October 30, 2012
These past two months have been literally the best two months of my life. Not the easiest two months, but the best two months. They have included the best, hardest, happiest, and most miraculous moments of my life. I think that is what exchange is about...the moments. All the big and small moments that makes up your year and your memories.
It’s all the moments put together. The moment: where you get off your plane at the smallest “international” airport you have ever seen to be welcomed by your Rotarians and the people that will become your family and your friends, where you walk into your classroom on the first day of school only to be stared at and then asked a million questions in rapid fire feeling like you will never understand anything, when you have to give your first Rotary presentation and you are so nervous you swear you will drop dead right on the floor, when your birthday is during a 10 hour car drive but you don’t care because you are with your amazing host family seeing some of the most amazing landscapes of Argentina, when your classmates surprise you with a cake for your birthday at school, when you stand at the top of Iguassu Falls with 40 exchange students holding the USA flag over your head, when you give directions around your city in Spanish, when you can successfull y take the city bus without getting lost, when you have a dream and you swear it was in Spanish but unfortunately cannot remember precisely if it was or not, where you learn to dance Tango, where you see where Brasil, Paraguay, and Argentina all meet, when your 7 year old host sister draws you in her family drawing… I have experienced all of this and more in my first two months in Argentina. All of these emotions and more. It has been the most exhilarating two months of my life, and I know I only have more to come.
I have all of this to thank because of Rotary. I would like to send out a HUGE thank you to RYE Florida. When I came here I can honestly say I was the most prepared student in my district, and perhaps in all of Argentina. I knew more about the exchange program, Argentina, and Spanish than anyone else. (Well, minus the 3 Mexicans in my district…and the Brasilian…and the Italian…they knew a lot of Spanish…) But, RYE Florida prepares you well. The language prep you do before you go is well worth it, because when you get to your country you are going to feel like you have been hit by a language hurricane. It is so much harder than you have ever imagined. Luckily, I can talk about almost any subject without having to switch to English and sometimes my accent even sounds good. Even though, I have started Spanish classes here because the verbs still trip me up even though that’s what I studied most before I came here. And, I go to English schools to teach English in exchange for conversations in Spanish. (This is a great way to help the community and improve you language skills.)
I would like to apologize for how late this entry is. I have been so busy learning, living, and taking my first two months in.
Hola! I just passed my three month mark in Argentina. That is weird to think about. Time is going so fast and so slow all at the same time. It is turning into summer here which is also a weird thought. Usually it is about 90-100 F during the day, and it isn't even "hot" yet. Most days we have airconditioning in the main parts of the house but a lot of the time the power goes out because I live kind of far away from the center of town. But it is okay, because during summer you spend most the time near the pool drinking terrere, which is mate but with juice and cold. However, I haven't been home for the last 20 days. Which means unfortunately I wasn't here for the last day of school which in Argentina involves lots of water balloons, shaving cream, silly string, eggs, and flour. But that's okay! Because I just got back from the best 20 day travel of my life!
It was 20 days with 72 exchange students. We stayed the night in 5 cities, visited 15 others, went to at least 12 National Parks, and tallied a lot of kilometres and hours in the bus.
But it was well worth it. I had so many life changing experiences. We saw penguins as they walked right next to us, whales, seals, and dolphins as they swam right next to us, and we even got to pet llamas. We saw so many beautiful landscapes including deserts, volcanoes, mountains, snow, and GLACIERS. Speaking of, I WALKED ON A GLACIER. Not just any glacier, but the only glacier that is both landlocked and growing. We also saw it break apart which sounded like thunder. I swam in the Pacific Ocean, lakes, and the Atlantic Ocean- all which were freezing. I saw native Indian cave paintings, visited a hippie colony, went to a school to talk about the USA, went in the Canal Beagle, was part of a rally, and even met the President of Argentina (which if you didn't know she is a pretty controversial person here.)
