These are a few of my favorite things

With my literature parcial passed, monografías handed in, and final presentación over, I’m about to embark on my last full week in Buenos Aires.  Though it’s not really sinking in yet, the semester is indeed coming to a close, and at a much quicker pace than I’m ready for.  While I’m beyond looking forward to seeing friends and family at home, a part of me selfishly wishes I could stay and everyone I’m excited to see could come here.  This past Tuesday marked the official four months of living in Argentina and I’m honestly perplexed at how 120 days could go by so unbelievably fast.

In an attempt to evade my sadness surrounding my subsequent departure, I started to reflect upon the things about Buenos Aires that I’m not going to miss when I’m gone.  And I came up with a grand total of……..two: the ever-present dog poop on the street (it’s hard to always walk with your head down to avoid stepping in it) and the Linea D subway line during rush hour and/or when it casually stops functioning (always when I really need to be somewhere).

While “things I won’t miss” was not exactly the successful compilation I was hoping for, I happen to be a passionate and enthusiastic list-maker, resulting in the shift from “what I wont miss” into its exact opposite.  Hence, I now present the following musings regarding all that I love about this city and what I’m going to dearly miss when I depart:

Avenida Santa Fe / the 152 bus: This street is by no means the center of BA, but from day one it’s how I’ve oriented myself around the city.  I owe it many thanks for helping me find myself, a lot.  As for the 152 bus (perfectly named Olivos de Boca to make it that much easier for me to remember it), this colectivo goes everywhere and I’ll miss it.

The hours: Happy hour at most places lasts until 12 AM, leaving my apartment at 2 AM to salir isn’t considered abnormal, and returning home before 4 AM means it was an early night.  And to think I was nervous about adapting to the nocturnal Argentine lifestyle before I got here!

La comida: From alfahores—dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookies—and their various varieties (the gluten free Chocoaroz brand is a personal favorite), to steak and parillas, to empanadas (carne, obviously), choripan stands on the street, fernet and coke, and discovering artisanal helado, the food in Argentina did not disappoint.  It is by no means the best culinary city in the world, but the food this country is known for is done right.

Friendliness: The cheek-kiss greeting, house party/asado/previa invites, help from professors and other native students, and even the frequent “ayy, qué linda!” comment while walking down the street (honestly, it happens to be a nice confidence booster when a stranger tells you you’re looking good on your way out)—all the Argentineans I’ve meet have been nothing but kind and friendly.  Also, many of them immediately abbreviate my name to Oli, which is a nickname that, when spoken with a Spanish accent, I’ve decided I am a huge fan of.

Being an extranjera: Four months later, I know that the first thing an Argentine will ask me when he/she finds out I’m from the states is “Te gusta Buenos Aires?”  My go-to response is “Si, me encanta!” which always puts a smile on their face because they’re genuinely glad—and proud—that I love their city.  I’m definitely going to miss that Argentine passion, which does not only include their nacionalismo, but more importantly, their fútbol team.  Also, being from New York is actually a novelty in BA, which is certainly an appreciated change from Cornell.  Sometimes it’s nice to not be from the same place as most of the people around you.

The little things: Getting a text on my Argentine phone and thinking it’s from an Argentine amigo but as usual, it’s a “dupli promo,” the guarantee that I’ll run into people I know all over the city (sure, BA is huge, but it never really feels that way), using “vos” instead of “tu,” being dependant on free wifi everywhere, and porteños wearing winter jackets, scarves, and boots when it’s 50 degrees outside (I’m always cold, so I really fit in well here)—these are the small things that I’ve come to appreciate about this city.

Host madre: Last but certainly not least, I am extremely sad to leave my incredible host mother, Raca.  From having fresh squeezed orange juice and cereal already poured for me every morning because of her fear that I won’t eat breakfast, to our daily dinner chats, to her general life advice and wisdom, developing a relationship with Raca has been one of the most special parts of this semester and I cannot express how much I’ll miss her when I’m back in America.

