Dear Old Argentina,
Where do I even begin? Let me just start with a “thank you” — for everything.
Thinking back on my last five months here, it is difficult to believe that it is finally time to say goodbye. Trying to wrap my mind around leaving this place, puts a hole in my heart that only Argentina can fill. Manifesting my feelings in one resonant line, however, is from William Shakespeare’s audacious play, King Henry V — where he writes, Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more (Act III, Scene I). Although I’m not waging war nor viciouslyFrance, I will be disembarking from home and back into the bleak unknown after studying abroad (i.e., adulthood/graduation). What awaits me when I return? I am fearful to find out.
Before this moment, leaving Argentina was always a myth in my mind – something that I knew was coming, but I never came to terms with officially. The countdowns have begun and the “Study Abroad Bucket Lists” have been completed. Time is becoming limited and precious. It’s the beginning of the end. The end of one chapter and the start of a new one. A new beginning, full of hopes, unknowns, and mistakes that I have not yet made. Once again, I am being thrown into something, and I’ll soon realize that I am not in Argentina anymore.
From my many walks around the wonderful city of Córdoba to my meanderings around the vibrant Chile, to my arduous miles up Patagonia, to my enlightened wanderings through the ruins of Peru – all have become cherished walks down memory lane. Whether it’s the opportunity that I met my best friends, the place where I stumbled through the Spanish language, or where I learned to be more patient with myself — Argentina will always hold a special place in my heart.
Even looking around Córdoba, it seems like every spot has a memory and every memory has cultivated me into who I am today, not only a soon-to-be college graduate but an even sooner-to-be travel graduate – graduating from my fear of the world, my consternation for traveling alone and my apprehension of the unknown.
Getting off the airplane back in February, I was a naive and romantic dreamer, and after a few days, I quickly found that Córdoba was a daunting city to navigate. It took me a few months to get my bearings and to understand the Argentine culture, but NOT knowing is everything here. That’s how you meet your soulmates and how you figure out that you should always carry your Mate (“ma-tay”). It’s how you know, you can never rely on buses to get you anywhere on time and that you will never find Argentine Fernet or Alfajores, anywhere else in the world. All these little things about Argentina are what make it so, perfect.
For centuries, Argentina has been a magnet for dreamers and adventuring misfits alike; the people who think the unsullied enormity of the South American landscape will patch all the holes in their lives. Unfortunately, the Latin continent can be an unforgiving place for these reasons, because it cares nothing for hope nor longing.
Coming to South America, I too, wanted to patch the holes in my life and to have the ultimate experience. Back then, I tried to rush through the difficulty and create an experience that I thought I was meant to have. Like many before me, I entered this place frantically looking for my purpose and despondently grasping for something — anything tangible to show for my life thus far. Consequently, I foolishly purchased booze in abundance and consumed with abandon — adventures were met; sometimes, fortified by the former, but almost always in the company of the latter. Doing all of this while wondering, “How will I make it through like this in a foreign country — on a foreign continent?” and “When will the confusion end — is it over yet?”
In this way, studying abroad has been the biggest challenge that I have yet faced. On the other hand, like Krakauer once wrote, “the joy of life comes from our experiences, and thus, there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon and a different setting sun.” Since being here, I have, in fact, enjoyed these many experiences and changing horizons.
Thanks to my fellow study abroad classmates (collectively, we are called “Extranjeros” which means, “foreigners” in Spanish) and my support system back home, I now wonder, “How could it be over so soon?” and “When will I do something like this again?” Today, I am pleased to say that I’ll leave empty-handed, but with a higher value for myself.
Once I leave here, I become a real adult with real responsibilities. Ones that become much deeper than finishing my “Cultural Realities Informes” or my “Práctico Trabajos,” just in time for Paseo de Las Artes or Antares Bar. The beverage, “Fernet and Coke,” doesn’t exist anymore and alcohol becomes 3 times more expensive. My money will start to be saved instead of spent, and I will not go to the bar 5 or 6 days out of the week. My friends will never be down the street or just a colectivo (bus) away. Once we leave here, I’ll actually have no idea where half of my study abroad friends will end up. Soon, I’ll be forced to meet the “reality of departure” and things will never be this way again. Ever.