But it wasn't all the cool things I did or saw that made this trip so amazing. It was the people I met and the feelings the trip gave me. I only fell in love with Argentina more during the trip. I only fell in love with being an exchange student more. I realized how amazing some of the things I am doing are. The trip made me so thankful for this year. It made me realize that no matter how difficult a moment may be I have people that support me and moments to look back on that are crazy amazing! I can't explain how amazing the travel was, or how great it is to know you have bestfriends all over the world. But that is part of being an exchange student the pure happiness that you have just from living.
I would like to leave this journal with three separate little notes.
1) Congrats to all the newbies that have been chosen! Relax right now! Time flies by and before you know it you will be getting ready to leave! Feel free to talk to me if you have any questions, I know you do!
2) For those in their countries. We already got through Thanksgiving! We can do the holiday season! Just remember "Don't count the days, make the days count."
3) Thank you so much Rotary. This is truly more than I could have imagined.
In 8 days I will have been here for 4 months. These have been the fastest, slowest, most exciting, agonizing, and emotional months of my life. I love it here and would not change one second. Even so, it is true that with exchange you get stuck in ruts. Whether it be you go on an exchange student trip and come back and everything seems just bland, when you feel like you cannot connect to your classmates because they are so much younger, if it is because you are about to have vacations for 3 months and the time seems lonely, or maybe it is because it is close to the holiday season and it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit and there are no signs of Christmas. Or maybe it is a mix of it all. Anyways, even if you feel a little down or a little confused- you are still going to be so thankful and amazed everyday for being in your country with your new family and friends. However, with the mix of emotions I had been having I just felt like I was lacking something in my life. I had been trying for about a month to set up a continual afternoon service job, but trust me the Rotary in other countries won't always be like RYE Floirda and sometimes it just works differently- even though they still help so much.
Well, today I went to a "guarderia." I went with Rotaract and Interact. I am so blessed to have such active Rotary youth clubs in my city. We went to the outskirts of my city, which is the capital of the poorest province in Argentina. A "guarderia" is a place where kids without parents or whose parents work during the day go. It was life-chaning, meaningful, and honestly one of the best days I have had in Argentina. We just played with the kids; soccer, arts, and dancing. It was amazing to see how happy these kids were with nothing. Some of the kids were there because their parents left them because of deformities, some kids didn't have clothes that were clean or that fit, and there were babies without parents. It was a "guarderia" payed by the government. But it didn't have fans or air, and in my province in the summer it gets to 115 degrees. They don't have access to water either. It was a blessing to get to go there and help. W e helped put up a Christmas tree and decorate the whole place, and gave out presents for Christmas. I even brought candy canes and some pencils that my mom mailed to me from the USA (I thought they would go to better use here than with my friends.) The whole experience made me so thankful for what I have, my year here, and so much more. Walking home from the event I felt so alive, so full, and so satisfied. I know I am changing everyday here and learning more about myself, but this made me so aware that I just need to be helping people somehow in someway.
Sorry for the random trail of thought- this experience just meant so much to me. I just needed to write about it here for y'all!
March 7, 2013
I am unfortunate to say it has been a long time since my last journal post. I always wanted to be the exchange student that was updated on their RYE-FL blog posts, but I let myself down. Luckily, I have been keeping my blog on an independent website which I have linked previously here about every week.
Time flies on exchange. They always tell you that in the orientations, and the Rotex tell you that once January hits it flies by even faster. It is true. I have passed my 6 month mark and sadly I have only 3 months more here as I am writing this blog post.
They also always tell you that you will not want to return to Florida. And it isn't that I do not want to see my family (I do), but I have fallen head over heels in love with my life here. Honestly, I can see myself returning here and living here happily. Sure, I do not live in the safest, most modern, or cleanest place. But I live in a place filled with happy people, simple life, full of passion, and I love it.
I think I will just describe pretty much what I have been up to lately and everything typical here.
I have been on summer vacation since I returned from my South Trip which was the end of November, and we don't go back to school until March 18th. So basically I have had four months of school vacation. Most people in Argentina use this time to travel after the holidays happen, unfortunately I was unable to travel with either of my two host families during this time. Luckily, I got to visit the neighboring province of Corrientes. I got to go to the capital city of the province, went to see Carnaval, and went to the beach city of Paso de la Patria.
