“I’ll find my way home
on the western wind
to a place that was once my world
back from where I’ve been
And in the morning light I’ll remember
as the sun will rise
That we are all the glowing embers
of a distant fire”
I am writing this blog post from California, USA! After nearly five months of traveling I have finally made it home. My final weeks in Argentina and the past few weeks coming back to the US have been a whirlwind so please excuse the long pause between posts, hopefully this one will make up for it!
My final weeks in Mendoza were spent preparing for finals and spending time with friends, both American and Argentine. Some of my best memories from this semester happened during this time. One of which was an unforgettable adventure in the mountains of Villavicencio with my argentine friends to celebrate being done with classes (well they were done anyway, us Americans had to take our finals the next day!) Villavicencio is like the “Crystal Geyser” of Mendoza, it’s the area where the water comes from and there is a lovely hotel that’s been closed for decades. We passed the time by drinking mate, having a picnic lunch, singing songs from “Dora the Explorer” (we discovered that in Argentina, Dora teaches English, so the songs are completely reversed, where us Americans sang in Spanish, the Argentines would sing in English!) and “bushwhacking” our way up a mountain and back down again.
Me in the mountains
It was one of those days when I was reminded of how fortunate I was to have made good local friends, the conversations and the experiences that I’ve had with them are unlike anything else I experienced in Argentina. I plan to stay in touch with my “amigos mendocinos” because having friends who will help you cross cultural divides are true blessings.
Another “fun” memory from my final weeks was studying for finals. Well, this wasn’t actually that much fun, but I didn’t have to go through it alone, which made it better. I took two class with the program and two classes through the university. The finals for the two program classes were both simple presentations in Spanish, easy enough. The university finals were a little less straightforward. First off, there was the challenge of figuring out how to register for the final exam, as we foreigners were taking our finals at a different time than the regular students. As my Argentine friends explained, typically you study for another 6-12 months before you take your final, resulting in an interesting phenomena where you are studying some classes while attending completely different classes. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that, but unluckily I had to take my final exams a week after classes ended. And, as I soon found out, both my exams would be oral. I knew my professors would go easy on me because I was foreign and I also knew I was taking these classes pass/fail but the thought of my grade being dependent on my Spanish speaking skills was still not my first choice. A further complication was that it was unclear exactly how I should go about studying for my finals. My film final was on all of Argentine film history. My Argentine lit professors gave me a list of seven full-length books to read for my final. Oh, and I had both of these finals within 12 hours of each other! There was no way I could prepare like they expected me to. So I, like the other foreigners in my class, just tried to get a general idea of everything that we might be asked about, and we tried to prepare one thing that we could talk about in depth. Fortunately, our finals went more smoothly than we feared. Though we didn’t know the answers to all their questions, our professors could tell we had studied and had a general knowledge, and passed us all.
Within 6 hours of my last final, I was reunited with my mom! I actually took all of my finals in the time it took her to travel from Palo Alto to Mendoza, crazy! It was incredibly special to be able to show her my world for the past few months and I will forever be grateful that we got to share Argentina! Our days were incredibly busy after that, I ushered my mom from one meal to another, introducing her to everyone I possibly could that had impacted my time in Argentina. We also adventured in the mountains and enjoyed a wine tasting together!
Our three days in Mendoza was like putting the semester on speed through, and was a wonderful way to reflect and to say goodbye to all that my time in Argentina has meant to me. Like many of my goodbyes from Brandeis at the end of the school year I was hurried and preoccupied by the logistics of traveling, in this case further complicated by an impending bus strike that threatened our plans to make it to our next destination, but I’ve found the heightened sense of anxiety also allows me to live my final days fully and with a keen awareness of all that makes the place I’m leaving special. In this case it was without a doubt the people that made saying goodbye so hard. There was many a tearful, or rather “nearly in tears but have to stay as stoic as the Andes or we’ll all break down” farewell. My last day in Mendoza there was a farewell lunch run by IFSA hosted at a wonderful restaurant on the 14th floor of a building with gorgeous views of Mendoza. As José, the director of the program, spoke to us, just as he had at the beginning of the semester, I was struck by the fact that I had made it, I had survived a semester in Argentina, and not only that, I’d had wonderful experiences, made friends, and grown as a person. I was overwhelmed by a sense of pride, awe, nostalgia, and gratitude for this experience that was already beginning to seem like a dream.
The entire group
I finally broke down after my host family said goodbye to me at the bus terminal and left me and my mom with our three and a half suitcases in front of our bus to Salta. As always my mom was incredibly supportive and understanding of my sadness and general moodiness over the next several days!
