A temporary farewell

July 4, 2017

“Cuando salís de un lugar hermoso,  lo llevás con vos allá donde vayas.”

“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.”-Alexandra Stoddard

     Although I am not physically present with my family and friends, enjoying the festivities that come with celebrating US Independence, I am still content; contemplating on the fact that this study abroad experience has changed me in such a positive way. Soon after I posted my recent blog, I noticed that one of my Spanish professors here wrote me a personal message in response to our weekly writing assignments that we had to complete for the course. A small portion of it said, “throughout these months, you have demonstrated changes not only in the language but also in your personal growth. Every internationalization experience transforms us, and in your case, you have been able to get around difficulties and take each moment as something positive. During this time, you have put distinct strategies into play that have allowed you to get involved and adapt. I hope that this internationalization experience has been useful to you.” When I read those brief words of encouragement, I couldn’t help but to smile and realized that she confirmed what I had wrote about in my last blog. Without a doubt, I know that I have grown as an individual and have a different perspective on the world that surrounds me. The progress that I see in myself makes me even more so bask in wonder at the fact that in less than two days, I will carry everything that I have learned, everything that I have attained back to the United States.

     Last Thursday, PECLA (Programa de Español y Cultura Latinoamericana), the program that encourages linguistic and cultural immersion for international students, hosted a farewell luncheon for all of us. The directors and some of the professors were there and they gave us the opportunity to write on a special wall, any attribute, physical or non-physical, that we plan on taking back with us to America. My word is right under the huge red print! The one principal feature that I know I will take back with me to the states is patience.  Paciencia, my speaking partner said, is something that she is yet still learning to acquire in this developing country. From small inconveniences such as having the power go out at the wrong time for no given reason, to even larger nuisances such as having the bus system not functioning, I’ve definitely had my way of learning how to be more patient.

20170703_143810    20170629_125808IMG-20170629-WA0001

Throughout these couple of months, the lessons that I have learned have taught me so much about to how to adjust and live in a new environment. I hope that the tips and lessons that I share below will help anyone who is reading adapt to their new surroundings, no matter which part of the globe they decide to study or move to for a specific period of time.

1. Appreciate the small things- During the first couple of weeks of my stay here, the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” proved to be true in everyday situations that I faced. I realized that I took for granted many of the everyday necessities that I utilized back in the United States. For instance, it really bothered me when I realized that I had to actually PAY for toilet paper in the bus terminals and that at times, even in public restrooms in the University, toilet paper and sometimes even soap were nowhere to be found. Of course, when I return to the US, I’m going to be so relieved at the fact that I won’t have to pay for toilet paper in the airports or terminals. However, now having these necessities at hand sometimes, really made me grateful and consider how fortunate I am to be from a place where people don’t have to obtain their income from asking people to pay for toilet tissue in public restrooms.

2. Ask questions- When traveling to a foreign place for the first time, I cannot stress enough how imperative it is to ask questions if you have a doubt about ANYTHING, even if it’s just to ask for directions. This one piece of advice that I received myself before departing for Argentina has helped me immensely. I used to be an extremely shy individual, but this experience has really opened my eyes to the significance of asking people questions if I have doubts or concerns. For example, when I traveled to my service learning location for the first time at the private English school, once the bus dropped me off, I was lost and had a difficult time locating the street that the institute was on. There was no way that I was going to continue wandering different roads with no success. So, instead of panicking, I walked in a local shop to ask where the school was located, and thanks to the directions that the person gave me, I eventually found the school. However, asking questions is not only limited to simply enquiring for directions. If you’re living in a place where the language is different from your own and you notice that your professor or the host family that you are living with articulates a word or phrase that you don’t know, ask them what the meaning is! Asking these types of questions is the only way that you can learn new things, which is the main reason why you are studying abroad.

3. Use the local language as often as possible-  As I have mentioned before, I came to Argentina with the principal intention of achieving fluency in the Spanish language. But, this goal could not be accomplished without utilizing it as much as I possibly could. During my stay here, I tried very hard to only speak English when talking with my parents and friends through FaceTime or when I needed to clarify an unknown word or phrase. In the beginning, especially for the first couple of weeks or so, it can be difficult to all of a sudden switch your brain to think in a language different from your own. In fact, I know it’s going to be an experience in itself when I return to the US and nearly everyone is speaking English. But, when you overcome the difficulties and challenges that comes with speaking another language  99% of the time upon arrival to a foreign country, and try as much as possible to fully immerse yourself in it (through listening to local radio stations, communicating with your host family, meeting and talking with new friends from the area), you’ll start to become more proficient in the language day by day.

4. Things will not always go your way/ expect the unexpected- I truly wish that I received this piece of advice before I left the United States. When I first arrived in Argentina, I was too excited to even think about the possibility that, metaphorically, there would be bumps in the road ahead of me. I was not expecting to end up in the hospital, TWICE, and having to change host families within the first month or so of arrival. Neither was I aware that my service learning location would change. However, through it all, I realized that despite these major alterations, it all worked out for the better. I moved to a new host family that has more experience in accommodating those with gluten and lactose intolerance, and as a result, feel healthier. The change in my service location, where I was delighted to work as an English assistant at a private institute, has made me consider even more the possibility of utilizing my language skills in the education field sometime in the near future. Of course, in the moment where I was confronted with these unexpected difficulties and changes, I felt like I was in a dark tunnel and couldn’t see how anything good would come out of it. (especially when I ended up in the hospital) But, sooner or later, I came to the realization that everything worked out for my own good, and for this reason, I feel even more confident and stronger than ever before.

