And just like that, it’s over. The last few days in Argentina flew by, and already, I’m finishing up my 5th day at home.
After a tearful goodbye to Marta on Thursday, April 23rd, our group filed onto the bus to spend our final few days on a retreat in Lujan, a suburb about 2 hours outside the Buenos Aires city proper. Our program director, who started with us in New Orleans, came down to Buenos Aires just to be on retreat with us. It was really nice to have her there for some new energy and conversation. Over 3 days, we had a lot of different discussion sessions and workshops around the themes of where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we are going. We discussed reverse cultural immersion, how to talk to people about our experience and the dreaded question “How was abroad??” during your 2-minute walk to class with a friend, along with the daunting task of answering. I myself have been guilty of asking people that question, but it’s going to be really hard to say anything about my trip besides “It was incredible” without going into detail. We did some hilarious role playing of speaking to the superficial friend and her mom who only want to hear about going out, the grandma who wants to hear if you’ve met anyone abroad, a prospective future IHP-er, and a future employer. What I now and probably will always feel is that I will never be able to answer the “How was abroad??” type questions in a way that accurately captures my semester and what it meant to me.
We talked about our hopes and fears leaving the program, like going back to the U.S. and everything will be different than when we left, feeling as if we blinked and the semester was over, returning to our consumerism, not being able to process all of our emotions, etc. More fears included not getting yerba mate through customs because it looks like drugs, not finding real pho in the U.S., more gastrointestinal distress – all of these seem just as valid as the others.
We also did a bunch of fun activities throughout the weekend. On one of our last nights, we had a slide show and awards ceremony, where everyone dressed in their nicest clothes (HA) and was presented with a superlative-type award (I was Mother Earth), and the whole night was a big throwback of memories and pictures starting from our time in New Orleans. We also had a bonfire, played lots of games outside (lots of Frisbee), wrote our last notes to each person in the group to take home with us, and created a trip map (shown below). Sarah, my homestay partner in South Africa, is amazing at drawing maps freehand, so she drew a map of the world on this large sheet, and we all contributed to the rest by writing out quotes, events, places we’ve been, and memorable moments from the semester.
Wrapping up Argentina and the semester:
- Things I’ll miss about Argentina:
- MARTA aka the cutest host grandma there ever was
- Walking everywhere / very accessible public transportation
- Speaking Spanish
- Things I won’t miss about Argentina:
- The expensive prices
- The food with no spices (except salt)
- Wearing my backpack on my front (though it’s not a bad idea)
- Paying for silverware at restaurants
- The fashion trends of platform shoes and shirts with English writing (weirdest one of the final week: “Go f*ck your #selfie” – I don’t know what they’re thinking)
- Things I’ll miss about being abroad:
- Every day is a true adventure – I never know where I’m going (literally) and what’s going to happen
- Learning about and experiencing the local culture
- Living with a host family and learning the ins and outs of their daily lives
- Things I won’t:
- Constantly moving, no stability
- Not understanding the language of people all around me
- Things I’m excited for in the U.S.:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables all the time
- WATER. ICE WATER.
- Eating what I want, when I want, and cooking
- Alone/quiet time
- Walking down the street and not getting stared at
- Living in a stable environment of one climate and one time zone
- Not traveling all the time
After 44,000 miles of flying, 150 hours of traveling, 16 weeks, 15 beds, 14 flights, 5 continents (this includes layovers), 4 countries, 3 new families, 2 bags, and countless memories later, my incredible dream of a semester abroad has come to an end, and I am finally home. People always say your semester abroad flies by, and mine definitely did. But I feel like I’ve been to so many places and seen so much in these past 4 months, and I tried to take advantage of every opportunity I could in each country. So do I feel like I was fully immersed in the culture in each country? That is the question (and something our group talked about a lot, the concept of “full immersion”) – though I lived with host families, I don’t think I can say that I was “fully immersed” in each culture, since I was never in one place for more than about 3 weeks at a time. But I DO feel fully experienced: I ate the food, used the transportation, visited popular sites, learned/spoke some or all of the language, and learned about each particular culture. I don’t know if I could be “fully immersed” in such a short amount of time, but I had the opportunity to live like the locals in some ways in every country, and I definitely took advantage of that.
On IHP, I met with victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans whose daily lives have been forever changed. I lived in a hostel for two weeks with 34 other people and a tiny kitchen and only two bathrooms. I met locals who explained to me that New Orleans is the only city in the U.S. that’s like another country. I survived the 43-hour journey from New Orleans to New York to Frankford to Singapore to Hanoi, during which I saw the sun rise/set four times. I spent 20,000 Vietnamese Dong (the equivalent of $1) on pho for lunch in Vietnam, sitting in a chair and at a table that looked like it was for preschoolers, all from a woman with only a wok on top of a fire. I kayaked through and participated in a sunrise meditation by the waters of HaLong Bay, one of the seven wonders of the world, and froze my butt off even though I was wearing almost all of my layers. I drastically improved my chopstick abilities. In South Africa, I saw a sunrise almost every day on 6am runs in Islington Village, and saw the sunset later that day. I played soccer with 70 kids in the village. I saw the Big 5 up close on safari, and then some. I climbed Lion’s Head at sunset and drank wine on the side of the mountain. I went to an outdoor concert at the base of Table Mountain in botanical gardens. In Argentina, I talked to people who have been affected by the severe pollution of the river, some of whom live in slums with no electricity or running water. I saw tango on the streets of Buenos Aires. I went out until the wee hours of the morning. I tried my first empanada and drank mate in the park with wonderful company. I became comfortable with three unique and fantastic homestays.
Overall, my experience on IHP was incredible, and I will carry it with me in my memories and the stories I will tell. I learned so much about public health and different cultures, lived with amazing host families, made local friends, made 33 new friends who are now family, and have countless shared experiences with those 33 friends that I can’t even begin to explain to anyone else. The re-immersion process into the U.S. will take some time, and there will be questions or inside jokes or concepts that come up in my life that I won’t be able to really explain to my friends or family. I’m going to do my best to explain as much of my trip as possible, but I can’t even begin to talk about the entire semester. I’m very glad I wrote this blog, so I could relate to you most of the places I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and the things I have done, and hopefully much more will come out in person.
Thank YOU for following this blog this semester (or if you’re reading it for the first time now)! I’m so so grateful for your support and for this experience :) See you soon!!