First off, I want to mention the holidays. It is so different here. I think mainly because we are used to such a commercial build up in the United States and our holidays are in the winter. Here I had Christmas in about 115 degree weather, and was in the pool. So the first big tradition for Catholic families here (which the majority are) is to put up your tree on the 8th of December. However, at least in the North of Argentina real trees are not used because they cannot be found. So plastic trees are common, and are usually really short. They are immaculately decorated with red, white, and gold. Homemade ornaments aren't really common. The kids then write a letter to Papa Noel and put it in the tree, and eventually he will come and take it. On Christmas (24th), the family goes to mass and comes home to eat. Typical foods are cold foods and finger foods. At midnight the celebration begins, and you will notice it as everyone starts doing fireworks and toasts with champagne. There is even a countdown on the television, similar to our New Years countdown. You go into the street and greet all your neighbors. As this was happening, I cried from pure happiness. I was so overwhelmed by how beautiful the celebration of Christmas was. It just felt so pure and happy to me. Then you go back inside, and Papa Noel has delivered all the gifts. It isn't like in the States, with loads of gifts. The family members don't even gift to each other. Every person receives one gift. Then the teens, including me, go out with their friends and party until the sunrises. Which means the 25th is basically just a normal day, which is pretty different. New Years follows the same pattern. Toasts at midnight, fireworks, and partying. Except, my New Years was rained out- so no fireworks or partying. But it still was great!
Okay moving on, Carnaval was one of the most amazing experiences I have had here. Corrientes is the Carnaval Capital of Argentina. One parade of Carnaval lasts from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. You scream, dance, sing, take pictures, and use silly string. It was lots of fun and definitely a great insight into the culture.
In Paso de la Patria, I got to go to the river. You can see Paraguay on the otherside of the river so it is very cool. My current host-family has a house there. So I have plans to go down again and I am very excited.
I have spent the rest of the time of vacations in my city with my friends, and to be honest I am ready to get back to school. I will be joining the "Quinto" class which is like senior year. We have designed our special shirt that we will wear and we are getting ready to present it in May. (I will tell y'all more about that when it happens.)
I also changed host-families for the first time in February. It was really hard for me. I had become really attached to my first family. On my last night they showed me a video of all our moments together, including the videos of when I arrived at the airport and me drinking mate for the first time. When my mom dropped my off at my temporary host house (I stayed with an Italian exchange student for a week while I waited for my 2nd host family to return from vacations) the last thing she said to me was "I love you daughter. If you need anything, ever, we will always be here for you." We both walked away crying. I can honestly say I am truly blessed with both my host-families. My second host family is just as great.
Ok, other things about my life:
Food: Breakfast is milk. You can drink it with coffee or chocolate, hot or cold. But there is always milk. Then maybe toast, or cereal, or cheese. Lunch is the biggest meal. The work and school day stop for lunch. It always has meat. It can have pasta, potatoes, milanesa, steak, basically anything goes. Salad is always present. But it isn't how our salads are- it is ground up carrots, sliced up tomatos or potatoes, ever present mayonnaise, basically anything goes again. And for dinner leftovers are common or they call for food. And everything delivers here, I guess when there is no drive-tru you just call it to your house?
TV: Soccer, all the time. But you have to choose River or Boca. Novelas, and they all seem the same: you can't tell who is dating who, who is pregnant with whose baby, and generally bad actors. Also when they end it is a huge deal, and reruns are always on. Also, it is okay for sex to be on TV.
Weather: I come from Florida, I should be accustomed to heat. But I am not. It is the same exact climate here. And I sweat myself to death everyday. I think it is because A/C is basically non-existent in the majority of places.