5. Cry and share your frustrations with those close to you- You will experience homesickness, there’s no avoiding it. In fact, shedding many tears is all a part of the process in adapting to a foreign culture. (Mom and Dad, thank you for listening and putting up with me during the times in the semester when I was an emotional wreck.) When I was told that I would cry while studying abroad, I remembered that piece of advice. But due to my zeal of being in a Spanish-speaking country, I kind of tucked it in the back of mind. In fact, about four weeks or so into the semester, many of the other students who are in the same program as I am had shared that they had already had their teary moments. At the time, I was perplexed because I hadn’t even shed a tear at the time. I guess I was still in that, honeymoon phase of culture shock, where I felt like everything was a bed of roses, and I was infatuated with my new surroundings. But, everyone experiences things differently and I eventually had my moments of unhappiness and frustration. Certainly, holding in these different emotions won’t do you any good. In fact, it may make you feel even worse. There’s nothing wrong with crying by yourself or spilling out your emotions with those who you are close to. Doing so will help you even more so to adjust and accept your new surroundings, which that in itself, will take time.

6. Embrace the experience- Having the opportunity to study abroad in a foreign country is most certainly a once in a lifetime experience; a wild adventure that not everyone is able to go on. For this very reason, making the most of every moment in this journey is crucial to basking in the beauty of studying abroad. Whether you decide to go abroad for a whole semester, or for only two weeks, recording your experiences in a personal diary or a blog is an excellent way to reflect and meditate on everything that you have seen and felt.

     Without a doubt, the places and the people that I have met will always have a special place in my heart. I came to Argentina in February with so many emotions; afraid of the unknown and at the same time,  had so much excitement at the notion of being in a Spanish-speaking country. Although I had my good and bad experiences here, in the midst of it all, a stronger and braver me has emerged. I am so grateful and have absolutely no regrets about studying abroad here in this diverse country. This experience has radically changed me and I will never ever be the same.

received_1560052460732912

 

 

Advertisements

Pre-departure meditation: A sense of accomplishment

June 25, 2017

“La vida comienza al final de su elemento.”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”- Neale Donald Walsch

     As I refilled my Argentine bus card for the very last time this past Wednesday, reality all of a sudden hit me like a ton of bricks and a wave of emotions began to come over me. With only a week and a half remaining until I leave the country, the semester is quickly winding down and the amount of essays, projects and presentations that I must complete have been piling up fast. Amid trying to meet these deadlines, I’m trying to organize my thoughts, ponder on my experiences as an independent young lady in a foreign land and maximize my time. Although I can read and reread my journal entries that I began writing in the very beginning of this adventure, I find that I’m continuously asking myself, “What just happened?” In the blink of an eye, five and a half months have passed and yet, so much has taken place that has shaped my character and has allowed me to grow as an individual.

     In the midst of all of the traveling, pleasure and excitement that comes with studying abroad, it’s imperative for one to set realistic goals in order to track their progress during this life-changing exploit. I strongly believe that a transformative experience such as this is not complete until these goals are achieved and progression is recognized. In my particular case, my primary objective was to improve in my Spanish speaking skills. Although I have been studying the language for approximately seven years, there was (and still is) room for improvement. Along with that, my hope was to also come out of my bubble, while still adhering to my morals, values and beliefs, and embrace as many opportunities as possible. For anyone who is considering or already planning on studying abroad, I highly recommend reading The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student by Anthony Ogden.The article elaborates on the importance of truly seeking out cultural immersion instead of remaining in ones comfort zone, or on the veranda. The person who remains on the veranda wants to simply observe and keep themselves distant from their host community while only interacting with the people as needed. The negative consequence is that they will leave the  host country with the same basic level of understanding of the country and it’s culture that they had when they first arrived.

     Certainly, the very decision to travel alone for the first time to Argentina, and leave everything and everyone that I know behind in the United States, was a tremendous step out of my comfort zone. Even more so, new knowledge that I have obtained about the Spanish language and culture is a result of “stepping off of the veranda”, overcoming certain fears in an unknown environment, getting involved in cultural activities, and, as a result of all of this, establishing lifelong friendships. For example, after arriving from Luján, Buenos Aires last month, I considered that a huge accomplishment. I have always felt more comfortable traveling with at least one other person but knowing that I am now able to travel within a foreign land and maneuver my way around without anyone always by my side or holding me by the hand is progress. In fact, it manifests more of my independent character.

     Although the program that I was a part of this semester involved students who were mostly from the United States, in whom I have established good bonds with,  I strived to establish friendships with local Argentinians in order to reach my objective in understanding more of the Spanish language and culture. Last weekend, for example, was the perfect opportunity for me to do so. My Spanish-speaking partner held a birthday party with a small group of friends and I just couldn’t turn down the invitation. Sitting, chatting and laughing with all of them made me realize even more that this is what the study abroad experience is all about. It’s not about remaining stagnant in ones familiar ways (on the veranda) 24/7 because doing that will not get a person anywhere.  Instead of being a couch potato and watching Netflix all day in English for the majority of the time in a foreign land , it’s imperative to make the most of every opportunity and immerse oneself in the culture, whether it’s going to a museum and having a city tour in the target language, attending a local event/gathering or becoming a volunteer at a community organization.  One should be willing to put themselves out there in order to get the most of this once in a life-time experience.  I for one can admit that my time here in Argentina has enabled me to come out of my shell and become more open to people that I know. These previous tips are just a sneak peak of next week’s blog entry topic, which will be extra special, and feature the lessons that I have learned during this rollercoaster ride of an adventure. So, stay tuned!  

received_1548312688573556

 

Tranquility amid turmoil

June 11, 2017

“Se trata de encontrar la calma en el caos.”

