The phrase study abroad has become such a commonplace in our vocabulary that people tend to skim it in conversation. I can see why, whenever I am asked about Buenos Aires, I respond with “it was amazing!” A short, to the point sentence. I can hardly think of a way to elaborate because in a five month period, living in a different country, I experienced so many different emotions that there isn’t even a word in this world to describe how I felt.
One of the most incredible things about studying abroad is that everyone’s experience is so unique to themselves. Each person comes in with different expectations, a different perspective, and different goals. When I got to Buenos Aires, Argentina I was expecting to be greeted by a vibrant city full of smiling people, an incredible night life, and fresh fruit stands on every corner (I admit, a little weird, but I think about food a lot). What I didn’t expect was how it actually felt to miss home, and the real emotions that go along with being on the Subte (subway) alone (half nervous you will get mugged and half nervous you will miss your stop), or constantly being surrounded by the murmur of a language you initially understand as gibberish. In the beginning it was all a little overwhelming. I remember coming home to my host family’s apartment after a six hour day of classes all in Spanish and barely having the energy to talk to them. That first month I slept better than I ever have in my life, I was exhausted, physically and emotionally.
Traditional way to serve steak Yerba Matte leaves
Buenos Aires is comparable in size to New York City. I am from a small town in Minnesota and went to school in Boulder, Colorado, population roughly 100,000. Needless to say, the culture shock of moving to a big city was just as impactful on me as moving to another country was. The day I arrived, my host mom gave me a Sube card and took the Subte with me 30 minutes to an ISA (International Studies Abroad) program meeting. When she dropped me off at the building she asked if I could make it back by myself and gave me a hug of confidence. Three wrong turns and two Spanglish conversations later, I made it back to my apartment. But, I couldn’t believe how vulnerable and childish I felt; I could barely make it home, couldn’t pronounce the name of my street, and in all honesty, wanted to a cry a little bit. Eventually I got the hang of riding the Subte, and I’m glad I did, because I lived in Recoleta, essentially the furthest stop away from my school in Belgrano, and further from the night-life mecca, Palermo, than any of my friends. At points, when I successfully dodged the crowds and seamlessly swiped by Sube card, I felt like a true porteña (a person who is from or lives in Buenos Aires).
When I got to Buenos Aires I attended an “intensive month” that focused on getting to know the language. The rest of my time was spent attending a class schedule very similar to my course load at CU. I took two classes taught in Spanish and three taught in English. The professors knew we were there for a short period of time, so most instructors encouraged us to participate in outside activities and travel. And that I did, within the first month my friends and I booked a flight and packed our bags for a Patagonia vacation. We stayed in hostels in El Calafate and El Chalten and did a handful of day hikes and activities including a trek to Fitz Roy, a boat ride to see a secluded lake, and a day trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. Other weekends were spent visiting various cities throughout Argentina and hopping the ferry to Uruguay. Mid-way through the semester my family and I, with my best friend from home, Hannah, and her family, went on a custom Peru vacation with Knowmad, visiting Machu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle. Then as a final hoorah, Hannah and I spent ten blissful days in Brazil lounging on the beach enjoying fresh coconut water and healthy food. The weekends spent traveling were definitely highlights, but in reality, the entire experience was a highlight.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Mount Fitz Roy
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I was admittedly a little scared. At orientation our program leaders told us, “it’s not if you get mugged it’s when.” I can proudly say I was never mugged or treated poorly. One afternoon on the Subte, a crackling message saying something along the lines of “get off at the nearest stop” came over the intercom; sure enough, at the next stop everyone evacuated and having no idea where I was, I got off as well. When I reached the top of the stairs I bee-lined it into the nearest store to ask for directions. I found myself in conversation with the owner of a shoe store, who, without question, took my hand, walked me out of the store and across the street to the appropriate bus stop. Buenos Aires is a huge city, and with that comes diverse groups of people. There were times when I felt the hustle of the crowds, no one smiled and everyone hurried by, but when the work day was done the city slowed and people spent their hours drinking fernet y cola and sharing picadas with their friends.
Rollerblading around the Palermo Lakes
It’s been over a year since I stepped off the plane in Argentina. One of the things I missed the most about home was the ease of everything, I never thought twice about asking a question or joining a conversation. Now that I’m home all the little unfamiliar nuisances I once struggled with have me yearning for my next adventure. Being in another country, surrounded by a different culture, is a feeling you can not recreate. The only way to understand this heart-bursting, head-rushing sense of excitement is to get out there and travel yourself!
Nos Vemos, Lisa
Lisa is the Media Manager at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2012 and is continually planning her next adventure. Read Lisa’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.