Suerte

As I was getting ready to say goodbye to my host mom last week, she made sure I had all my things, stuffed some food in my hands for the plane ride, and then gave me a gift. A little handmade pin: a ladybug on a leaf. She said she gives one to all her closest friends because it is a symbol of good luck. I thanked her with a hug and then the tears started.

I pulled myself together and walked outside with Paula and Viviana to get a taxi. We had to say our final goodbye, and while Viviana was able to keep her composure, I couldn’t help but cry again, and the only words I could manage were “Chau, mami.” She sighed and responded with, “Nos vemos, hijita” (we’ll see each other, daughter). As I pulled away Paula drew our attention to Viviana – there was a ladybug hanging out on her shirt. Viviana went nuts; I mean, it was kind of a weird coincidence, considering she just gave me a ladybug pin for good luck. I like to believe it wasn’t a coincidence. There couldn’t be a more symbolic way to end our time together in Córdoba.

I have been very lucky. I have had the opportunity to study in a foreign country where I have learned things about myself, Argentine culture, and the Spanish language. I have had good and bad times, met people who have taught me more than they probably realize, and traveled to incredible places. And while I am now at home, missing my Argentine life, I am also filled with joy because I had these experiences and met these people. This past semester wasn’t a vacation for me; it was my life. Now, adjusting to my old life in Minnesota is a challenge because I immersed myself so fully abroad, yet a pleasure to rediscover this place and figure out who I am now that I have had these experiences. I miss Viviana, I miss my friends, I miss my Argentine life. But I love reconnecting with family and friends here and I have been keeping myself busy with things I couldn’t do in Argentina. My heart is in two places right now but how beautiful it is to feel so strongly, the good and the bad. My friend Lila shared this quote that I keep referring back to, because it sums up my feelings so well: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” (Miriam Adeney).

So in short, I am doing well. I am happy with where I am, where my life is going. I am enjoying understanding better who I am, and enjoying spending time with these people I have missed so dearly. I still don’t know how to answer the question, “So how was Argentina?” but soon the novelty of my return will wear off.

Life is good. I am so incredibly lucky.

My host mom and her new host daughter eating ice cream together on my last night in Argentina.

My real mom and real sister in our front yard in Moorhead, getting ready to go out to a musical together.

The place I missed most. It’s good to be home.

Categories: Excursions | 3 Comments

Ready or not

Well, what can I say. In 24 hours I will be sitting in the Córdoba airport, waiting for my flight home. I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m nervous, I’m scared, I’m not ready, I’m ready. My emotions are all over the place but I’ve had such a great past few days that it’s been easy to stay relatively calm in the face of goodbyes. And I have allowed myself to think about what I am looking forward to in the states, which also helps steady my heart.

Over the past week I’ve gone to my last español y cerveza, eaten my last two asados, bought presents (mostly for myself, let’s be honest) at the paseo de las artes, danced my last tango, stayed out late, hung out with friends, made new friends, chatted with Viviana and Rhianna (my new American housemate). Every day another last something, another goodbye. In the face of the emotional turmoil, my heart is full. Córdoba has become my home in every way and I have met some incredible people. I still learn new things each day and experience the wonder that is the world. I am still enchanted by Córdoba. But I believe it is my time to leave. I’m not ready, I’m ready. I’m ready.

Come at me, USA.

Meet David, one of my best Cordobés friends. And Paula, of course :)

Nico, Paula, Lila, and Javier – old friends and new – enjoying a night of Belgian food. Yum!

My last asado was BY FAR the best. Thanks to Javi, the best asador in all of Córdoba!

Categories: Culture, Food | 4 Comments

Las familias

I guess I should start by apologizing for the lack of posts recently, as well as warn you that this could get long. My mom, stepdad, grandma, grandpa, and sister ALL came to visit me for 16 days and just left today, so I’ve been quite busy!