While one list could never cover all that I’m sad to leave behind, I hope through my posts this semester I’ve conveyed how thankful I feel for the opportunity to get to know and love this city.  It has been a remarkable four months and I sincerely believe I’m returning to America with a broadened perspective, life-changing memories, and hopefully a bit of porteña in me.  Gracias to all of my friends in Argentina who have made this the best semester abroad I could have ever possibly asked for, gracias to my blog readers (mostly family, though I’d like to pretend random people across the world are interested in what I have to say), and gracias to my parents for always supporting me and not being really mad when I got my camera stolen the second week I was here.  This has truly been the aventura of a lifetime and while all good things must come to an end, I have a feeling this semester was just the beginning.  I don’t want to finish my last post from Argentina with such a cliché, however, so instead I leave you readers with a quote from my favorite book of all time, since sometimes J.K. Rowling just seems to know the best way to express how I feel:

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

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Argentinean amabilidad

As our plane ascended over the stunning, snowcapped Andes Mountains in the midst of one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen, I turned to my friend Sophia to express, for the millionth time, what an amazing weekend we just had.  To my surprise, I found myself with tears in my eyes.  While the two of us then began to crack up over the fact that I was crying, it was also one of those moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what prompted such an outburst.  Landing in Buenos Aires about an hour later, I realized with a jolt that this would be my second to last descent (can’t say last, because I have a trip planned with my mom when she comes in 19 days—but who’s counting?) into the place I’ve come to call home—and then it hit me: my tears most certainly stemmed from the fact that I am in no way ready to leave Buenos Aires.  On the contrary, I think I felt so overwhelmed because I realized how much I’m going to miss South America.  My first taste of this hemisphere came the summer after my sophomore year of high school, when I spent a month in Ecuador—some of the best memories of my life.  But the short time I spent in Chile this weekend was also far and away one of my favorite South American experiences, for reasons I’m about to recount.

First, Sophia and I stayed with her incredibly kind and generous family.  The notion of having a cousin you’ve only met a few times and her random friend (me) as houseguests certainly has the potential to be awkward, at least initially.  But from the moment we walked in the door, it was more than apparent how welcome we were.  That openness is not a sentiment that most Americans express, and I don’t mean that as a criticism, but more of a commentary on a concept that just is.  Riding the bus this week with my UBA profesora, she recounted that when she lived in California while receiving her PhD, it took months to garner a dinner invitation at a colleague’s home.  In contrast, she noted, the first step an Argentinean takes is to invite you into their casa.  I’ve experienced that hospitality more times than I can count this semester—from the Rabbi’s home on Passover, to fiestas, previas, and asados—and it seems South Americans are generally more inclined towards an immediate openness.  While there are plenty of Americans I know who are more than happy to share their homes with others, that step usually comes with some degree of intimacy.  It’s not that a friend of a friend wouldn’t be welcome at a party, but I believe he or she would need to have a more substantial reason for being there.

Sophia and I could also not stop commenting on how cute it was that her cousin and his wife constantly used mi amor to address one another.  Imagine using the literal English translation—“my love”—in practically every sentence to your significant other…it seems quite dramatic.  But in castellano, it’s perfect.  The phrase mi amor is more than a mere term of endearment, because it reveals an inherent ability to express emotions.  South Americans are unafraid to show their feelings, and while the extremely public displays of affection many Argentineans are fond of did take some getting used to, I’ve come to see that even intense make-out sessions on a crowded subway are just another expression of compassion.  Indeed, South Americans are unquestionably more affectionate than Americans.  The handshake is a rarity here—everyone kisses on the cheek to greet one another, even strangers (when I first arrived, I certainly experienced my fair share of awkward moments when I’d meet someone and automatically extend my hand as they leaned in for the cheek kiss).

Thus as the plane descended into BA last week, what dawned on me was the fact that Argentina truly feels like home, a sensation that would have been difficult to recognize without having left.  While I sometimes feel guilty for going to the gym over visiting a museum, I realize that these ordinary daily activities are what ultimately make this city more than a place I’m merely visiting.  I’m actually living here, creating connections with Argentine amigos to play tennis with, my host mother, my universities, and profesoras.  While it’s dawning on me how little time I have remaining in Buenos Aires, no hay mal que por bien no vaya (every cloud has a silver lining), and if anything, now I’m certain I’ll have a reason(s) to return.

