In this post, CAPA Alumna Claire Shrader reflects on her semester abroad in Buenos Aires now that it's been almost a full year since her return.
A year has passed since I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It seems like I was just there, and yet simultaneously as if it’s been ten years since someone said to me, “Che, querés un mate?” (Dude, want some mate?)
Ever since I was a sophomore in high school, I dreamed of studying abroad in the Buenos Aires I had fallen in love with on two short term trips. I wanted to see if it still felt like home after four months.
In many ways, it did. My Spanish professors told me that oftentimes you have a sort of second personality in your second language, and I found that to be true: I was braver in Spanish, traipsing across the city with my only guide a piece of paper with instructions scribbled in Spanish and the kindness of other bus-riders who pointed out my stop to me. I was bolder in Spanish, too, my very personality seeming to light up as brightly as the colors of La Boca.
I was quicker to speak up in a group of people than I had been back home speaking in Spanish, I laughed louder and didn’t worry about my voice being too loud in public, because every other voice was just as loud. I led groups of kids in activities through my internship, raising my voice to be heard over the hum of theirs, all in Spanish.
I jumped wholeheartedly into as many Argentine customs as I could, “taking mate” with my coworkers at my internship and staying out late both with local friends and international ones. I learned to cook Argentine food (my favorite to eat, fugazetta pizza, and my favorite to make, flan), and to prepare mate and the café con leche from instant coffee that I had come to love so many years before on my visit to Argentina. I knew the bus routes and subte stops I took normally like the back of my hand, and not long after I got there started dozing off because I knew that I knew that I knew I wouldn’t let myself get lost. My Whatsapp FILLED UP with new friends, from coworkers and volunteers at my internship, to dear abuelitas and abuelitos at the tango class for people with Parkinson’s I went to, to students and friends from church and school.
I learned so much about Argentina, and about myself, too. I treasured those days, and would love to go back.
Sometimes, it was hard.
I didn’t fit as seamlessly into Buenos Aires as I had hoped. Making friends with Argentine teens/young adults was a serious challenge for me. The loud restaurants they frequented with large groups of friends is really difficult for a non-native speaker, no matter how many months they’ve been there. I sometimes found myself on the verge of tears, sitting at a table full of kind, genuine people, laughing and eating and enjoying one another. Why couldn’t I enjoy it? Their words, so easy to understand on the walk over to the restaurant, so carefully pronounced so I wouldn’t get lost, were suddenly mixed in with the loud music and tables beside us, so that eventually when the person to my right asked if I was okay for the tenth million time, I just faked a smile.
It was hard to walk past homeless people every day, to wonder how many school supplies I could buy on the subway on my way to my internship, to drive past the villas and wish I could do something, anything, really. But my time was limited to four months, and so much was out of my control to do ANYTHING about. That was hard.
It was hard to watch the political climate of Argentina, to see and hear and feel sexism and racism and ableism on the streets every day, and to be unable to form the words fast enough to complain.
And so, 21 year old Claire understands Argentina a lot better than 16 year old Claire did. She has seen its most beautiful aspects, been welcomed in by its most wonderful people. She has also seen some of the hard, and lived some hard moments.
Still, I love it.
I guess before, I loved it with that kind of girlish, giddy, honeymoon type love. We still didn’t know each other very well, and I just adored every part of it, it all seemed so perfect to me and like the place I wanted to spend every waking moment of my life.
Today, I can say that I love SO MUCH about Argentina and my time there. I know it, not quite like a lover, because I admit, I only spent four months there…but more like an intimate friend. I know Argentina so much better than I did before, and I am absolutely aching to go back. But I also know, now, which parts of it are going to be hard, and not quite so wonderful. That doesn’t change how I feel, it just changes how I respond to it.
I say all this to encourage you, whether you are a student considering study abroad, full of heart eyes for the country you want to go to; or if you are a student in the middle of your semester feeling like you’re betraying the place you love for not loving EVERY SINGLE part of it; or whether you, like me, are processing your semester abroad and realizing that there are some parts that were hard.
Wherever you are in your journey; it. is. okay. Celebrate where you are right now, what you are learning, and what you may learn. Recognize that no two people have the same experience, and yours might be nothing like mine. But take heart if it isn’t all perfect; you know, isn’t it in those moments that we learn the most?
I leave you with my most favorite aspect of Argentine culture: their love for telling you hello and goodbye with a kiss. So to you, my friends: Besos!!
Claire Shrader was an official CAPA blogger for spring 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Pre-Occupational Therapy major at Mississippi College, she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, and has continued to share her post-study abroad reflections on the CAPA Blog. She is also a CAPA Ambassador for the 2018-2019 school year!