So here are my highlights of their vacation:

  1. Translating ALL THE TIME. Although it wasn’t always easy being the only Spanish speaker (for example, when we took taxis places I was always nervous that the other taxi – since we had to take 2 – would get lost or something), it was still a great learning experience for me, and sort of a confirmation that I have figured out the language (at least enough to lead 5 people that barely know Spanish around the country!). My family would agree with me when I say they were pretty hopeless, although I have to give props to mom for having the most successful experiences with the language. My favorite experience was at a museum in Buenos Aires – a guide there wanted all the visitors to know what they were looking at but didn’t know quite enough English to explain, so I played translator throughout our entire time at the museum to help everyone communicate on a deeper level. It was also a confirmation of what a great and useful skill I now have, thanks to my 6 months here immersed in Spanish.
  2. Traveling! We all went to Iguazú Falls for a day and then Buenos Aires for 3 days. It was INCREDIBLE to see the wonder that is Iguazú (from above, at eye level, and underneath – yes, we rode in a boat under the falls) as well as look at Paraguay and Brazil while standing in Argentina. And it was actually really enjoyable to return to Buenos Aires, visit a few familiar places, and try out some new ones. I could never stay there for much time but what a great city! We were able to see a ballet in Teatro Colon (one of the best theater houses in the WORLD), shop in the street fair of San Telmo, learn about Evita at her museum, watch a tango show, eat breakfast in the famous Café Tortoni, and learn about Colombian culture during a street celebration of its independence day that we happened to stumble across.
  3. The meeting of the families. I was a little nervous for my real mom and my host mom to meet but I had nothing to be worried about because everyone got along just swimmingly! But seriously, it was a beautiful experience sharing locro, Minnesota wild rice soup, and empanadas all together (on 3 different occasions). They were able to understand each other a bit through gestures and the basic language understandings on both ends, but for the most part it was another exercise in translating. Viviana was able to learn a bit about the US while also teaching my family about aspects of Argentine culture. I am blessed by the hospitality shown by Viviana and the unique opportunity for my two families to meet.
  4. Eating out! I almost always eat at home here (which I love, Viviana is a great cook) but it was fun seeking out restaurants with the family, trying new places and foods (like places that might be a little expensive if I were going there with my friends…), and learning new food words. One meal that stands out for all of us was a night out at a restaurant where my friend Nico works as a waiter. It was a very fancy place with amazing food and excellent service (although I may be a bit biased…). We went there early on in their trip but were still talking about it near the end, it was a really fun night.
  5. Sharing Córdoba with my family. For all of their time in Córdoba I played tour guide, showing them my favorite places. I also got to be a bit of a tourist in my own city, finally checking out various museums and churches that I’ve always been curious about. We spent one day in La Cumbrecita and another day in Alta Gracia (two cities in the mountains around Córdoba that I have already been to, but enjoyed re-visiting).  I’m so happy I was able to share this amazing place with them and I hope they were able to see just how special it is for me. Not everyone gets to show their family where they study abroad and I’m glad I had the chance to share this life-changing experience with the people I love.

I could go on and on about things we did, foods we ate, people we met. It was a busy couple of weeks and now that they’re gone I find myself wondering what I will do this next week (although obviously there’s plenty to do). 6 days left…time to panic?

I don’t have very many pictures and for that I apologize (see grandma or Erika for more documentation) but here’s the one I have of everyone!

At the conjunction of 3 countries…me with my country :)

My dream was realized: we went to Alicia en el pais de las maravillas (Alice in Wonderland) at Teatro Colon! Que hermoooso!

Categories: Culture, Excursions, Language | 1 Comment

My Peru blog post

My short trip to Peru included everything a tourist would expect and hope for and also things a tourist would dread. In the end it was an amazing adventure, and although I got to hike through amazing mountains, ride a horse, see Machu Picchu, and try some typical Peruvian food, none of those things encompass what will stick with me and they are not what made this adventure so special for me. Let me explain.