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The essence of pleasure is spontaneity

I’ve never considered myself a particularly spontaneous person.  That isn’t to say that I’m not open to trying new things—I most certainly am—but I’m definitely one who thrives off of concrete plans and a fairly organized daily routine.  However, I’m realizing on the eve of my third month here in Argentina (WHERE is this semester going???) that these past months have been incredibly spontaneous…and in a slightly surprising twist, I’m enjoying every unplanned moment just as much, if not more, than the planned.

From deciding to accompany my host mother to the teatro on a random Tuesday evening, to attending a previa (pre-party) at an Argentine’s house that ended up lasting until 5 am because everyone was having too much fun to venture anywhere else, to finding myself on the same bus as my UBA profesora and chatting with her about literature, traveling, and studying abroad for the entire 40 minute ride, these impromptu events are indisputably what’s making my time here so memorable.  Honestly, even striking up a conversation with a taxi driver is exciting because I’m able to learn more about the city and its inhabitants, as well as practice my castellano (hearing “vos hablas muy bien” never gets old—what a confidence boost).

Of course, the super cool thing about spontaneity is that one unplanned event seemingly always leads to anotherFor example, one of many conversations at the previa I attended last week was about sports, and it turns out that one of my new Argentine amigos also plays tennis.  I made him promise to hit with me before I leave Buenos Aires, and on Wednesday, for the first time in 3 months, I experienced the lovely, dusty, slide-y, clay courts of South America (and actually played quite well for not having picked up a racket in some time).  I was legitimately smiling to myself every time I turned around to pick up a ball, both because I was happy to be playing again, and because who would have thought three months ago I’d be trading groundstrokes with a porteño?

Well, if tennis wasn’t enough to make me the happiest extranjera in Buenos Aires, after we played my amigo then invited me to an asado one of his friends was hosting.  I haven’t mentioned this particular topic in any of my previous posts, so let me start by saying that asados are easily one of my top ten favorite things about Argentina.  They’re comparable to an American barbeque, I suppose, but with fewer condiments—it’s all about the pure roasting of delicious meat—steak, choripan, etc.  This particular asado also featured grilled red peppers with fried eggs on top, a fantastic combo, might I add.  I spent the night speaking Spanish, eating succulent meat, drinking red wine, and just reveling at how content I was at this unexpected invitation.

Type-A as I am, I’m genuinely loving the feeling of not knowing what’s coming next, which, prior to arriving in Argentina, is not necessarily a sentiment I have ever truly been able to relate to.  Studying abroad, for me, has provided a remarkable opportunity to observe a side of my personality that I’m not sure could flourish to the same extent in America.  And as well as I’d like to think I know myself, living in Argentina has shown me that I can adapt to certain situations I never thought I’d be comfortable in—not only am I adapting, but also having some of the most incredible experiences of my life along the way.  Ironically, while writing this post my friend just informed me that we were invited to an Argentine’s house for a fiesta tonight—seriously, the spontaneity is everywhere!  Undoubtedly, another fun, yet unexpected night will follow, and I for one can’t wait.

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Expanding my mind

A little over two months into my program, I figure it might be time to talk about something none of my other posts have touched upon…school.  Contrary to what my photos may reveal, I am indeed studying in Argentina; in fact, I’m directly enrolled in three Argentine universities and taking all my classes in Spanish.

While the workload isn’t as time-consuming as it is in America, class itself is certainly a challenge.  It requires my most intense concentration skills, seeing as if I doze off for one second thinking about a trip I’m looking forward to or what my host mom is making for dinner or that cute Porteño I met at a bar last week, I’ll return to the discussion quite lost.

This past Thursday, I made my 45-minute commute to la Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), Facultad de Filosofía y Letras.  It’s a rundown building with posters and graffiti covering every wall, a place where you have to watch your step for the freshly painted banners about some political event drying on the floor, and where it is not uncommon to see pigeons wandering around the classrooms (this happened twice to me—it doesn’t help the focusing, let me tell you).

