Let me tell you about Buenos Aires (saying goodbye).

If you know me at all, you know that I hate starting over.

I think that’s one thing I wasn’t expecting on this trip – I figured I would have to balance the world I was in and the world that was going on without me back home, I was braced for culture shock and of course, language immersion – but I didn’t expect daily life Buenos Aires to feel so utterly and completely different, in everything from community to commuting.  I wasn’t quite ready for that feeling of starting from scratch here.

As life does, there were pieces of my past and of my story and of my home that followed me here.  Some really amazing – many, many, endless thanks to the friends back home who made such conscious efforts to stay in touch with me, you don’t know how much that means – and some that were pretty tough.  But I quickly found that when I was completely cut off from the context, it put the tough stuff in perspective.  I quickly learned that here, I had no expectations or obligations.  It was an incredibly freeing opportunity to lean extra hard on God and just figure out what it looked like to be the me that He made me to be.

Going back, it’s not starting over.  It’s coming home, and I can’t wait to see my family and jump back into my community at Vanderbilt and, a little selfishly, have some familiarity and creature comforts back in my life again.  It’s jumping back into the life that I know, but it’s also saying goodbye.

And when I thought about saying goodbye, there was a piece of the trip I thought I would be absolutely ready to peace out right that second.  And that’s when I began making this list. There are two things you should know about this trip and this list.

First, is that everyone says you come back from this kind of experience changed or as a new person.  I think I’ve changed, but I’ve only become more of the person I’ve always been and always wanted to be becoming.  Secondly, is that as grateful as I am for every individual moment and memory, they could have been mediocre, and this trip would have still been incredible, simply because it happened and I was here.

Places I went/spent time in Buenos Aires

  • Obelisco
  • Plaza Italia
  • Facultad de Medicina
  • Plaza Rodriguez Peña
  • Plaza de Mayo
  • Plaza de General Las Heras
  • La feria de San Telmo
  • La feria de Recoleta
  • Recoleta Cemetery
  • Plaza Francia
  • El Tigre
  • Alvear Palace Hotel
  • Café Tortoni
  • Galería Güemes
  • Calle Florida
  • Museo de Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Arte Decorativo
  • Bosques de Palermo
  • Puerto Madero
  • Teatro Colón
  • La ESMA
  • Museo Malvinas
  • Hora de té / tea hour at Las Violetas
  • Caballito
  • Villa Crespo
  • Amalgro
  • Palermo
  • Palacio Paz
  • La Boca

Favorite Places I Ate

  • Café Malvon
  • Café Le Blé
  • El Montañes
  • MaturieLBambu – my favorite empanada place on the same block as FLACSO
  • La Napolitana – a pizza place close to school
  • Taco Box – sometimes you just need a little Tex-Mex, Argentine style in your life
  • El Gato Negro – traditional café that specializes in tea

Things I did

  • Visited most of the cafes within a 5-6 block radius of my house (despite appearances, I did NOT spend every day at Starbucks! Just most of the days. Kidding, of course.)
  • Ordered food in Spanish and had no idea what I was ordering or when it came what it was (some kind of pork stew. It was pretty good. That wasn’t the last time, either)
  • Gone and gotten dulce de leche McFlurrys at midnight, just because
  • Translated for my parents with street vendors at both San Telmo and the Recoleta street fair
  • Went to a tango show (twice!)
  • Saw a movie as part of BAFICI, the Buenos Aires international film festival (It was in English and from the 70s, but I got to hear the director introduce it, and it was hilarious, so still pretty cool)
  • Found a home church and went every week (woo Hillsong!)
  • Got on the subte with a group of friends and had no idea where we were going (something everyone should try)
  • Had asado – essentially Argentine barbecue, but not the way we know it! I didn’t try any distinctive parts of the cow – because trust me, they use the whole cow – but I did eat some of the best cuts of meat I’ve ever had in my life
  • Celebrated the Revolución of 1810 – essentially Argentina’s first independence day that celebrates their break from Spain – with a traditional dish called locro with twelve or so of my best friends here at our sweet friend Lexi’s house with her host parents
  • Went to the empanada place down the street from FLACSO so often that the girl working there learned my name and my order – if I was going to become a regular somewhere, I’m very okay with it being the empanada place
  • Watched the sun set over the city from the roof of my friend Alison’s apartment 34 stories up
  • Made friends in my UBA class – or rather, had a cohesive conversation with two of the girls from my group in a class activity and learned their names, and at least one of them greets me with a beso when I come to class every week!
  • Had multiple intense discussions with our tutor for my UBA class about the pros & cons (mostly cons) of capitalism and learned a lot about the way Latin America perceives the U.S. and why
  • Made a porteño friend, and gone with him to a discussion group at his school where I got to listen to Argentine teenagers debate big themes of today like what it means for a topic to be “taboo” and whether abortion should be legal in Spanish
  • Gone to the movies in Spanish
  • Seen a show at Teatro Colón!
  • Traveled around Argentina to the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan, and Mendoza
  • Went to a hot springs spa in Mendoza
  • Toured three wineries and an olive oil factory in Mendoza
  • Traveled to Uruguay for a day