“It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.” – Donna Karan

     Out of all of the weeks that I have spent here in Córdoba, Argentina thus far, I would consider last week the most unordinary one. Instead of attending my four classes that are normally held Monday through Thursday, and taking the bus to go to my service learning at the private English institute, I spent all of my time in the apartment reading, watching Netflix with my roommates and learning/cooking new recipes with my host mom. (I’ve acquired so many skills when it comes to cooking the Argentine way thanks to her) On Friday, June 2, the paro de colectivos went into effect. From the previous date mentioned and still continuing to this day, the bus system has stopped completely.

     Of course the bus drivers are the ones behind this act of protest because they are not satisfied with their salary. Therefore, they are refusing to drive citizens around, which has been very inconvenient for everyone, particularly those who have to take two buses to get to work everyday. In addition, taxi drivers are feeling extra stress and pressure because with no buses running, (everyone needs a ride somewhere) traffic has been even more insane. Students who have to take the bus to get to the university have no way of getting there, hence, our class cancellations. The thing that really peeves me though is that choferes (bus drivers) get paid three times as much as teachers and two times as much as doctors here in Argentina and yet, they are still ungrateful. The next time I get on a bus here(who knows when that will be, maybe never again because they still haven’t come to a consensus and my time in the country is quickly coming to a close), I won’t look at the bus driver the same way. I am aware that not all of them are ungrateful, but the inconvenience that this has put on the entire city is ludicrous. Since I only live about two blocks away from the center of the city, I spent a lot of my time last week listening to unhappy bus drivers protesting in the streets, firecrackers consistently going off and countless amounts of ambulance sirens. According to my host mom, she hasn’t seen a paro de colectivos take place for more than 20 years and it’s been at least 70 years since an occurrence this severe has happened.

     Unfortunately, the amount of protests that I have observed while walking throughout the city has been steadily increasing within the past couple of weeks, even more so with the paro de colectivos. Just when we thought that the commotion had calmed down this past weekend, my roommate and I went out yesterday evening to attend a youth group gathering and we accidently happened to run into another protest. To me, it sounded more like a celebration because the smell of barbequed asado filled the air and upbeat Spanish music was blaring through the streets. But, we still took precaution and avoided it as much as possible by taking shortcuts through different roads.  Despite the political and economic transition that Argentina has been undergoing, citizens are still not satisfied and have tried, in so many various ways, to have their voices heard. As I walk around the city, and constantly see the police blocking the streets due to another protest, all I can say is that when it boils down to everyone coming to a peaceful consensus, this society has a long way to go.

20170610_224351

Despite the fact that the paro de colectivos was (and still is) in effect, two other girls from the Spanish program and I still decided that we wanted to go out and make the most of our time by doing some sort of activity. We had to do something different after being cooped up in our homes all week! It was a gorgeous day this past Saturday (around 73 degrees) which I considered quite spontaneous considering that Argentina is in the middle of it’s frigid fall season. My host mom had informed me about a restaurant that not only serves food for people with gluten intolerances like me, but is also vegetarian friendly! (WHOA! A vegetarian friendly restaurant in a society where meat is everything? Yes, I was shocked as well.)  The restaurant has a catchy name too, Sol y Luna (Sun and moon); not that the name had anything to do with though. I just love how natural it sounds! So, I decided to invite my two other acquaintances to have lunch with me at this eatery. This particular restaurant is located in two different places in Córdoba. One of them is permanently closed, or just so happens to be according to the internet, so we had no other choice but to walk about four blocks in order to arrive at the restaurant in the other location. We never found the place! It was beginning to get really frustrating because we spent probably about 45 minutes or so walking around in circles searching for it and asked at least ten different people if they knew where it was. By the time 1:00 PM rolled around, since we were starving and didn’t want to pass out from lack of food and the heat that was beaming from the sun, we decided that enough was enough. My acquaintance and I eventually opted for an Italian restaurant, equivalent to an Olive Garden (oh, how I miss that restaurant chain), where I ate a highly delectable and healthy meal. Although I didn’t end up eating at Sol y Luna, and felt bad for dragging my acquaintance around the city for that long, at the end of the day, we were all still satisfied with our hearty meal, enjoyed our chat and looked forward to our next activity planned.

20170610_135138

     During my time here in this country, as I have elaborated on in previous blog entries, I’ve been exposed even more to the Spanish language, the cuisine, social habits, music, art and so many other characteristics that define culture. However, for anyone studying these aspects of culture, there are other significant attributes that they should know about in order to gain a better understanding of the country as a whole, something as tranquil as nature itself. Before visiting el zoológico (zoo), I have to admit, that I was not aware of how rich Argentina is in their variety of animal species ranging from the north to the south. For example, the Patagonia, located in the south of South America, is home to all sorts of wildlife like tortoises and herons. The northeastern part of Argentina, where one can find bountiful rainforests and Iguazú Falls (one of the seven wonders of the world), has an innumerable amount of bird species. I saw an array of flora and fauna, birds, reptiles, and mammals at el zoológico. However, out of all of them, my two favorite ones were the ostrich (I had never seen one like that before) and the beautiful white swans.