Transportation: The driving age is "18." Tons of people drive before that though, which I think contributes to the hectic roads. Motos (motorcycles) are more common than cars because it is easier to find parking spots and they behave traffic rules even less. Bikes and pedestrians are common. Taxis and remis (taxis you call) are common too. Horse drawn carts are also a mode of transportation, but only for the lower class of people. Buses are very efficient here, but very expensive. In fact, they are the most expensive in my city than in the whole county.
What people think of me: I have had so many questions addressed to me because I am from the USA. Surprisingly, the majority of intelligent or interesting questions or responses are from taxi drivers. I have been asked if I knew Forrest Gump (I had to explain it was a fictional character), why so many people are shot in the USA (warning for future outbounds- please prepare intelligent gun awareness responses), and every sort of question I could have received about Obama. Here I am considered blonde, which is amazing for me. It is amazing for everyone here that I am from Florida, and have been to Disney and Orlando, and just horrifies them I have never been to Miami or NYC.
There you go some things about my life here in a nice long post to make up for not writing in so long. As I have been writing I have been thinking why I love it here so much. I have come up with some reasons. I love how the people sing, dance, and laugh so freely. I love the monkeys in the park. I love walking down the street to bakeries and fruit stands. I love the simple life. I love the people and the passion. I love how the families are so close and important to each other. I honestly, cannot, think of one thing I do not like. I am so thankful to be here.
March 15, 2013
This journal will be about what I have learned on exchange so far. I still have 2.5 months left, so it isn't complete.
1) All the practical things; like use a bus, wash clothes and dishes by hand, how to register for school, how to use a taxi, how to cook…etc. Oh, and how to ration money, and convince the mail to give you your packet without paying the crazy income tax.
2)Always say yes.
3) Don’t sit at home when you can be outside running and exploring.
4) And don't eat when you are having a hard day
5) Try to love your host-family and they will love you back.
6) The only people who understand you 100% are the other exchange students.
7) Always speak your host-language, or atleast tell your head is throbbing and you just need a little break.
8) Learn your host-language, don’t give up, and accept corrections.
9) It will be hard, of course it will. There will be days that just plain suck. Just don’t let it bug you, move on, and don’t think about home.
10) It doesn’t matter what people think of you. Do what you want to do.
11) Try everything once.
12) Take time to laugh everyday, every hour.
13) Be patient, life will take its course.
14) Responsibility and respect, are very important.
15) With effort you can reach any goal.
16) I will always have a second home (with two actual families) to return to
17) I learnt about dreams and adventures.
18) How to say goodbye.
19) How to make decisions and seize the moments.
20) And to love the USA even more as an American citizen.
And I love everything that I have learnt. It is all a blessing. I am so thankful. For the hard moments and the moments that lifted me up and made me remember why I decided to this. A year on exchange is a whole life. It is friends, families, and school. It is changing everything you knew. It is learning and growing. That is what exchange truly is and what I have learned the most.
April 28, 2013
Exchange is so weird with time. Your first months pass so slowly. You are learning and doing new things everyday. You count each week, each month as it passes… “I have been here 1 month, 2 months, 3 months and 2 weeks.” Then it hits Christmas and you think, “Where did all my time go?” or “I need to make a list of everything I have to do, because I only have a little bit of time left.” And then New Year’s passes and it is April, in literally a blink of an eye. And its seems that you did nothing special, you were just living life, but how did more than 3 months pass so quickly? You arrive at your 6 month anniversary in your country, and instead of counting how many months you have been here, you count how many you have left. And then comes the day that you have less than 2 months left, you are counting the weeks until you go back home. But you aren't counting them in anticipation, you are cou nting them in dread. You realize you have to maximize your time, you tell yourself to stop sleeping so much… Then you notice how much you have done. How well you have done your year. You don’t have any regrets. People start telling you how little time you have left and start talking about things that will happen once you are gone… And you resent them a little.