I started out the trip with a visit from the doctor, 4 hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. Definitely not the way I was hoping to start off my magical adventure, and poor Paula had to be scared out of her mind that her long-anticipated trip would be ruined by my sickness (Machu Picchu is the one place she had her heart set on seeing during her semester abroad). The flights were miserable and when we arrived in Cuzco I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to do any sort of anything. However, the guide for our trek, Javier, seemed confident we could make it work so we immediately set off to join the group. Along the way, the car ride through treacherous, windy mountain roads caused a perfectly healthy Paula to become nauseous, so Javier was stuck with two sick, young women on his hands.

Luckily, we somehow landed ourselves the greatest guide in the world. Javier took great care of us – he gave us extra mats to sleep on while camping, arranged for me to ride a horse the second morning when I was still pretty weak, loaned us cash since we didn’t think to get any from the ATM in the airport, and made sure we kept drinking hoja de coca to help with altitude sickness. We were also lucky enough to be a part of a really great mix of people from all over the world with the common desire of discovering the mountains of Peru. People who didn’t know us well but were concerned about us, always made sure we were all right, and celebrated with me when I started eating a normal amount of food and hiking with everyone. People who loaned us their walking sticks, bug spray, and rain jackets without question and provided excellent conversation. People who became friends.

So yes, I saw Machu Picchu. I tried Inca Kola. I ate guinea pig and raw alpaca. I walked with chickens. I ate fresh little baby strawberries growing in the jungle. I walked along train tracks where walkers supposedly weren’t allowed. I bought a Peruvian sweater. I held a lamb. I bought and ate a tamale from a woman on the street. I watched a military parade in the center of Cuzco. I ate fresh avocado. Although it was only a quick taste, I experienced Peru. But.

I also experienced the kindness of a guide who knows the mountains but also knows how to take care of his clients. I experienced the attentiveness of a cook who also happens to make the perfect, most delicious food for hiking. I experienced the generosity of a woman who picked us up from the train station free of charge and offered to bring us to the airport as well. I made friends with some truly genuine people. This is the Peruvian adventure I will remember, the Peruvian adventure I cherish.

And I would be missing a huge part of this story if I didn’t give a shout-out to my travel buddy and dear friend, Paula. Always someone I can count on, Paula was the best mother when I was sick, teacher of random information, and friend to all. Despite the potentially excessive amounts of time spent together, Paula was necessary to my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and I can’t thank her enough for being by my side throughout this whole experience, in Peru and also this whole semester. Siempre con Paula. ¡Te quiero, mi amiga!

Obligatory photos of the hike:

Just me and Hidalgo, trekking up the mountain.

Campsite number 2. Right in the mountains!

One of the natural wonders we enjoyed while hiking.

Paula and me with our new friend, Ben, in front of Machu Picchu.

My favorite picture of this world wonder.

The city center, Cuzco, Peru.

Categories: Excursions | Leave a comment

Paracaidismo

Well if you’re any kind of a facebook creep, you might have an idea of what this post might be about. But first of all, I’d like to start by apologizing for not posting in a while – I promise, my week wasn’t particularly exciting. It consisted of the completing of numerous tests, 2 classes, the usual tango and yoga classes (which are still absolutely stellar), and a 3-day visit from Viviana’s son, wife, three girls, and two friends (all sleeping in our apartment…it’s quite the crew! But that’s another story). On Monday I take my final exam in my final class and Tuesday I’m headed to Perú. In short, this weekend is filled with taking advantage of some of the last times spent with friends here, as many head back to the U.S. or other trips this week.