20170610_155013(0)   20170610_153841  20170610_15390820170610_161117    20170610_15310820170610_160801   20170610_155302 20170610_15431720170610_153708

 

     Thankfully, the trip to el zoológico took my mind off of everything that has been happening in the city lately and I truly felt a peace of mind. It was almost as though I was in a different world because there were no sounds of firecrackers or people marching or yelling, just the sights and sounds of nature.  We all need to find tranquility in the midst of a chaotic world and for me, going to the zoo on this beautiful day was one way to do that. Tomorrow, even though the paro de colectivos is still continuing, class will commence once again because we are already behind in the curriculum. I’m curious to hear the perspective from the professors in regards to all that is taking place. But, in the midst of all that is going on, I’m determined to block out the noise and make the most out of the remaining time here that I have in Argentina.

 

The road less traveled (part 2)

June 4, 2017

     Without a doubt, I can truly say that my week spent in Luján, Buenos Aires was an enjoyable, inspiring, and life-changing experience. I was even thrilled to have the opportunity to travel to the federal capital of Buenos Aires with Barbi and her husband. Although it was only for one day, the trip was very much worth it. That Sunday night, after returning to the house tired, but content, I was ready to begin my week in shadowing Barbi as she went to the different private schools where she teaches at every day. On Monday, during the second half of the day, I went with her to Colegio Angel Gutierrez, which is an institution that offers English education in three distinct levels. These three levels include jardín de infantes (kindergarden), nivel primario, (primary level) and nivel secundario (secondary level). But, at this particular school, Barbi only teaches the younger children. Of course, the small pupils were perplexed upon my entrance into the classroom but after introducing myself to them, they were eager, enthusiastic and curious to learn about U.S culture. 

20170522_145930   20170523_193421

     Although I was technically on a vacation during this week of May, which is a perfect time to sleep in in the morning, that Tuesday for Barbi and I (May 23) began at around 7:00 AM. But, this time, I didn’t mind sacrificing sleep because I knew that I was about to meet many dedicated students, passionate for learning, especially about U.S culture. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation specifically for them that shared who I am and also talked about the cultural differences that I have observed here in Argentina such as diet/cooking, the concept of time and religion.  We arrived at Colegio Nuestra Señora de Luján, the oldest private catholic school in the area, at approximately 7:30 AM. I was in awe at the vastness of the institution and the number of students who filled the hallways, and marveled in amazement of how much energy they had at this time of morning. I delivered presentations to adolescent students in distinct classes that were divided up according to their English level. In our discussions, I also asked them to share any stereotypes that they have when they hear about the United States or meet someone from the country. Words began to jump out from left and right such as Trump, the wall, McDonalds, junk food, power, money and so much more! I was even more thrilled when, after classes were over, students gathered around me to ask more questions about my experiences here in Argentina. Barbi told me that their curiosity of learning so much about me is a result of the fact that not many foreign exchange students visit their school. Therefore, they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to know more about me as an individual from the U.S.

20170523_105551   IMG-20170523-WA0026

IMG-20170523-WA0027

     During the second half of the day, Barbi and I went straight to another private school, Colegio San Patricio en Luján, about fifteen minutes from the previous institution. There, I shared even more presentations with both younger and older students. In total, I gave at least twelve presentations, so by the end of the day, I was definitly worn out. But, I was also happy that students had the opportunity to learn more about U.S culture, ask their questions and share their concerns.  For instructors here in Argentina who teach at private institutions, hopping from  school to school each day to teach different groups of students is considered the norm. The salary for teachers here is not the best, and for this reason, many have to work extra hours and teach many classes.

IMG-20170523-WA0025   IMG-20170523-WA0024

IMG-20170523-WA0023 IMG-20170523-WA0012IMG-20170523-WA0010

     My sole intention of traveling to Luján was to visit Barbi and her family, enjoy a day excursion to Buenos Aires and deliver presentations to her students. But, as I have learned so much already, traveling is full of delightful surprises and I was certainly in for one when, during dinner one evening, her husband invited me to be interviewed on the radio and television program that he is a part of on a weekly basis. Without any second thoughts, I enthusiastically accepted, thanking him for the invitation. I knew I had packed my business outfit for a reason!

At around 8:00 A.M that Wednesday (May 24) I accompanied Barbi’s husband to the radio studio, preparing my mind for the upcoming interview. I was truly ecstatic to be on the program in order to share my experiences here as a foreign exchange student from the United States.It’s one thing to be on a radio and television program in the country where you were born, but to be interviewed live on a program in a foreign country while studying abroad?! That’s not something that happens normally! After the interview, I went with Barbi to the same institutions as the day before, gave more presentations and afterwards, was even invited by her students to a picnic at High Cross, another private school. My day did not end until around 11:30 PM because I had to attend another interview at the television studio at 10:00 that evening. Having the chance to be live on both a radio and television program brought memories back to the surface. When I was in middle school, (that seems like such a long time ago) every morning, I was on the school’s television, delivering the announcements. I remember being in the studio with another friend  of mine and we would always write, edit and make last minute changes to the script that we would read from in the live broadcast. So, I guess you can say that journalism as a field of study has always been of interest to me since I enjoy writing, editing and presenting information. This experience of being on the radio and television program has inspired me even more to pursue journalistic translation as a future career. 

