even now, as I weave through familiar streets and get reacquainted with old friends, something feels different. This time, my arrival to the city isn’t filled with confusion, but understanding. I know how to take the subway to class, where my universities are and how to register for classes. When I find out my classes have been moved, cancelled, or start next week, I take a deep breath and remember that Argentina can sometimes require a lot of patience. I know where I like to run, that almost everything is closed on Sunday (and that I need to plan accordingly), and how to put credit on my cell phone. Instead of constantly wearing the look of a lost puppy dog or a deer in headlights, I now walk down the street with an air of confidence (although hopefully not cockiness).
Something else feels different. My Spanish. In the past few weeks, I have been mistaken more times for being Argentine than ever before last semester. I can understand 95% of what everyone says, not understanding a word or two only occasionally, no matter if there’s lots of background noise or not. I don’t need to exert myself to understand in class. Likewise, I can express myself easily, often just speaking, bypassing the step of needing to think of how to form what I want to say.
Yet I realized, I have spent the past three months speaking almost solely in English. Theoretically, it should be harder for me to speak and understand Spanish. However, I realized, what has changed is my attitude. I am so much more relaxed. When I left for the United States last December, I was lonely, tired, homesick, stressed from school and nervous about coming back to Argentina. I still had difficulties understanding my professors in class. Now, rested after three months, but more importantly, with a more relaxed attitude, Spanish seems to be coming naturally for me. I’ve realized the importance of taking breaks, whether through reading for a while in English, taking a nap, or traveling to get out of the city, if need be.
But even as I feel more comfortable within the city, I also realize this is a period of new beginnings. On the simplest level, I live in a new apartment with a new host mom (who, by the way, I absolutely love. She is incredibly sweet and I feel really lucky to live here). I have a new neighborhood to master, with new nearby restaurants to try and street names to get to know.
This is also a period for making new friends. I have some friends from last semester, but I still lack a strong support system and solid friendships with Argentines (especially with girls). Its scary-the prospect of being alone in a city I already know, but I am trying to keep in mind that friendships across cultures take a lot of time, and all I can do is talk to as many new people at school and in my activities as possible. Yet this semester, I’m going to two new schools, am planning to get involved in new activities, and am still trying to keep that relaxed attitude in mind. I’ve set myself up for new possibilities, and now I just need to have faith that things will pan out.
At the same time, it’s a time period with the end in sight. Now, instead of a year in front of me, I only have four months left in Argentina. My time feels so precious. That’s four months to travel, meet friends, take interesting classes, volunteer, and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible that Buenos Aires gives me. As I walk down the street, I find myself admiring the architecture more closely, appreciating hearing people speaking in Spanish, and feeling a lot more grateful for having the chance to be here.
In the end, I find myself in a place that studying abroad seems to always push me-feeling comfortable but at the same time challenging myself. In one sense, I’ve mastered the city-how to get around and how to communicate-but in the same breath I still have a long way to go-with friends, new challenges, and an ever-expanding perspective.
It may be the same city, but this Buenos Aires is not the same place as it was when I arrived 8 months ago.
From your transforming traveler,