Isa Thimesch – Belgrano Day School in Argentina
What a place Buenos Aires is! Although many aspects of this city remind me of those I’ve seen in the US, Buenos Aires has proven to have a liveliness and personality that is uniquely it’s own. The first thing I noticed was the Argentine driving. The minute I got in the car to drive to Camila’s home from the airport, I decided that never in a million years would I get behind the wheel in this city. After observing for a week and still not having figured it out, I asked Cami’s dad something along the lines of, “So, what are the traffic laws here? How do you know who goes when?” The ever-so-reassuring answer was that they aren’t completely sure, either. Driving and crossing the street is like playing a game of chicken – everyone goes at once until eventually someone stops and lets the others pass. And let me tell you something: in California, we are spoiled. The pedestrians here do not, i repeat do not, have the right of way, and my San Franciscan habits of sauntering into the street whenever I feel like it have almost gotten me in trouble quite a few times.
People say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but I’d have to argue that Buenos Aires is where the real nonstop action is. The Porteños are always busy, and rarely on my trip have I experienced any real down time, let alone gone to bed before at least 12 o’clock. On the weekends, even the kids don’t make it out the door to go out until 1 a.m. I would probably say that the biggest cultural difference I have experienced so far would be how the teenagers live here. For the most part, the kids here are given much more freedom, and every plan they make seems to be spontaneous. The parents tend to be much more casual about where their kids are in a given moment and when they come home (Mom, I hope you´re taking notes!) Walking or taking a taxi everywhere felt super foreign at first for someone who is so used to hopping in a car whenever they want a bite to eat or to see a friend, but after a little over a week, it already feels natural. Everyone here for the most part lives in apartments, which is weird for someone who’s lived in suburbia for most all of their life. Regardless, I’m starting to think that even though city life in an apartment was hard at first, I could get used to it.
The day I arrived, Cami introduced me to her friends and we went to a play. I expected the standard hug and kiss on the cheek, then to be a bit outside of the interaction. But all night, there was always someone making sure I was comfortable and never alone, and translating things I didn’t understand. They all genuinely seemed nearly as happy to recieve me as I was to have arrived. Nonetheless, adjusting was honestly a bit challenging at first. I couldn’t understand a thing on my first day here. The first week of school, I was a bit nervous to use my Spanish and I think some people were embarrased about their English, so I didn’t interact much outside of the core group of people Camila spends time with. But eventually, people started to warm up and began asking me questions by the million about life in America. And now, writing on my 13th day here and my 8th day of school, I can understand most all of the conversations that people have in rapid fire Castellano. The speaking part has been getting easier too. The only warning I can give to prospective visitors of Buenos Aires is that the “tú” that you learned in middle school Spanish class does not apply here. Instead of “tú puedes” it is “vos podés.” It doesn’t pose much of a threat to one’s ability to listen, but sometimes the people here don’t quite understand me if I say something conjugated in the “tú” form.
Overall, my time here so far has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. Not speaking their language fluently has often meant that I listen to conversations more than I speak, and as some who know me may guess, it’s a bit weird for me to not always be talking. It has really taught me to listen more.
Last weekend, the school took me on a spiritual retreat. The details are all supposed to be kept a secret, so I can’t reveal much information, but it was an eye opening experience. The whole experience was about understanding yourself and those around you, and really coming to appreciate what you have. The element that really reached me was the appreciation. First, I developed an incredible gratitude for a family, a school, and a community all taking me in and giving me such an amazing opportunity. Exchange has become such a commonplace for Athenian students that I think that we forget how unique the experience is. Secondly, I started feeling an overwhelming thankfulness for everything I have at home. I have a wonderful family that I wouldn’t trade for anything, loyal friends with whom I have the best time, and a beautiful school that provides me with every opportunity I could ask for.
Traveling to Argentina has taught me so much about myself, both in regards to how I interact with the world and how I am in the comfort of my own home town. I would certainly recommend exchange to anyone who is considering it, not because it’ll be the most carefree and easy fun you’ll ever have in your life (which, sometimes it will be,) but because it will change you as a person for the better.
I love my host, Camila, and she can’t wait to meet you all in February! I hope all is well on the home front 🙂