But right now that stuff doesn’t phase me. I don’t feel sad, I haven’t approached these days with any sense of dread. I’m just enjoying spending time with some really wonderful people (and maybe not sleeping as much as I should). But everything was leading up to today – the day I jumped out of a moving airplane, free falling for 35 seconds, and landing perfectly with an adrenaline rush that still hasn’t gone away. Yep, folks. I have always said I wanted to go skydiving some day in my life but never really thought that day would come. But recently I realized that it is literally the perfect time in my life to do this. I am in Argentina, I’ve been saving my money for a long time to have for adventures here, there is a great skydiving company right outside of Córdoba that has taken some classmates before (so they could vouch for the quality), it is so much cheaper here than the U.S., I’m still young, and what reason do I have to NOT do it?? There’s no time like the present, so my friend Sam and I decided to go for it.

I have never felt such an adrenaline rush, never felt so exhilarated. Sam and I were giddy, nervous, anxious, excited, and silly leading up to the jump and it took a long time for us to calm down afterwards (and once we saw the photos and videos, all the emotions and boisterous laughter came flooding back). We had the pleasure of making friends with two other first-time jumpers who shared mate, laughs, trip advice, and buena onda. An unforgettable day.

I would dive again in a heartbeat and anyone considering this experience should DEFINITELY do it. Now I feel as if I could do anything, like I’ve conquered fear. It sounds silly but hey, this kind of experience can give a girl crazy ideas. I wish I had something reflective and special to say about skydiving and how it has changed my life but really, I just love the adrenaline rush and I am so glad to have spent the day with such incredible people.

Ready or not, time to jump! Sam is on the left waiting her turn and there’s my instructor, Javier, secured tightly to my back.

There are gads of great pictures to choose from but I thought everyone should enjoy my cheeks as I’m FREE FALLING!

The city of Alta Gracia and the Sierras mountain range. Couldn’t ask for a better view!

What a great instructor! Thank you, Javier!

Indescribable.

Categories: Excursions | 1 Comment

Preparations

It’s been quite an interesting past couple of days – extreme weather changes, a visit from the doctor, a surprise visit from my second cousin (who lives in Buenos Aires and is getting ready to move back to the states next month as well), and my first goodbye are a few notable features of my holiday break thus far. If you’re concerned about my physical health, don’t be – I already feel much better! If you’re concerned about my emotional health…well that’s a different story.

I’m not ready to start saying goodbyes, but I was forced to start thinking about it when I hung out with my wonderful speaking partner for the last time last night (she leaves for a vacation in Europe today). Well it was the last time this semester, this year…but hopefully not the last time forever! I let her know she will always be welcome in my home in the U.S. or wherever I may be. We have a special relationship and I know we’ll stay in contact but that doesn’t make the goodbye any easier. I am realizing how little time I have left…some of my American friends leave the country in 2 weeks to return to their homes far away on the coasts, and in a little over a month I’ll say goodbye to everyone and everything. It’s weird and doesn’t really feel real yet.

The fear of saying goodbye, though, is mixed with insane excitement for the adventures that await me this next month. I have a little over a week left of classes and then I’ll be free! In a week and a half I’ll be on a plane to Peru and in 17 days I will be finally reunited with my family as they visit me in Córdoba. My host mom and I have been hard at work planning their stay here so they will be as culturally immersed and comfortable as possible. Just the prospect of enjoying Argentina without the stress of school is something to look forward to in itself – I can finally be a tourist in my own city!

My home – what a view!

I’m trying to take everything one day at a time, enjoying without dwelling too much on the inevitable goodbyes. Change is a good thing and if the relationships I’ve formed are strong (as I believe they are) I have nothing to worry about, because my friends will still be my friends even when we live halfway across the world from each other. Bring on the adventures!

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Hello, Ms. President

Well I could talk about the crazy concert I went to at a cultural center on Friday. Or I could talk about my second real asado on Saturday (where I was convinced into playing the violin for everybody and then sharing the instrument for everyone to try). I could even talk about the amazing chat I had over mate with my friend Sophie on Sunday. Despite all of the great stories that go along with the weekend’s adventures, I am obliged now to talk about my encounter today with the Argentine president. Yep, Ms. Cristina Kirchner herself spoke at MY university today and I didn’t have to pay a peso to see her!