Things I’m grateful for about my life in Buenos Aires

  • My room. It’s not very big, but it’s really cozy. It feels like coming home.
  • My street, and the way the sun shines through the trees in the afternoon. It’s quiet, but it’s got a kind of energy all its own.  I can tell you exactly which businesses line either side of the road, but I couldn’t tell you how many people live in the different apartment buildings.  We all live separate lives, but we cross paths every day of them.
  • The area I live. It took me awhile to explore it, but once I did, I couldn’t stop! (That’s a fun story. I accidentally told my host parents I was going to church when there wasn’t actually a church service to go to and I ended up going on a two hour walk.) Most of where I live is residential – seven or eight story apartment buildings that look exactly like the one where I live, maybe with a different style of balcony.  But hidden among them are some of the cutest cafes I’ve found in the city.
  • Living so close to Alison and Jon. Who would have thought that I would have friends right off the bat in Buenos Aires, especially friends who used to work with my dad?  Alison and I have the best conversations, she’s a great combination of friend and big sister.  I love how at home I feel at their apartment.  Their security guards know me now, and I can fall asleep on their couch or their balcony or help set the table without having to ask.  They have the most gorgeous view from their balcony, and Alison makes the best food!  I didn’t know I would have some place to go that felt so much like home, but I’m really greatful that I do.
  • The fact that when I got here, I was terrified to speak to anyone, for anyone to speak to me, or to go anywhere alone – everything was new and unfamiliar. And now when I have a few hours to kill, I feel right at home walking into a café I’ve never visited and ordering a café con leche, or striking up a conversation with the person next to me at the bus stop, or offering, not just asking for, directions – all in Spanish and all by myself.
  • The colectivos. Crazy, right? Everywhere else, we see public transportation as a last resort, or at the very least, a pain. And I’m certainly not saying that the bus (or subway) system here is entirely reliable all the time.  But I will say that because I rode the bus to class every day, and to get to most other parts of the city as well, I saw a lot more of Buenos Aires than I would have otherwise.  I learned the geographical ropes fairly quickly, and I people-watched a LOT.  I got to know the heart and the spirit of the city in the best way possible – its daily routines – and that made a huge difference in what I took away from it.
  • How generous and open with their time and friendship Argentines are, generally. Not only did I feel like I was welcome most places I went, but I had a lot of wonderful, sporadic conversations with waiters, people in line – and found genuine friendships in many of my professors, and even an incredibly kind vendor who carved Biblical scenes at the Recoleta street fair who met with me on her day off to deliver an order and chatted with me over coffee.

“Worst Nightmare” scenarios

  • Losing my phone – Nope! Miraculously, even though my iPhone 5 is on its last leg, this is the one part of the trip that went smoothly. I got a pay-as-you-go mobile chip with a plan that gave me data every day so I could use things like WhatsApp, Google Maps and Facebook on the go and it worked really well!
  • Not being able to get cash – Yep... EVERYTHING in Buenos Aires runs on cash – en efectivo. You can get discounts if you pay for things like shoes in cash instead of with card, and if you go somewhere with a group of people, forget about paying separately – you’re all on one check and you divvy up the change the best you can!  So cash is key.  And apparently when your bank ships a new card to your house with no warning, they shut off the one you have in a foreign country.  That’s why you bring emergency dollars and keep an eye on the exchange rate.
  • Getting lost – Haha, of course.  Almost every day for the first month, but the very worst was the day of my visa appointment when I couldn’t find the Office of Migrations, which is not in a very good neighborhood, and I was 20 minutes late after a saintly elderly lady found me and aggressively took me with her to find directions. People are wonderful, am I right?  And the Office of Migrations turned out to be a cheerful version of the DMV, where I still had to wait in a lot of lines and go through a lot of procedures but everyone was quite kind and no one minded I was late.
  • Not being able to communicate – I mean, this was bound to happen, but I hope you can see from my other stories that even when my lack of command of the language frustrated Argentines, there was always someone around to help me get where I was going. And by May, “De dónde sos?” was no longer the first question, and I was getting more people saying as I met them – in the line at the bus stop, in Starbucks, at the grocery store – how well I spoke.
  • Getting hurt – Well... Remember the La Rioja trip I went on with my program? I stepped off the curb off-balance that morning rushing to catch the bus and twisted my ankle.  I knew the second I put weight on it that it was sprained.  But there’s not a whole lot you can do for a sprain besides ice and rest, and I’ve sprained this same ankle before and already brought my brace with me, just in case.  So, quick shoutout to my friends who have been incredibly patient and kind with me since then as I develop an addiction to Advil and limp around everywhere.  Especially to sweet Julianna who insisted I take her arnica cream which worked WONDERS on my stiff ankle, and to Griffin who let me pester him with sports medicine questions and had great answers.
  • Getting sick – Oh dear.  One Sunday night after we’d eaten at our usual Chinese buffet restaurant after church, affectionately nicknamed “the black place” for its sparse exterior, my poor friend Kyler got a text from me around 1am that said “Are you throwing up? Because I’m throwing up.” I know food poisoning when I see it – and I hadn’t gotten sick like that in a good five or six years.  Laying on the floor of a bathroom in a house that’s not your own in the middle of the night, shaking and trying not to be sick, in a foreign country, is terrifying.  I will be endlessly thankful to Kyler for responding right away and being sympathetic (read: and letting me moan and complain despite the late hour), my wonderful mama for praying and being there for me, my host mom for getting up and getting me medicine in the middle of the night, and Alison for making me soup the next day and letting me take a nap on her balcony in the sun instead of going to class.  For the record, I’m the only one that got sick and we still don’t know what it was I ate.  My host parents’ theories, in case you were wondering, range from nerves, to missing my family, to having met a boy in Colonia the day before, and finally to food poisoning. (I didn’t acquire a boy but I did acquire a dog. That’s a story for another day)
  • Having to go to the hospital – Thank goodness I avoided this one.  At least at the end of the day, it could have always been worse!