My UBA profesora speaks fairly fast, but after two hours of lecture that I mostly comprehended, I was ready for the group discussion.  Usually I remain on the quieter side, listening to my peers without making particularly large contributions.  However, we’re currently reading a novel, La Biblia Envenenada (by Barbara Kingsolver) that is originally an American text.  While at first daunting—it’s over 600 pages—I actually understood the Spanish translation fairly well.  I also felt better after realizing that no one in my group had finished the book either (this isn’t me slacking… it’s over 600 pages!).

The professor told my group to discuss the impact of history in the book, which, to my advantage, includes allusions to American history.  Finally, a subject I could enlighten my Argentinean peers about—trust me, I have never been so happy to talk about the Jim Crow Laws.  As our conversation continued, I found myself contributing more than I ever had; for the first time, I really felt like an Argentinean student, and I have to say, it felt great.

That sense of belonging to an academic community is something I‘ve always taken for granted, both in high school and college.  In Argentina, however, that belonging doesn’t come nearly as naturally as it does in the states, especially because I look quite foreign (can’t help the pale skin) and obviously don’t speak perfect Castellaño.  I didn’t realize beforehand, but the ability to meaningfully contribute to a class discussion is quite important to me; doing so on Thursday helped me feel immensely more academically comfortable and confident here.

Studying abroad encapsulates an astonishingly large subject matter for a mere two-word phrase.  Sure, I’m abroad, fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet new people, travel, and explore a city.  Yet the other half of the equation is, of course, the studying.  That’s the part of this experience I thought would be the least enjoyable, and while I’m not saying I particularly like doing work, the ability to directly enroll in Argentine universities is something I have a profound appreciation for.  It allows me to see a part of Buenos Aires that I honestly would not have been able to encounter otherwise.

I think you can learn a lot about a nation by reflecting upon its educational system, but it’s certainly difficult to observe that part of culture without studying in said place.  While getting to know another country is stereotypically associated with visiting museums, historical buildings, the theater, etc.—and I’m in no way suggesting these things are not integral (I went to a performance of Casi Normales, the Argentinean version of Next to Normal, and was blown away because I didn’t realize that a musical in another language could move me that much)—I do think immersing yourself in an educational system provides a unique opportunity to discover how the citizens of a country learn.

I’m the first person to call myself a nerd.  I’ve always genuinely liked going to school, but something I don’t love is how easy it is to fall into a monotonous academic routine.  Because college in Argentina is different than anything I’ve ever experienced, however, it makes me even prouder when I’m successful in the classroom; learning in a second language, while sometimes daunting, is largely what’s making this semester abroad so meaningful.  Taking risks is something I think Cornell emphasizes through its abroad programs, and while it seems like an annoying Arts & Sciences requirement to have to study in a country where you speak the language, it’s also a mindset I have a lot of respect for.  It’s important to sometimes leave your “educational element” because it’s too easy to fall into a routine and forget to, in the wise words that Steven Wittels has instilled in me for as long as I can remember, expand your mind.

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O, wonder! (Patagonia)

I did the Big Ice trek of El Glaciar Perito Moreno on a gray, rainy day, and can unquestionably say that the approximately five hours I spent pretty much drenched (my supposedly waterproof jacket was apparently not so rain-repellant) were also the most breathtakingly beautiful hours of my life.  This may sound like an overdramatic exaggeration, but I’m actually finding it difficult to put into words just how incredible Patagonia is.  And obviously, the fact that less than ideal weather did not at all dampen the experience—just the clothes—is a testament to the beauty of Perito Moreno.  Actually, our guides mentioned that the grayer skies helped the incredible range of icy blues appear even more vibrant looking.

The sun did break through the clouds at the end of the hike (obviously because I coaxed it out by singing every sun-related song I could think of), but by then I was so blown away by the glacier that it didn’t make much of a difference.  Seeing Perito Moreno is one thing, but actually trekking it provides a unique look at its absurdly enormous size, insane colors, intricate crevices, and the hilly, frozen solid ice formations that we climbed up and down.