I have 6 more weeks left. 6 weeks to live life to the maximum, to be with my friends and family here, to learn things, to do things… And I am starting to realize; that yes, my heart will break going home. I don’t want to leave. But my heart won’t break it will just make two little hearts and one will stay here. It will stay in my home in Argentina, and when I want I can return. I have done what I can here. I am not saying I am ready to hop on the plane by any means. But, I am thinking about returning without resentment now. I know that I have people who love me waiting on the other end. I have a life to continue. Adventures to have.
So time may go fast, and everyone will tell you not to pay attention to it. But it is inevitable. So just remember, do all you can to make this year the best you can. And, when you return take all you have learned with you.
Exchange isn't only weird with time. But with all those feelings you get. You will be the most emotional person ever on exchange. You feel everything stronger and more passionately. But luckily there are the people in your life that are there for you forever. That is your family. I have had the best luck with my host families here. I was used to having my family be the 5 of us in the USA. We weren't the kind to get together with our family every holiday and we don’t even call everyone on their birthday. But now my family is so much bigger, and so much more connected. I know that their is nothing like my mom’s hugs, or being silly with my sisters, or talking about everything with my dad. But I have met other people who are part of my other family with other amazing characteristics. I have a sister who jumps into my arms every time I see her, and another who helps me with any question I have. I have 3 brothers. That I can send music to, play futbol with, a nd I have never had a brother. I have 2 more sets of parents who love me. Who cry with me, talk with me, and help me. I have aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents… I see them every week or skype them or talk to them on Facebook. I have a group of sisters. Of exchange students. Who understand every up and down. And with whom I can talk about anything. And I have that person who I am inseperable with, my other half. Anna from Italy is truly my sister, and one of the most perfect relationships I have had in my life. I am blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and love me. In every corner of the world (the world is round?). I know they will always be there for me. Even if I don’t see them or talk to them for awhile, they will be there. My family (the one in Florida) helped me become the person I am in 18 years. And my families here helped me adapt that person even more. I am forever thankful to the both.
I am thankful for so many things and people now. My exchange year was the perfect fit for me and I can't thank Rotary enough for this year.
I went on exchange trying as hard as I could to arrive with no expectations. But, I still came with the expectation that this year would change me, yes or yes. I have had people ask me how am I changing and I never had a response. But I realize now it isn't the drastic changes, it is the adaptations to what is already there. I am more passionate, I think more, and step-by-step I have become Argentinean (complete with love for mate, asados, and siestas.) I have developed a much stronger relationship with God during my exchange as well. All of this is due to how I live life here. I notice the daily blessings so much more here. I see the sunset and sunrise everyday. I notice the people who have nothing, and how blessed I am. I see the passion in the way people dance, talk, and act here. In their smiles and thoughts and actions. I notice the sky and the stars. I notice what I have in my life; both here and there more now. Something has changed in me. I don’t know if it was noticing what I have or what I don’t (from going to orphanages and hospitals and even walking down the street.) Or just adapting so 100% to another culture. But I know for sure this year was in plan for me, my life was supposed to have this year in Argentina. This year was made for me so I could learn how to learn, to help, and to notice. I know my year isn’t done yet. But I know that the expectation I had about changing and having to DO something is gone. I have learnt, grown, noticed, helped, smiled, and made relationships to last a lifetime.
What I have done in a month and a half:
-Went to Salta and Jujuy with my host-family. We saw all the cool things to see. I ate llama. I climbed mountains. I danced folklore.
-Participated in 2 government protests. [The president here has gone down 11% in the polls in just 2 months. It is now almost impossible to leave the country, get dollars, and the economics here are 67% likely to get worse this year]
-Went to a hospital and orphanage to give donations out to children. My province is the third poorest in Argentina. 38% of people are below the poverty line, and 52% of children aged 2-5 are malnourished.
-I went to the Museum of Memory. It was the largest clandestine center during the Dirty War. I learnt that lots of my family and friends here were affected personally.
-Started school for the year
-We had our "senior year" party. Where we paint shirts with our class number and get together with the other "seniors" for an asado in the afternoon and a party at night.
But most importantly I am living life here. I live my Argentinean life everyday. It doesn't really matter if something "special" happens.