Funniest things that happened

  • When my family was here visiting, we were walking around after dinner one night with my friend Kyler. We had just stepped off the curb when a motorcycle came roaring around the corner and nearly ran us over.  I jumped back, but Kyler yelled “Calláte!” – “shut up!” Apparently it was the first angry Spanish phrase that came to mind, but I couldn’t help it – I busted up laughing.
  • On my first visit to La Boca, my friends Dawson & Miranda and I were wandering around a museum, taking in the view from a second-story floor-to-ceiling window, when we noticed a street vendor right outside – selling clothes for dogs. The best part is, she had brought three or four dogs of her own to serve as models.  They were all wandering around the little square outside wearing jean overalls with fake subway passes stuffed in their back pockets and cellphones clipped to their belts, complete with clashing hats.   It was easily the most entertaining thing I’ve ever seen, but we felt so bad for the poor dogs!

Weirdest thing that happened

  • I’m gonna have to go with getting followed off the bus by a really cute Argentine guy who’d I’d made the mistake of smiling back at when he caught my gaze on the colectivo. It was really flattering, but also 9pm, pitch black, and raining while he walked me halfway home and tried to convince me to give him my number.  Truthfully I think he meant well (and it did turn out he lived on the same street, thank goodness) and if it had been daylight I wouldn’t have been nearly so creeped out!

Things I’ll Miss

  • You can stay at a café or a restaurant for hours, and the waiter will never once ask you if you’re ready for the check.
  • Being able to walk into just about any establishment in the entire city and being able to get a good cup of café con leche
  • The random, casual, but always interesting conversations I strike up with strangers (or rather, they strike up with me) on the streets, on the buses, in cafes – I’ve been a lot of places but these are the friendliest and most open people I’ve found.
  • Getting a craving for an alfajor and being able to duck into one of six or so kioscos on whatever block I’m on to pick one up for about a dollar. Also, alfajores.  And dulce de leche.  Don’t even get me started on how much I’ll miss dulce de leche . . .
  • Making a habit out of going to church every week at Hillsong with friends, and going out to dinner afterwards

Things I won’t miss

  • Dog poop. EVERYWHERE.
  • Being constantly on alert for pickpocketers
  • Eating out every day for lunch – and in general, not having a whole lot of control over what I ate
  • You know how you’re supposed to walk on the right side of the sidewalk? Nobody does that here.
  • Waiting – on public transportation, or for professors who are late for class, or for things that are just running on argentiempo. I’m good with ten or twenty minutes, but forty-five is a lot.

Lessons that I learned

  • How to write (more) like a native Spanish speaker
  • How rich and deep my community back home is, and how considerate and generous with their time my friends are
  • The basic framework of Argentina’s history as a nation and how it affects their world today
  • The basics of the Argentine political system
  • When to use tampoco instead of también (just for you, Kyler)
  • How to stop apologizing unintentionally (love you, Steph Moss)
  • To take ownership over how I feel, what I want to do, and who I am (shoutout to my mama)
  • That when you own who you are, you make the friends you’re supposed to have
  • Everyone’s story is still being written. Mine, included.
  • Worship knows no language or cultural boundaries. Hillsong Buenos Aires will always be home to me.

Most importantly . . .

  • God made each of us with such intentionality and purpose, and I really like the person He made me to be.