The plane tickets have been purchased and the tears have started.
If I did not choose to study in Argentina, I would not be — without a doubt — the person that I am today. More than anyone or anything else could have accomplished, these five months have taught me more about myself, my relationships with others, and this great big world. That was the point, right?
This experience has transformed me in every way — from not knowing how to communicate in the Spanish language — to struggling everywhere I went — to being able to speak and translate sentences in my head. It took a long time and it was done with grueling difficulty, but I did it!
Studying abroad isn’t forever — it’s three to six months long, and during that given period of time, it will be the best time of your life. Please be careful of this statement — simply because it’s considered the “best time,” doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the “easiest time.” Studying abroad is often construed as such. Studying abroad isn’t a “quick getaway” to travel the world, with perpetual sunshine and endless frolicking adventures with new friends; studying abroad is hard!
Unfortunately, there are nights you want to cry yourself to sleep. There are days you wish you were home because your heart hurts from being lonely. There are evenings when you Skype your family and friends, but instead, lament because you feel lost and hopeless…
Fortunately, there are also nights of bliss and jubilance that fill your heart. There are days when you enjoy the people around you and your life feels full and happy. There are evenings when you find wonderful activities and forget all the bad things in the world. Live for these moments, my friends. Look forward to these jubilant and onerous days because these are colors of strength that will forever decorate our lives. This is achieved when you choose to see joy and adventure, in spite of the sorrow and confusion seemingly darkening your field of vision.
The difficulty and the vast mix of emotions made it so wonderfully enriching and fulfilling. If I didn’t have the hardship with the “treasure of travel,” I wouldn’t have been able to recognize a triumph. And when I look back, I couldn’t have felt the ravishment of my myriad experiences. In my personal opinion, overcoming these hardships actually made studying abroad, more worthwhile. In any case, we must not confuse a single failure with a final defeat; we must keep going!
To: the study abroad alumnus, the expectant traveler, and those who are currently abroad — I encourage you to cherish it all. Cherish the adventure, cherish the unknown, cherish the laughs, cherish the new friends, cherish the struggle, cherish the fear, cherish the awkward, and cherish where you’ve been and where you hope to go — as life continues, your study abroad experiences will come to an end. It will be these experiences and moments, fortified during your time abroad, which will continue empowering you for the rest of your life.
My last piece of advice is to encourage you to listen to your life, my friends. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is — in the boredom of it and pain of it. Appreciate your life, no less than in the excitement and gladness of it. Go touch, taste, and find your way to the hidden heart of your experiences. Because in our last analysis, all of our greatest struggles are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Ultimately, I’m afraid of the future and the lack of opportunity to travel. But in verisimilitude to King Henry’s decree, I’m encouraged by these experiences to move forward and continue searching for new trajectories. Ones where I’ll have the chance to travel ambitiously, without restraint — without being confined by the borders of my country; without being bound by prior commitments — or without being imprisoned by a job and/or bank account.
Repeatedly, King Henry urges his comrades onward into battle and to demonstrate courage in the face of defeat — even if the outcome is dark and unforeseeable. In reality, Shakespeare is implying that we too, need to persevere and go back into the battle of life; no matter the location, unknown factors, or numbered defeats. Likewise, I’m urged onward with the words, Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
As for me, I will forever bleed the colors that billow on the Argentine flag. I will forever follow a “no pasa nada” sort of lifestyle. I will forever remember these memories made in this wonderful country.
As I have learned from Mark Twain and William Shakespeare, traveling destroys our narrow-mindedness and many of us need it sorely on this account; I know that I did. Thankfully, as we continue traveling, we get a broader and more wholesome view of humanity, which cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth. So, I challenge you to explore and to keep exploring!
In closing, this letter is dedicated to my wonderful family and friends — thank you for loving and supporting me throughout my 22 years of life; I couldn’t have done this without you! Additionally, this letter is to my fellow Extranjeros or Yanquis — who have delightfully shared this experience with me. Thank you for making this program an exceptional one; I have deeply appreciated your encouragement and help through the highs and lows of studying abroad.
Finally, this letter is dedicated to the place that broke me down and built me back up: thank you, Argentina, for your lessons.
Chelsey “Che” Fattal