Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"6 Month Bliss"

Before I ventured out on my exchange, I spoke with as many exchange students as possible for tips and advice. The comment that struck me the most was made by one of my close friends. She told me, “Kelly, the first 5 months of my exchange were the hardest of my life. I constantly struggled and was fairly miserable. During the 6th month of my exchange though, everything changed, and the next few months were bliss”. I thought it sounded horrible to be uncomfortable for 5 months of my life, but my friend assured me these months of discomfort were sure to be worthwhile. I have now reached the point of contentment that she described. I wouldn’t say bliss necessarily, but more a feeling of belonging and pride to be a member in this community.
The past few months have flown by, and I can’t believe that I already have to return in less than 4 short months! Ironically, I realized how much I truly love this country and the people when I left my city to travel with my mom from the US who came to visit me for a week. We spent an incredible week together, traveling first to Bariloche for four days, then to Mar del Plata for two days, home to Mercedes for a day, and then off to Buenos Aires for a day where my mom caught her flight. Bariloche was breathtaking; a town settled in the mountains and surrounded by enormous crystal clear lakes, known for it’s rich chocolate and ice cream, was the ideal place for my mom and I. It was difficult to tear ourselves away to drive to Mar del Plata, a large industrial city that sits on the beach and didn’t really appeal to our preferred small town lifestyle. In one week, however, we managed to see and do more than I think most people would do in a month. Not a single day passed without some crazy adventure. Once, we missed the only bus we needed to take us to the airport by literally 10 seconds, and ended up hitchhiking. Another time, we went to see a mountain, and thinking it would be nice sunny weather, donned shorts and t-shirts. Stupid tourists- it was close to freezing, and as we boarded a chair lift to climb to the top, everyone who passed us sniggered and called out, “Hey, you guys a little cold?” as they rode in comfort in their winter coats and hats. Don’t even get me started on our driving adventures; let’s just say that driving in Argentina in an automatic rental car at 2 am in the dark, without maps, navigation, or any marked roads or signs to help you, presents a few challenges.

Beautiful Bariloche nestled in the mountains

Camino de los 7 Lagos- just one of the crystal clear lakes on the way

Red sunset over one of the lakes

"Mamushca"- one of the most well-known chocolate shops...I couldn't move afterwards

Famous Sea Lion statues in Mar Del Plata
"El Caminito"- the birthplace of Tango in La Boca, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires

Although I had an unforgettable week with my mother, it was also eye-opening. I realized that with her, for the first time in a long while, I felt like a tourist in the country, and I didn’t like it. We spoke in English together, and even as we walked, I felt as though everyone was watching us with fascination. Our clothes, our gestures- everything screamed FOREIGN!! Occasionally we would pass by someone who would comment about us, not realizing I could understand, and I would snicker to myself. I realized that I was longing to speak in Spanish again and to not stick out like a sore thumb. Additionally, after only a few short days apart, I missed my host family incredibly. 
True family photo!! Several of my aunts, uncles, and cousins (and my two moms!)
Out to dinner with my host family and mother in Mercedes
After a terribly short time together, I bid my mom a fast and teary farewell at the airport. She made a comment though that pays a huge compliment to the people here in this country, and that I know for a fact to be true. Every single time we were lost, or needed help, any person we asked completely dropped whatever they were doing to genuinely give us the time of day. Not only did they give us an address we needed, but people would also go out of their way to make sure we arrived safely. For example, we asked a taxi driver to point us in the right direction, and after explaining multiple times and seeing that I was still perplexed, he told us to follow him and led us to our hotel free of charge. After giving us directions and a drawn out map to Mar del Plata, another man wrote his number down and told us to call him if we had any more problems, and also to let him know that we had made it safely. It is the same kind of help that I received on my very first plane ride into the country. The people here are so incredibly genuine and helpful, and I am blessed to be surrounded by their warmth every day.
When I finally arrived in Mercedes after a week, as I stepped off the bus, a though flashed through my head- “Ah, it feels good to be home”. It was one of the first times I realized how much I love this country, my host family, and how lucky I am to be here. Now I am somewhat frantic, realizing that I don’t have much time left, and I’m determined to fill every day with being active in the culture and community.
My classes start again in a week, and I still haven’t decided if I’m excited or dreading them. Summer vacation has been incredibly relaxing, but I think it will be nice to finally have a schedule again. Also, it will be good for me to wake up before 1pm every day. As summer vacations come to an end, many new activities open up as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to start Tango lessons this month! I’ve also found aerial classes, and am hoping to begin. All I know is that the next few months are going to fly by, and I plan to enjoy every second.

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