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.