20170524_085218      IMG-20170524-WA0006  IMG-20170524-WA0010

     As the common saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, and so was my week spent in Luján, Buenos Aires. My last day there, that Thursday (May 25), was considered feriado, or an Argentine national holiday. This day (Día de la Revolución de Mayo) celebrates the very first independent government in Buenos Aires. Since everyone had off, Barbi, her husband, their baby girl and myself took about a twenty minute trip to an Aero Club, where I was able to try locro, a common national dish that is reserved for this particular day. It’s considered somewhat, excluding the cow tripe (beef stomach) as a common ingredient, a healthy soup due to the high amounts of vegetables in it. I was taken aback at the fact that I ate cow tripe and was not too fond of the fact that some bones were present in the soup, but tasting this thick Argentine stew was definitely a cultural experience in itself.

IMG-20170525-WA0001  IMG-20170525-WA0006 IMG-20170525-WA0004

     It’s so hard to believe, but in three more weeks, I will begin packing my suitcase to return to the United States. Every time I think about the plane landing back at the airport in the U.S, and embracing my family and friends after not seeing them for five and a half months, my eyes begin to fill with tears. Although I’m at the point now where I am ready to go back home, there is still so much more that I want to do and take advantage of here. So for now, I’m taking it one day at a time, and I’m looking forward to sharing my final study abroad experiences here in South America with you all as the final countdown begins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road less traveled (part 1)

May 28, 2017

“Yo puedo viajar, ver el mundo, conocer a gente y ser independiente. Me siento afortunada.”

“I get to travel, see the world, meet people and be independent. I feel blessed.” Bar Refaeli  

     Words cannot express the joy that I felt during my independent trip to Luján, Buenos Aires last week. I have so much to share with you all that I don’t know where to start! My trip to this beautiful city would not have been possible without crossing paths with a very good-natured professor three years ago, when I was just a timid college freshman. Each year, Susquehanna University receives different educators from all over the globe to teach English for a year in one of their classes. During my first year of college, the Spanish department welcomed two modern language fellows, one from Spain and another one from Argentina. Barbara (or everyone used to call her “Barbi” as a nickname) not only taught the lower levels of Spanish, but she also led the weekly language tables, where she was able to share many facts about Argentine culture. Since I had already taken a lot of Spanish courses before beginning college, my level of the language was more advanced, so I was only able to interact with Barbi at the weekly Spanish language tables. The funny thing is, during my freshman year, my mind was more set on going to Spain. But, tis life, things can change so rapidly for the better. So, in the midst of her talking about Argentine culture, I had no clue that I would actually be living it three years later for a whole semester. Fast forward a couple of weeks back, I was able to get in contact with Barbi to let her know that I wanted to come and visit her while I was still in the country! Last week was considered May week (May 18-May 25) and no classes were in session for university students. So, I knew that traveling to Luján, Buenos Aires during this time period was not only the perfect opportunity for me to visit Barbi and her family, but I would also be able to explore more of Argentina. So, as an independent young traveler, I purchased my bus tickets and began to prepare and pack for my trip!

     Honestly, I would describe the day of my departure to Luján as very hectic. Although the bus was not scheduled to leave until 9:25 PM (May 19), I was scrambling around all day making sure that I had enough clothes to wear for an entire week and made sure I had enough food to accommodate my dietary restrictions for this duration of time. Also, just the fact that I was going alone this time on an overnight nine hour bus trip to an unknown place made me a bit anxious. But I repeatedly kept reassuring myself that if I could travel alone for the first time in the air for over nine hours when I first came here in February, this bus trip would be a breeze. Although the bus terminal is only about five minutes away from the apartment that I’m living at, I left an hour early because I just like being punctual like that and I knew that if anything happened, I would have some time to spare. The prediction of something out of the ordinary happening transpired right outside the apartment the moment I got in the taxi.

As I have described before in my previous blog entries, the traffic here is insane, especially during demonstrations in which, as a result, many streets are closed. The combination of demonstrations taking place and it being a Friday night made traffic even more frantic. When I was settled in the taxi and told the driver my desired destination to the terminal, he attempted to veer into the left lane despite the bus that was coming right on the side of him. The next thing I knew, the bus had hit the taxi that I was in on its side. Thankfully, I was sitting on the other end of the taxi. But, what a way to begin an independent trip right? The taxi driver got out of the car and began to bicker with the bus driver. Obviously he couldn’t take me to the terminal now, so I had to take out my heavy suitcase and my other tote bag and attempted to find another taxi amid the crazy traffic. Thankfully, my host mom’s friends, who had just left the apartment at the same time that I had left, witnessed the whole incident and they were gracious enough to drive me to the bus terminal with time to spare. Despite the vastness of the bus terminal, I was able to find the location where the bus was supposed to pick me up. There were a variety of buses so I asked a couple of questions to the people in charge of the tickets, just to make sure I was getting on the right one. I definitely didn’t want to wake up the next morning finding myself way out yonder.

     The bus ride to Luján was exceptionally smooth because it was a megabus and the arrival time (around 6:15ish the next morning) was actually ahead of schedule. After getting off of the bus, my first intention  before waving a taxi down was to head to the bathroom, where, despite the lady cleaning in it, the filth was unbearable. Fortunately, there was toilet paper and I brought my own anti-bacterial soap. But, she would not let me leave that bathroom until I paid her for her cleaning efforts.

20170520_062249

     I walked through the frigid temperatures with my heavy suitcase and tote bag and at last was able to find a taxi. Barbi had told me specific directions to get to her house that I should relay to  the taxi driver because sometimes (especially in Buenos Aires) they are terrible at directions and will try to do anything to get more money. (reminds me of the time when the taxi driver ripped me off and I had to give him $100 U.S dollars the first time I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I explain that incident in one of my primary blog entries) The precise directions that I told the taxi driver allowed me to make it to Barbi’s residence with no problem and upon my arrival I was met at the gate by her two guard dogs. 

