Here I am, back in the comfortable confines of my Atlanta home(s), for a quick hiatus in my travels. I’ve had such a fun and long overdue two week stretch catching up with friends and celebrating Christmas a few weeks early with family. Now, with just a few days left before I fly back down south, I wanted to take some time and reflect on the last few months, and try to review what I learned, loved, missed, and regret.
I can start with the language. It ended up being more challenging than I thought for a few reasons. First, I probably thought I was better than I truly was when I left in August. Apparently, a few months on Duolingo 10 years after studying Spanish in high school wasn't adequate. Who knew? Secondly, Argentine Spanish (both dialect and accent) were more different than I expected. And lastly, understanding spoken Spanish is just hard for me. Unless I’m asking people to speak at an unnaturally slow pace, there’s a good chance they’ll be met with a confused look. One thing this trip has taught me is that I need to be a much more active listener. No multitasking when you have to dissect every word. I fully admit I wasn’t a perfect Spanish student over the last few months. I could’ve refused to speak English to everyone I encountered, and forced myself into the uncomfortable situations that make you grow more often. But when you’re living in a foreign land, there is a certain comfort to having a nuanced conversation in your native tongue. I think I found a healthy balance, while acknowledging that I possibly could’ve done more. I spent time every day studying at home, and while effective, being in a school setting may have been more productive. I took a few weeks’ worth of classes but at $200/week, I couldn’t really afford to continue that through my whole stay. I learned of free classes led by local schools a few weeks before I left, or in other words, a few months too late. Oh well…I’ll know for next time. So, in summary…sure I’d love to be fluent after 4 months. But that wasn’t a realistic goal. I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now, and look forward to building on the skill. The challenge is part of what makes this fun.
The other biggest challenge of moving to a new place is finding a new social circle. I never really moved as a child, and attended a college where my brother was already well established and several close friends came along with me. For the first time in my life, I had to start from scratch. And for someone that has some introvertistic (Spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word but I’m going with it) tendencies, it’s a much-needed exercise. Overall, I’d say I was successful. You’d think trying to make new friends while knowing you’ll be leaving soon would be tricky, and it was, but I just tried to have as much fun as I could and learn as much as I could with the little time I had. And I met some amazing people. The cool thing about traveling is you don’t necessarily meet people with whom you have everything in common. And from that lack of commonality comes a different perspective. In fact, for me and most of my friends, the trait we shared was a desire to see the world, seek new horizons, and learn from one another. This trip also reinforced my belief that people are inherently good. I constantly came to people looking for help, and I was given what I needed time and time again. And while there’s a good chance I’ll never see a lot of these people again (although I hope that’s not the case), the generosity and compassion of my newfound friends will not be soon forgotten.
Another reason I wanted to go to South America is I wanted to experience a life different from what I was accustomed. I’ve said this before but as a straight, white, upper middle class male in America, I think I’m a part of every majority group possible. I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person, but moving to a foreign land where suddenly, you’re the one that sticks out, has definitely given me new perspective. Not to say I faced any true plight, but it was still a valuable experience to see and I encourage everyone who can to put themselves in awkward or uncomfortable positions. The other thing living in South America taught me was that I took certain luxuries of living in a steady first-world country for granted. For example, the quality (or availability) of appliances makes life a little bit tougher. I felt like an idiot when I had to google how to hand-wash clothes. You can’t program your oven to stay at a certain temperature in 5 degree increments. And your heater isn’t controlled by a thermostat…it’s simply either plugged in or it’s not. I just try to remind myself that, while the US isn’t perfect, comparatively, we have it pretty good. With that said, they definitely have some things figured out down there. Buenos Aires has a ton of green space in the city and the citizens take full advantage of it. they have perfected the production of expensive ice cream and cheap red wine, and their mass transit options put MARTA to shame (living car-free was a great feeling).
Living without a job is probably as cool as it sounds. It’s amazing to be able to set your own schedule and be as selfish as you want with your daily plan. Life is generally less stressful when the only deadline you need to worry about is making sure you check off all the cool stuff on your to-do list before you move on to the next city. It does have some downsides though. I mean not getting a paycheck is not ideal, and I did sometimes find myself lacking a purpose. One takeaway is that even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I couldn’t go lay on a beach forever. I’d still need to find a place where I can contribute and make a difference. So eventually I’ll work again…still trying to figure out what that may look like, but luckily, I have some time.
The second half of my trip will be quite a bit different from the first. In contrast to the first leg where I stayed in Buenos Aires and set up shop, I plan to spend the next few months traveling around more, staying for a week or two per place as opposed to months. I’ll sacrifice the ability to get an in-depth understanding for a city, while gaining the opportunity to see a lot more of the continent. My rough itinerary has me spending time on Chilean beaches through New Years, in Patagonia for January, followed by moving north through smaller cities in Argentina, into Bolivia, northern Chile, Peru and possibly beyond. The timeline will be determined mainly by how my bank account looks, so fortunately I’ve become talented at living frugally. Hopefully this wasn’t too much rambling, but I wanted to provide some insight into what my life was like. As always, open to questions or comments, and I welcome any visitors that want to take a break from the daily grind and come down South.