In case you haven’t been to an important event like this in Argentina, let me set the stage for you. Imagine mobs of people with gigantic signs and loud drums marching through the campus. Free locro and hot chocolate if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Venders of popcorn, sweetened peanuts, and alfajores walking around hoping to make a sale. The smell of marijuana mixed with choripan and the perfume of the person standing next to you. Music and shouting and chanting wherever you go. Huge balloons with the president’s face on them. A helicopter signaling the arrival of Cristina. Obligatory speeches by university officials, the giving of obligatory gifts, and finally the big speech (accompanied by chanting, shouting, and clapping from the crowd). Immediately afterward, presidential dancing in a circle of musicians and men in all white doing acrobatics suspended in the air. What a party, eh? Happy 400 years of existence, UNC! ¡Feliz cumpleaños!

Before the speech – people milling around, enjoying the music of La Pata de la Tuerta, an awesome local band I was lucky enough to see in concert this weekend. You can kind of see them!

This only begins to describe the crowd…

The crowd and the stage in front of the campus center.

All of my pictures of Cristina turned out pretty pathetic, but here’s at least proof I saw her!

Since it is finally cold here, I think I’ll drink a nice hot tea now and rest up for my four day weekend :)

Categories: Classes/University, Culture | Leave a comment

Gracias, Mamá

In my culture class we were assigned to give a presentation on our experience here in Argentina – it was a pretty open-ended assignment that involved some grudging on my part but also forced me to reflect. I thought a lot about my experience overall, and tried to come up with a profound take-away. There is no way to sum up 4 months of life-changing experiences in one lesson, but every meaningful thought I had I was able to relate back to my host mom. Although she sometimes drives me crazy like only a real mom can, Viviana has been an extremely important part of my experience here and someone that has taught me a lot about life.

Viviana has this amazing knack for finding the beauty in literally everything. The prime example in my mind always brings up the image of a pear. Literally every time she buys pears, she’ll stop me in whatever I’m doing so that we can admire how beautiful and perfect and red the pears are. “Mirá, que linda, ahh está hermosa!” And while it’s funny to talk about it because she can seem a little over the top, really, why not love the beauty of a pear? Or the moon? Or the fresh air on a short walk to the bus stop (another one of her favorites)? There is beauty in everything, if you take the time to enjoy it.

Another important lesson I’ve learned from Viviana is the value of relationships. She is a very busy person yet any time someone from her family needs something, she is the first person to be there and help out. When her son, his wife, and three kids come to town she doesn’t hesitate to offer up her home for as many nights as necessary, even though it’s an apartment definitely not made for more than 2 people. The amount of love she has for her parents, her kids, and their kids is incredible and completely evident in everything she does. And without uttering a word to tell me so, I know for a fact that she cares a lot for me as well. She shows it in the way she really listens when I talk, the interest she has in my family and my life, the time she puts into helping me plan trips, and of course, the food she is constantly serving me. For everything she has done, I am so grateful. Viviana has helped me reflect on the relationships I truly value and showed that actions speak mountains more than words.

The weather has been amazing in Córdoba the past few days so we were able to eat outside together the other night, like we used to in my first few months here. It felt like a reminder of how far we’ve come and how much I’ve changed since coming here. We had a great, long conversation and I felt a deep level of connection. I really feel comfortable in her home, my home, and I feel like she is more than just my host mother, she’s my second mom. How I got so lucky, I don’t know, but I will never be able to thank Viviana enough for all she has done for me and all she has taught me.

Categories: Culture | 4 Comments

Adventure in the air

Well I got my adrenaline rush for the weekend this past Friday…I WENT PARAGLIDING! A couple friends and I decided to take advantage of the slow week and end it with a bang. There is a small town north of Córdoba called La Cumbre (not to be confused with La Cumbrecita in the south) that is known for having a good location to paraglide with many good instructors in the area.