One thought that I’ve taken away from all my travels this month, which was clearly apparent in Patagonia, is that hiking happens to be a very internally reflexive activity.  Even when you’re with other people, there are always moments where the group is silent, appreciating its surroundings.  Walking one behind the other, our crampons crunching in the ice, while circled by seemingly endless frosty plains, became, at certain moments, quite overwhelming because of how small I felt next to the vision of what was all around me.

I do feel like I’m learning a lot about myself in Argentina, especially regarding how much I love la naturaleza.  I’m only starting to realize that travelling is such an incredible way to meet so many fascinating people, who are also, for one reason or another, drawn to these remarkable places.  It sounds corny, but I truly felt connected with everyone whom I climbed the glacier with, both the people I knew beforehand (hi Julie, Hayley, and Micaela) and the ones I met that day.  We were all there for the same reason, driven by a desire to see and explore this largely untouched territory.  This passion for nature creates an unspoken bond and truly distinctive unity that is capable of bringing total strangers together.

Perito Moreno is, if such a concept exists, life-changing beauty.  I don’t mean to be so poetic, but seeing the expanse of the glacier for the first time is unlike anything else, anywhere else in the world.  And since it’s hard to put into words, why not turn to the Bard to do it for me?  In a sign that I am obviously turning into my father sooner than I would have liked, the legitimate first thought that came to mind when I initially saw the glacier was none other than a Shakespeare quote.  “O, wonder!” Miranda says in The Tempest, reacting to her primary encounter with men. “How many goodly creatures are there here!  How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”

That sense of astonishment at being exposed to something entirely new and astounding is perhaps the best way to describe Patagonia, a place that honestly feels as close to Narnia as I’ll ever get.  I’ve only dedicated this post to the glacier trek, but combined with the hiking I did in El Chaltén, surrounded by the most stunning fall foliage I have perhaps ever seen (and I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful autumn leaves between Armonk and Ithaca), wonder is perhaps the best word to describe this indescribable place.

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My youthful travel therein made me happy

While Buenos Aires is currently my favorite city en el mundo, I’ll admit I was originally a bit apprehensive when I chose to study abroad here, mostly because of the incredible and accessible traveling that living in Europe allows for. However, over the past month my jealousy at the Euro-trip the majority of my home and college friends are on has all but subsided (although to those reading this, your pictures are amazing and I miss you!).

For the past three weekends, I too, have been fortunate enough to travel. Consequently, I’ve had so many memorable experiences that it’d be quite a challenge to blog about just one of them…which is why this post is going to be more of a travel-log than my other ones. So, here are some of the highlights (pictures attached) from:

Mar de Plata-
While the weather was not phenomenal during my IFSA program-sponsored trip to this cute beach town, we did take a lovely boat ride around the city. I definitely think this is a better place to visit in the peak of summer, but it was certainly nice to escape the big city for a quieter atmosphere.

Tafi de Valle-
This was the first stop on my northwest Argentina adventure during a weeklong vacation for Semana Santa. One of my goals during this week was to try as much local food as possible, hence when my traveling buddies, Sophia and Julie, and I finally arrived after over 24 hours of travelling on the omnibus, and eyed the bright yellow dish sitting on the table next to us, we ordered our first (and I’d say best) humita of the week. The corn-based deliciousness was light, yet also filling, and a great way to kick off what Sophia and I deemed “eating our way through the northwest.”

Cafayate-
This small town in the province of Salta is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been. We started our day biking to a bodega (vineyard) next to a backdrop of enormous, red mountains. We did a hiking excursion in the afternoon through the Quebrada de las Conchas valley, which was absolutely breathtaking. Of course, Cafayate is also home to wine-flavored ice-cream…need I say more?

Salta-
We discovered the BEST tacos at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called La Doña and also found mouth-watering lomito sandwiches at a corner stand (did I mention we were eating our way through the northwest?). This week also marked my first time ever staying in hostels, and the one we stayed at in Salta, Sol Huasi, was easily the most fun.