     Our three-year reunion was very joyous and after talking for a long while about my trip and what she has been doing within these past couple of years, she showed me to my room and I began to get settled.After eating breakfast, I went with Barbi to run a few errands and we were able to go to a dietetica (food health store) to pick up more food to accommodate my dietary needs. Although Luján is small, (so small where everybody knows one another) it’s still considered a city within the Buenos Aires province, located about an hour away from the capital city Buenos Aires.  It’s very well known for its Basilica, which was built to honor the Virgin of Luján. Many people, especially those from the federal capital make pilgrimages to the Basilica to commemorate the virgin, or the patron saint of Argentina.

IMG-20170523-WA0021  IMG-20170523-WA0019

IMG-20170523-WA0017  IMG-20170523-WA0015

     In combination of the lethargy that I felt from the long bus ride and the rainy and cold weather, my first day in Luján was very tranquil. After arriving from the dietetica, I rested for the majority of the day, drank mate, and enjoyed catching up with Barbi. I also was able to meet her husband and their adorable one year old little girl.  Later on that evening, we all went to her parents house, where we ate a typical Argentine lentil soup, called guiso de lenteja, which was perfect for that cold fall night. Her parents were very kind to me, welcoming me with open arms and offered me seconds of the soup and lots of dessert (a fruit bowl) despite me saying that I was already satisfied. We didn’t leave the house until 12:30 AM that next morning. By the time we got back to the house, I was very tired, but also excited, knowing that Barbi, her husband and myself would take a trip to the federal capital that same day.

.IMG-20170520-WA0000               IMG-20170520-WA0001

IMG-20170523-WA0038    received_764065277106346   20170520_234254-1

     From the very moment that we arrived in Buenos Aires, to the time that we left, I was in absolute awe at everything that surrounded me. There is so much to see in this metropolis that it’s impossible to see it all in a single day. In order to get a basic overview of what the city has to offer, Barbi and I decided that taking the city tour bus was the best option.  The weather was a little nasty to begin with, but within a couple of hours, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which made the tour even more enjoyable.

20170521_110239  IMG-20170523-WA0028

We saw an abundant amount of attractions and historical sights such as:

1.      La casa rosada (the pink house)- This is where the current president of Argentina (Mauricio Macri) resides. It’s located in a huge square (plaza de Mayo) and throughout history, has been surrounded by many significant political institutions of Argentina.

20170521_112327

2. Animated cartoon character park-Argentine comic strips, also called historietas, are very well-known world wide and are recognized as being the best in all of Latin America.  They were especially popular in the 1940s and demonstrated the local culture to a certain degree. Their famous status lasted for more than 20 years. I was able to pose next to both Clemente and Mafalda, two famous Argentine comic strips launched in the 1960s and 1970s

20170521_115825        IMG-20170523-WA0030

3. Floralis Genérica- Although the national flower of Argentina is the cockspur coral tree, this popular steel flower, located in plaza de la flor (flower plaza) is 65 ft high! The mechanical petals of the flower opens and closes according to the suns position. How cool is that?! Designed by an Argentine architect, Eduardo Catalano, the opening and closing of the petals symbolizes renewed hope everyday.

20170521_152958-1

4. La Bombonera- This literally translates to a candy box, but it’s the name of a stadium, home to fanatic Boca Jr. soccer fans, a very famous team in all of Argentina. It’s located in a very colorful neighborhood called La Boca (mouth). The  name is inspired by the fact that it sits right at the mouth of the Matanza-Riachuelo River.

20170521_131559  20170521_131631   20170521_132050

     After spending about two and a half hours riding the city tour bus, and getting on and off of it to explore specific places as we wished, we went to the mall to eat lunch. Barbi’s husband wanted to go see his favorite soccer team play at a nearby soccer stadium with some of his friends, so Barbi and I had to navigate the immense city on our own. It was a bit of a struggle, but we managed to have a delightful rest of the day exploring the city! By the end of the day, both of us were very tired, but we really wanted to go to one more museum before leaving. However, that plan was interrupted when we approached the parking space where her car was SUPPOSED to be. We were astonished to find out that the car was towed.  You would think that the people responsible for towing the cars would be more lenient on a Sunday. One thing I have definitely learned about travel is to expect the unexpected. I admired Barbi’s tranquility after discovering this dilemma. In this situation, I would be in panic mode, freaking out for a couple of moments and wouldn’t be able to rest until I got my car back. However, Barbi’s response was, “Let’s go to the café and get something to drink and we’ll figure this all out.” Thankfully, within the next hour or so, we eventually got her car back.

     Although I really wanted to go the museum as we had originally planned, I told Barbi that we didn’t have to go this time, seeing that it was getting late and she had to prepare to teach classes the next day. I was very excited to know that I would accompany her to the private schools where she teaches at. And I  was also not aware of the unexpected surprises nor the inspiration I would gain within that same week…

 

 

Past the halfway mark

May 14, 2017

“No he estado por todos lados,  pero están en mi lista”.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag

     When I sit back and think in amazement about the amount of time that I have been in Córdoba, Argentina, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for thirteen weeks. With only about eight weeks to go until my return back to the states (in reality it’s less than two months), let’s just say, I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m at the point now, where, although I have enjoyed my time here, and it’s definitely been a journey full of ups and downs, I’m starting to feel ready to go back home. I’m experiencing so many mixed emotions knowing that, metaphorically, in the blink of an eye, my time here in South America will soon come to a close. Argentina as a country is so vast, geographically diverse and full of distinct cultures and ways of living in each province, that there’s still so many places I want to go and things that I want to do! However, I know that it’s impossible to see everything during the short time span left that I have here. For this reason, it’s time to embrace even more opportunities and take advantage of all the many different ways that I can become more immersed and knowledgeable of the Spanish culture.