And we weren’t let down, the instructors and overall experience were fabulous! We were picked up at the bus station and rode about 15 minutes to the top of Cuchi Corral. It was absolutely gorgeous outside, almost too gorgeous because there was hardly any wind. After getting hooked up to the parachute we had to stand waiting in anticipation for a while until we could feel the gust that meant we could take off. My instructor and I were first – when he realized it was time, suddenly we were moving and I ran like they told me and then my legs were moving without making contact with the ground and we were FLYING, flying, floating, soaring. It was an incredible adrenaline rush yet surprisingly relaxing, enjoying the view, taking pictures, and even steering for a bit (although we both knew my instructor was actually steering).

My pictures didn’t turn out quite as well as I would have liked because of the lighting, but you get the jist of it – see my knee in the bottom of the photo? This was taken in the air!

Another view from the air!

I asked my instructor, Pablo, to take a picture of me and he took a picture of us together! SELFIE!

The flight came to an end too soon for my liking, but it was cool to watch Valerie and Brittni take off and fly around from my vantage point on the ground. When it was all over we had some time to explore a river and then the three of us crowded into a little truck with 6 men and lots of paragliding gear – let’s just say that was an experience in itself.

A few more photos – this is Brittni and her instructor, soaring through the mountains.

And this is Valerie and her instructor, making a perfect butt landing.

Before catching the bus home we decided to explore the city a bit, so we went for a short hike to see the statue of Jesus that overlooks the city. It was beautiful and despite my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) I felt the power of the statue, and it was fascinating for me to see the little plaques and inscriptions on the base of the statue, thanking Jesus for being there, for helping their family, for bringing a baby into their life, etc.

Some of the inscriptions on the base of the statue.

Jesus watching over La Cumbre.

If I could paraglide for free (or cheaper), I’d do it again in a heartbeat. What an exhilarating experience. Next adventure: skydiving? :)

Categories: Excursions | 5 Comments

Time to shine

As much as I love learning and practicing my Spanish, I do enjoy occasionally “practicing” English with non-native speakers (aka other Argentines). I make the joke that it’s the one time I’m actually smart in Argentina. For once I’M the person that gets to correct the other, that can express exactly what she’s thinking.

I have had the wonderful opportunity during my time here to volunteer at an English school. It’s called Interaction English (find them on facebook!) and holds classes for 11-17 year olds with differing levels of English ability. My job: enjoy delicious snacks while chatting with small groups of students about any and everything. Really. That’s it.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time I went – what if I don’t know what to say? What if there’s an awkward silence in the conversation? What if the kids don’t understand anything I say? Luckily for me (and the other volunteers), most of the students were very talkative, inquisitive, and enjoyed learning about me and comparing cultures. I’ve had a lot of very basic conversations (where you’re from, what your family’s like, etc) as well as discussed deeper topics like discrimination. It’s been really interesting learning things about Argentina from these students and being able to get the younger person point of view. All the kids attend private schools and come from wealthier families so they have similar backgrounds, but I was still able to learn a lot about pre-university schooling and family dynamics.

Some of my favorite questions:

“Did you have cheerleaders at your school? Were they popular? You were a cheerleader, weren’t you.”

“Do you have a boyfriend? No? I’ll set you up with my brother.”

“YOU DON’T HAVE ASADOS OR DULCE DE LECHE IN THE US??”

“Will you say something in Spanish?” (followed by giggles when they hear my strange accent)

Although I was only needed 6 times this semester (we offered to help more!), I am so delighted with my experience and feel like I was able to help the students improve or at least feel a little more comfortable with their speaking abilities. I tried to show them that learning a new language can be fun when you can actually start using it to communicate. As usually happens with volunteer experiences, I got a lot out of the experience as well and could not be more pleased with the fun and welcoming environment. Thank you to Magda and all the other teachers – it’s been an amazing experience!

I get to come back one more time in July – as a substitute teacher!

A few of us volunteers with some of the teachers, outside on the patio.

Categories: Language | 1 Comment