Tilcara-
Llama, landscape, and live singing pretty much capture my experience in this incredible pueblo. The highlight of this stop was unquestionably dinner at La Pena de Carlitos, where I tried llama for the first time—DELICIOUS. Of course, being treated to a live folklore performance while eating, something I was immensely looking forward to (as a side note: we traveled around this week on omnibuses—10 buses in 6 days, to be exact—hence I listened to a lot of Mumford & Sons on my iPod andwas constantly in the mood for folk singing), simply made this one of the most memorable meals of the trip.

Purmamarca-
This was the last stop on our whirlwind six-day tour of northwest Argentina and the excursion to Las Salinas was definitely the most impressive part of this town. It’s hard to gage the vastness of these salt fields in pictures, but the enormity of the attraction is really unique.

Uruguay-
IFSA took us to Colonia, Uruguay this past weekend, where we spent an afternoon at our program director’s stunning home on the beach (actually more of an estate), stuffing ourselves with choripan and steak. The next day, we travelled to a beautiful bodega called Narbona where I experienced a classier version of a Cornell wine tour. And on Monday I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. Overall, it was a phenomenal trip.

Needless to say, I could not feel more fortunate or happy with my abroad experience thus far. This weekend, I’m headed to Patagonia for the finale of my travels this month, and while I am indescribably excited, I’m also looking forward to returning and staying put in Buenos Aires for the next few weeks (it’s definitely a sign of how comfortable I am here that I miss the city when I’m gone). This semester is already passing at a disconcerting speed, but I’m so excited for all the aventuras to come, and also currently not sure if I ever want to leave!

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Next year in…Buenos Aires

Last Friday, two of my friends and I decided to attend services at a local Jabad in Buenos Aires.  With Passover around the corner, Julie, Cole, and I thought it might be a good idea to explore Jewish life in Argentina, and because my mom kept asking if I had a Seder to attend, it seemed practical to do some research.

I arrived at services not knowing what to expect, and needless to say, the experience was not what I expected.  First, it was an Orthodox service, hence a separation between men and women, something I personally don’t agree with.  Nonetheless, as I skimmed through the prayer book with Hebrew on one side and Spanish on the other, I was reminded of the part of Judaism that I feel most connected to, which is its ability to bring people together.  The prayers and songs are always in Hebrew, a trait that lends itself to a unique universality.  Any Jew, regardless of his or her native tongue, reads and chants in the same language.

After services, the Rabbi unexpectedly and kindly invited us to his home for Shabbat dinner.  We were served a five-course meal (obviously I wrote down the menu: fish, assorted salads, matzo ball soup, brisket—delicious, but don’t worry mom, nothing will ever compare to yours—and a baked pear drizzled with chocolate).  Consequently, I left dinner practically unable to walk because I was so full; this was easily one of the greatest meals I’ve had in BA / in my life.  But the best part of dinner (besides the food) occurred when the Rabbi generously invited us to his home for a Seder after learning we did not have plans for Pesach.

I spent the rest of the weekend eagerly and nervously anticipating Monday.  While I was incredibly excited to see what a Seder led in Castellano would be like, I also knew the Seder would be more traditional than any I’d ever attended.  Yet two days later, as I’m writing this post, I can honestly say it was one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had.

When I say this was a multi-cultural Seder, I mean that in every sense of the word.  About forty-five people of different nationalities, backgrounds, and languages sat around a long, beautifully set table.  An important part of any Passover Seder is that everyone’s voice is heard, thus the Rabbi called for each guest to read aloud from the Haggadah.  He began his part in Castellano, but as we continued, the readings shifted from Portuguese to British-English, American-English, and Hebrew.  I read my passage in Spanish, all the while marveling at how happy and content I was to be sharing this Seder with literally a group of strangers.