     In  previous blog entries, I’ve shared my travel experiences that I have had in and out of the province of Córdoba, Argentina such as in Alta Gracia, Carlos Paz, and my previous adventure to Mendoza!  But, although my trips to those locations were culturally enriching, distinct sites that I have visited right here in the city has exposed me even further to Argentine ways of living and thinking. Yesterday, my Spanish speaking partner and I visited two art museums.(El museo Emilio Caraffa and El museo Provincial Palacio Dionisi) Although I’m not an artist at the least, I truly enjoyed my time at both sites.  The first one displayed distinct Argentine artists in nine different exhibits along with the history of their lives and their works. Taking pictures of the actual art in the museum is not allowed, (I managed to pick up a brochure and I was able to take a sample picture from there) but I learned a great deal about these creators and their reasons behind their abstract works of art. For instance, the majority of  Fernando O’Connor’s works reflects his interest in the human figure, shape and form. The second museum displays photography about music and Peruvian culture and is considered the first photographic museum of Córdoba that depicts local and national works of South America.

20170513_150520   20170514_114054-1  20170513_170042  20170514_172055-1-1

     During the time that I have been here thus far, I’ve been trying to update you as much as possible on my recent travels within South America and my feelings in a foreign land. However, this coming Friday, I will be taking another long bus trip SOLO to Luján, Buenos Aires for a week, to visit a Spanish professor who came to Susquehanna University during my freshman year. Since I will not have my laptop with me, I won’t be able to write another blog post until the last week of May and into early June. I just wanted to give you all a heads up so you wouldn’t be too worried. Once I return from Luján, I will only have six weeks left in South America. My Spanish speaking partner and I are in the process of compiling a list of places to go and things to do within these short weeks that I have in this beautiful country. I’m looking forward to sharing my independent travel experience in Luján with all of you in addition to my other upcoming last minute adventures!

An unforgettable travel experience

May 6, 2017

“El mundo es un libro, y aquellos que no viajan sólo leen una página.”

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” San. Augustín

     Extraordinary,astounding,breathtaking, marvelous. The list of positive adjectives to describe my experience in Mendoza two weeks ago is endless, despite some minor inconveniences. I will explain those later in this blog entry. On Thursday, April 20, after my last class for the week was over, I rushed to the apartment to begin my last minute packing and to eat my dinner. We (students in the program and I) were scheduled to leave that same night at around 10:00 PM but were required to be at the bus terminal at least a half hour early. Because our trip to Mendoza was only going to be for three days, I had no other choice but to pack light, in which I did a pretty good job doing! I managed to fit three days worth of clothes and other personal necessities in my school book bag and a small tote bag. Seeing that the bus terminal and the apartment where my roommates and I live are in close proximity to each other in the center of the city, the taxi ride to get there lasted less than 10 minutes. I was very happy when my roommates and I arrived at the bus terminal about fifteen minutes before we were supposed to get there. (Punctuality is my middle name)

     After about forty-five minutes of waiting in the bus terminal for the arrival of the directors and the other students, we finally were all ready to board the bus for the nine and a half hour trip. But, it wasn’t ANY type of bus. We had the advantage of riding the Megabus and were privileged to be on the second floor. Thankfully, I was able to get the window seat! Everyone, including myself, were in pajamas and comfy clothing and were ready to sleep. The bus ride was quite smooth and I was able to sleep pretty well with the help of soft music from my headphones in the background.

20170421_074115

     At around 7:40 that next morning (April 21), the bus pulled into the bus terminal in Mendoza and from there, we were driven to the three-star hotel in a minivan . Since it was rainy and chilly upon our arrival, we were extra tired and wanted to sleep some more in our hotel rooms.But we had to eat breakfast and board the minivan once again, where we would be driven to our first activity of the weekend. I have to admit, I was a little jealous when I saw that everyone else was able to eat rolls and other types of bread and all I had was a flavorless light rice cake that didn’t even satiate me. But, I managed to survive for about five hours until lunch.

Hotel Oficiales de Mendoza    20170421_084122

     As the minivan drove us to El Cerro de la Virgen, our hiking location, my tiredness quickly disappeared as I observed the fertile oasis of Mendoza and it’s beautiful countryside. Mendoza is located in western Argentina but lies on the east of the Andes mountains. It’s rich Andean landscape makes the province famously known as being named “The Garden of the Andes”. Upon our arrival to El Cerro de la Virgen, it was still quite cold, chilly and began to drizzle slightly, which is surprising for this particular province. Normally, sunshine is almost always in the weather forecast. Despite these dreary conditions, the hike through the mountains was quite an experience and I truly enjoyed witnessing the magnificent landscapes from 5,905 ft in the air. The two expert tour guides were extremely helpful to us all, leading and guiding us while we maneuvered towards the mountaintop. They were also willing to stop and rest with us when we began to feel tired. Although this was my first hiking experience, and I had to stop a couple of times to take a breather, it was easy to forget how tired I was as we began to move closer and closer to the summit that nearly reached the clouds.