Then began Mom’s and my great Argentine adventure! It was so strange to be traveling with my mom after spending 4 months without any familial assistance whatsoever! But exploring Argentina together was also a wonderful way to be reunited. Our first stop was Salta in the north of Argentina, after a 20 hour bus ride. We stayed in a lovely hotel (one of the perks of traveling with family!) and spent the next several days exploring the city, which has a much more indigenous feel than Mendoza. Highlights of Salta include a gaucho parade, the views of the city from atop cerro San Bernardo (accessed via gonodola ride), the delicious empanadas and a fascinating museum which (controversially) displays the preserved bodies of three Inca children sacrificed and left on a frozen mountain top centuries ago, surrounded by many artifacts which offer incredible insight to the Incan culture.
Gaucho on a cell phone!
View of Salta from the top of the gondola
After that we hopped on a plane to Iguazú near the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The area is subtropical and very different from anywhere else we’d been! We spent an entire day visiting Iguazú Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world. We had been told that, due to flooding, some of the walkways were closed, so we were unsure what the experience would be like but we were simply blown away by the scope and beauty of the falls. Because of the flooding even more water was flowing than usual and we were lucky enough to come on a sunny day which meant that we were graced with a stunning rainbow wherever we went.
one of the many gorgeous butterflies
We also did a boat ride that drove us right up to the falls, and the force of the pounding spray gave me a total adrenaline rush! Mom and I were both reluctant to say goodbye, but luckily we had another amazing hotel awaiting us, they even gave us a free welcome drink when we first arrived!
Finally it was time to return to Buenos Aires, where I began my adventure so many months before. It was a bit of a shock to be back in a huge city, and my aversion to it helped make me more ready to return to the US. But we made the most of our few days in the city, we went to the Malba, an art museum that was hosting a fascinating Japanese artist, and we also made it to El Ateneo, a stunning bookstore in an old theater. Another visit to la recoleta and some last minute shopping completed our adventure and on July 13th at 4pm we got in a cab for Ezeiza International Airport.
La Casa Rosada
El ateneo bookstore
After a week of traveling I was tired and felt completely ready to be heading home, so saying goodbye to Argentina wasn’t so bad. I slept well on the plane and felt even better after my first Starbucks Chocolate Chip Cookie in Houston’s airport! It felt weird to be speaking to strangers in English, though!
At SFO I was greeted by my very enthusiastic sister and father, and it was wonderful to be reunited once again. The rest of the day was spent unpacking and sharing photos and stories with my family, and I attempted to make mate for the first time by myself! My family definitely prefers it with sugar 😉
A great welcome home hug!
Mom and Dad sporting the gifts I got them!
The past few weeks have been a surprisingly easy transition back to North American life. The beauty of the Bay Area and the ever-present sense of calm I feel here certainly help. Also, I was able to get a job for the rest of the summer and I am relishing in having a purpose and being able to feel helpful every day. It has been a bit more challenging than I would have liked to adjust to the need to be on time and the standard of productivity Americans hold, but I’m loving it at the same time.
Coming home is always strange because, though some things from my travels stay with me, I also ease back into the rhythms of home life and it can almost feel like I never left. The past few months are already developing a haze around them in my memory. But pieces of my time in Mendoza are staying with me. For one, I feel more confident in myself and in my ability to express myself. Struggling to converse in Spanish for so long makes English conversations seem ridiculously easy. I also feel more comfortable speaking in Spanish. The few times I’ve come into contact with spanish speakers since I’ve returned home I’ve eased into conversation nearly as easily as if I was speaking English. I think this new confidence to be able to express myself in Spanish is one of the biggest gifts I’ll take away from my time in Argentina. Though my Spanish is not as perfect as I’d hoped it would be, what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and perhaps that’s even more important.
I’ve also come to appreciate a little bit more the blessings of living in the United States. I don’t take as many things for granted anymore. Things like technology, safety, nutritious food, organization, and confidence in the impact of citizens on this country future. I now better understand that the world is a big place with much diversity in culture, language, and experience, and we are all connected and all impact the future of this planet.
It will remain to be seen how this experience affects my future, but I’m already feeling more inclined towards working with immigrant populations, now that I have a better insight into the struggles they face and the helplessness one feels in a new place.
For now, I plan to enjoy the rest of my summer at home with my family and my friends, and I’m very excited to return to Brandeis for my senior year! Another adventure awaits me!
For now, I leave you with the song that started it all, and that inspired me to be “lost but not afraid”. I like to think I “see with new eyes” after seeing a different way to live and to think, and I hope that you do, too. My wish to you, my dear readers, is that you find a way in your life to become “lost but not afraid”, whether through traveling or trying a new activity, or doing something scary. It is when we leave our comfort zones that we realize how much we are truly capable of and in what ways we can impact the world. And if I can do it, so can you!!
“We’re gonna trip the light
We’re gonna break the night
And we’ll see with new eyes
When we trip the light
We’re gonna trip the light
We’re gonna break the night
And we’ll see with new eyes
When we trip the light”