Even though I only knew four people in the room, the flowing vino—and I mean flowing, for Passover is not a holiday that skimps on wine consumption—made conversation easy and also genuinely fun.  I’ll admit, I felt a bit homesick while singing Dayenu (nothing can ever compare to the ridiculous singing at my family Seder), but the fact that a group of people who had meet little over an hour ago were all rather boisterously singing together exemplifies the universal nature of Judaism that I find most appealing.  The traditions, no matter if you’re in New York or Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv, are mostly the same.  And let me tell you, the constant asking of “what page are we on?” in the Haggadah doesn’t change either.

The food, once again, was incredible, but the sense of communal celebration is what I was most touched by.  Over 5,000 miles from home, I have not yet felt as grounded and close to my family, despite the separation, as I did on Monday evening.  From all over the world, a group of Jews was brought together in Buenos Aires to celebrate our heritage, which, especially as an American without many specific cultural ties to Argentina, was immensely meaningful.  To conclude a Seder, we often end with “next year in Jerusalem,” a phrase which contains a variety of interpretations.  Personally, I think “next year in wherever you might be celebrating Passover,” would suffice, because if I learned anything from this Seder, it is that you can feel connected to your beliefs, heritage, and your family no matter how far away from home you actually are.

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Peanut Butter and the Pope

My Argentine anfitrióna, Raca, doesn’t eat dinner.  Instead, dinnertime in Buenos Aires consists of me eating and Raca watching me eat, both of us chatting while doing so.  This was slightly awkward at first, but now I genuinely look forward to the meal, since I know that it is easily one of the best ways to practice speaking and listening to Castellano (the form of Spanish they speak here).

I’m actually quite proud of the level of conversation I’ve been able to maintain with my host mother.  For instance—unless you’ve been off in some remote area for the past few weeks and didn’t hear the news—the world has a new Pope, and (spoiler alert) he’s Argentinean.  Obviously, Cardinal Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) is the talk of the town here in Buenos Aires, which carried over to our daily dinner chat few nights ago.  The conversation eventually veered away from the pope and moved towards religion in general, a quite theoretical, philosophical, and certainly subjective subject.  Talking about religion in English is difficult enough, but I must say that I left the table feeling rather pleased with my success at sharing my views and opinions in another language.

Consequently, while the question of a superior being looking down on us is a matter of personal preference, I must say that if there was a higher power watching over me at a boliche called Kika on Tuesday night, he/she/it must have been looking elsewhere for a few seconds when my digital camera was stolen out of my pocket.

This was easily the most lamentable instance I’ve had in Argentina thus far, but other than having to overcome the initial misery of being robbed, the general sentiment of feeling like a targeted tourist, and the inconvenience of having to purchase another camera, I realized the situation is more of a hassle than anything else.  In fact, while walking home from school the very next day, I popped into a Disco (supermarket chain), where I FINALLY (and I mean finally) found peanut butter.  I had been looking for this coveted American nutritional staple literally since the day I arrived in Argentina, and the timing of the discovery was particularly impeccable.  While my camera was lost to the Argentinean nightlife, the supplement to my number one American food craving was found.

Discovering peanut butter in a supermarket is not a particularly life-altering feat, but it could not have happened at a better moment for me.  The first smooth, creamy spoonful served as a reminder to take things one day at a time, which I think is especially relevant while studying abroad.  Sure, my camera is gone, but in the scheme of everything that’s happened to me in Argentina throughout these past three weeks, it’s just a minor glitch.  There are countless experiences awaiting me, and for every negative one there are endless positive moments that I know will override the unfavorable instances.  Already since the incident I’ve gone on a graffiti bike tour around the city, searched for empanadas at six am after a night out, and went to the house party of an Argentinean who I befriended at a bar.  I may be camera-less, but that’s not stopping me from capturing a glimpse of what living in Buenos Aires is all about.

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Everyone stretches the same way

Non-stop is perhaps the best way to describe my first week in Buenos Aires.  I’ve experienced the usual ailments of a traveling student, like culture shock, homesickness, and getting lost.  But these past seven days have also been incredibly exciting, despite getting a lot less sleep than I could have ever imagined (Argentineans are apparently nocturnal).