20170421_105921 (1)  20170421_105938 (1)  Mendoza photo three  Mendoza photo four   Mendoza phot five  Mendoza photo seven

     At last, after we reached the top and observed the spectacular view before us, we descended down the mountain by foot. It took us about an hour to reach the peak of the mountain and our descent towards the bottom took just as much time. At this point, I was getting anxious to reach the bottom because I was cold, tired and VERY hungry. When we finally reached the bottom, we all walked to El Parque Termal Cacheuta, where one of the directors had cooked and prepared the very well-known Argentine asado accompanied with vegetable salad and later on, a fruit salad for dessert. It was simply amazing knowing that I was eating in small barbeque area that is set amid natural hot springs on the Mendoza river.

El Parque Termal Cacheuta

     Of course, by the time we arrived back at the hotel later that evening, all of us were extremely tired. On the bus ride the night before, all of the students had to write down who they preferred to room with during this trip. Thankfully, I was able to choose and share a room with two other ladies that I know in the program. Since the hotel we stayed in was three stars, our expectations were not too high, but we still expected our stay to be decent and somewhat satisfying. However, it was the complete opposite. The room was freezing cold, the showers would spurt out either really hot or cold water, the Wi-Fi was not working and worst of all, the toilet would not function right. This is a prime example of learning about how to accept, adjust and move on. Despite this unsatisfactory situation, I slept well that same night, looking forward to the activities in the upcoming days.

20170422_223753

     The following morning, I woke up to a gorgeous sunny day, which was perfect for the activity scheduled. We would spend the day visiting three bodegas or wine shops by bicycle. Just to give you all a little background information, Mendoza is known for having the best wine in Argentina. In fact, 70% of Argentina’s well-known wine is produced right in its province. Many of its vineyards are located at extremely high altitudes. On our way to the first bodega, I was in awe of the beautiful Andes mountain backdrop. Once we arrived, we were guided by an expert who showed and explained to us the process of their wine making. This particular wine shop was more older than the other two that we would go to afterwards. At the end of the tour, they wanted everyone to try a sample of their wine. Now, seeing that I am not a wine drinker, I had to let them know that I couldn’t partake of the wine that they offered. Thankfully, they understood and instead, they offered me a sample of their grape juice, which was also straight from their vineyards. My taste buds were rejoicing at the sweet and pure flavor of this natural drink. I brought a whole bottle of the grape juice to take back to the states so my family can try it. We rode our bikes to two more bodegas and by the time we arrived to the penultimate wine shop, I was starving. But, the beauty of the vineyards, the blue and almost cloudless sky along with the Andes mountains in the background that I observed on my bicycle, distracted me from my hunger. We had chicken soup for our principal meal at the second to last bodega which was also quite tasty and it gave me the energy needed as we headed to our last wine shop for the day.

20170422_103614 (1)       20170422_104344 (1)  20170422_112037   20170422_112400  20170422_113848   20170422_113919    20170422_122417 20170422_124212            20170422_124220             20170422_140137

     I failed to mention that before my roommates at the hotel and I departed to go on our second day excursion to the vineyards, we expressed our concerns to the lady at the front desk about the malfunction of the rooms toilet. By the time we arrived to the hotel that same night, we were all exhausted and were ready to go straight to bed. However, soon after we returned to the hotel, we were confronted with the news that we had no other choice but to change our rooms. The lady at the front desk told us that the person who came in and tried to fix the toilet claimed that something else went wrong, and from there, all of the water shut off completely. We didn’t have that much to move out of our rooms seeing that this was only a three-day trip. But still, it was very inconvenient. The good thing is, our second room was much more spacious than the latter and the toilet and shower worked properly.

     Many people say, save the best for last and for me, this quote rings true to my experience in my last day in Mendoza. The program had planned a rafting trip right on the Mendoza river for the day. The view of the Andes mountains from the minivan window on our way to the rafting location took my breath away. I had no clue that we would be this deep within the mountainous area. The driver of the minivan was willing to stop and allowed us to get out and observe the awe-inspiring view.

     Although rafting sounds and looks like a fun experience, I chose not to be a part of it because I don’t know how to swim…YET.  I will learn, eventually this summer hopefully. However, although I couldn’t partake of the activity, I enjoyed myself just as much exploring and walking through the mountains with one of the directors. Some parts in the mountain were dry and other parts were filled with medium levels of water. I was impressed by the innumerable amounts of plants that I saw and the distinct layers of the mountains, each formed differently as years past have gone by. When lunch time rolled around, the director and I headed back to the rafting area and everyone enjoyed barbequed chicken, salad and peaches for dessert. (This lunch is probably the closest to a typical healthy meal that I have sometimes in the United States which was quite satisfying).

20170423_100545  20170423_100352  20170423_100403     20170423_123931  Within the Andes three  Within the Andes six  20170423_123857   20170423_121906 20170423_145846

 

     As we headed back to the hotel that same day, my experience in the Andes mountains was made when we stopped on the side of the road for one last time to get one more view of the landscapes. The water was pure blue and the snow could be plainly seen in the distance on the top of the peaks. I took in everything that surrounded me and thought to myself, “I have to come back again, and bring along family and friends with me.” This trip was probably the best one that I have been on since I’ve been here in Argentina. I’ve always read and heard about the geographical diversity here, but to actually see it with my own eyes, was certainly a memorable experience, and definitely one that is worth doing again.

20170423_150010