Other than busy, orientation is the word that comes to mind as I reflect on my time here so far.  We’ve had numerous program-related activities, which are (for the most part) immensely useful.  However, they are also super time consuming, especially when there are a million other things I feel like I have to do.  Still, slowly but surely I’ve been checking things off my list as I adapt to the place where I’ll be living for the next four and a half months.  I’ve bought an Argentinean cell phone, exchanged money, and even went to the supermarket—all things considered, I’m settling in quite nicely.

Conversely, I’ve been a little less successful at orienting myself in the literal sense of the word.  I have a terrible sense of direction, and at the end of the day Buenos Aires is an ENORMOUS city.  I’ve been trying to walk everywhere, but that often leaves me not entirely sure of where I am.  However, my neighborhood is definitely starting to become a lot more familiar; while this seems like a small feat, it leaves me with confidence that eventually I will gain a better grasp of the city.

Obviously, I’ve also had to orient myself to certain distinct cultural differences, especially the nightlife.  The bigger clubs here, boliches, are not popular until around 3 am, so the social scene that I’m used to, which normally ends at 2 am, is nowhere to be found.  Going out has been really fun, but indescribably exhausting, particularly when waking up the next morning after a mere two hours of sleep.  I’ve made a valiant effort to live the Argentinean “stay up all night and then get breakfast and then start your day again” life, but have fallen short by a few hours.  Have no fear readers, because in a few weeks I will undoubtedly adapt to all this nocturnal nonsense.

Despite all the changes, there was a moment this week when I realized that this initial orientation period won’t be as overwhelming for long.  I joined a gym down the street from my apartment, where I both exercise and people watch (Argentinean men and women are seriously attractive).  One man happened to be stretching in my line of view, and the first thought that popped into my head, stupid as it may be, was that everyone stretches the same way.  It was such a minor moment, but a reminder that although there is a lot of “new” in my life right now, and I’m going to have to get used to getting lost everywhere I go for a while, there are enough similarities between people of different countries that being twelve hours from New York doesn’t really seem that distant.  Soon enough, everything will feel far less new and the real “Aventuras en Argentina” can begin!

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A Pre-Departure Post

Well, I can finally (finally!) say I’m two weeks away from going abroad.  It’s certainly been a long winter vacation—to say the least—but I’ve genuinely enjoyed the time spent relaxing, occasionally babysitting, and relaxing some more.  I realized that even though I’m on such an extended break, this is also the longest I’ve been at home since starting college, and I infinitely appreciate living with my family again.  Obviously I cannot wait to head down to Argentina, but leaving home—not for Cornell, but for another country—will definitely be a big adjustment, at least at first.  However, breaking from my comfort zone is a challenge I’m eagerly anticipating, and I’m hoping that before long Argentina will begin to feel like home, too.

As I hit this two-week pre-departure status, it comes at a time where I’m approaching another milestone—my 21st birthday.  I’ve been joking that my childhood is officially ending on the 14th (Valentines Day, for all you star-crossed lovers), as I become legal in America.  And while I’m not one to make a huge commotion over my birthday (it’s easy not to, as Hallmark does all the work for me), turning 21 just before departing has left me with a few things to consider before I go.

Last weekend, I went to Harvard to visit a few friends (shout-out to Eliza and Zeke).  Something that struck me during my time in Boston was how the social scene at this particular school noticeably differed from how I perceive the social life at Cornell.  The distinctions were not enormous—finals clubs rule the scene instead of frats—but the experience definitely diverged from what I’m accustomed to.  And that got me thinking—if the “going-out” scene changes so perceptibly from college to college within the U.S., I can only imagine that the social scene in Buenos Aires has its own individual flavor.

On a really basic level, I know the timetable will take some getting used to, as Argentineans generally go/stay out later than Americans.  Other than that, however, I really have no idea what life is like for Argentineans in their twenties.  The cultural immersion I’m searching for this semester is not just about mastering a language or eating a certain cuisine (though it of course includes those factors), but also involves genuinely falling into place with the nuances that dictate how people my age in Argentina live.  Thus, I’ll let you readers know in advance that I absolutely plan on making Argentinean amigos who can show me what being a 21 year old in Buenos Aires is all about!

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