Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

¡Hola! Hello! こんにちわ !

Two months ago I landed in Argentina, and to be completely honest, I wanted to go back to the US or to Japan. I knew I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone, but I thought, perhaps this was a little too far. Everyone was a stranger, even my family. I felt lost in conversation and every encounter felt like a blur. For the first few weeks, I was exhausted by the time it was time for bed, with constantly listening to Spanish, meeting new people, getting used to sleeping at midnight due to late dinners, and waking up at 6 for school, it was not easy to feel at home at first. And now? After 2 months, the last thing I want to do is go back to the US or Japan.

I finally feel fully integrated into this beautiful culture, speaking and thinking in Spanish, establishing life long relationships, and enjoying every single moment. I say enjoying every single moment, because if there is something that I have learned these past two months, it would be that everything comes and goes. The good, the bad, the in between will never stay forever. I am learning that nothing is permanent, not culture shock, not the moments when I feel like I am on top of the world, not language barriers, nothing. But that is life, everything comes and goes, the only constant is change. So I am learning to enjoy every moment and never take anything too seriously.

As for language, I will say that it is a continuous progress, that I will never arrive to a certain point where I think, "yep, that's it, my Spanish is perfect", because there are always new things to learn. But as I reflect on where I started, in my room, head bowed into my grammar textbook, I realize how far I have come. Now, the sentence structures and verb conjugations are alive. They are not just concepts that I memorized, they have been the key to understanding, trust, and freedom so far in Argentina. I am able to use it to build relationships with the locals, to understand the material and ask questions in school, to present at Rotary events, to feel more safe walking alone, to understand instruction in art/dance class, etc. Choosing to spend my time in language learning has been the best investment for my exchange.

At home, both of my host parents don't speak English, so at first conversations were slow and progress felt unnoticed. At school, there were many times where I didn't understand due to the fast pace of lectures. I felt annoyed when I couldn't express myself the way I wanted to or understand everything. But this is all part of language immersion, to feel annoyed at times and bump into language barriers, but also to learn how to navigate, overcome, and learn from the barriers. Nowadays, I am having dreams in Spanish, and on my birthday when I Face-timed my family, I kept responding in Spanish instead of English/Japanese. I had become so accustomed to automatically thinking and responding in Spanish that switching languages instantaneously was a challenge.

I have now been with the same host family for 2 months, and it is crazy to think that not too long ago, they were complete strangers. Before coming on exchange, I had seen their social medias and talked to them on WhatsApp; they seemed like good people, but also distant and unknown. I knew that the mom likes to bake cakes, the dad has a hawk, they have two sons, and that they have hosted 4 other exchange students in the past. That was about it! But since the moment that I got off of the plane that brought me here, I have been getting to know them more and more as people every single day on a level much deeper than Facebook posts and Instagram stories.

It is quite ironic because my family life is almost the exact opposite in the US than in Argentina. In the US, I am one of four siblings and there is a competition for attention. Here in Argentina, I am the only child (one of my brothers is in France for exchange and the other is studying at university in the capital) and I am the center of attention. In the US, my parents are first generation Japanese immigrants, and until recently, we did not have any family in the US. The closest family we have would be 5 hours away by plane. Here in Argentina, most of my host family is within 30 minutes of one another. For mothers day, there were more than 20 people over at my house. In the US, even for Thanksgiving its always 6 people (my parents, siblings, and I). Since I am the only child, my host mom and I always talk about the details of our lives one on one, something I am totally not used to in the US. My mom in the US does not like to cook, on the contrary, my host mom here loves to cook (especially pizza, pasta, bread, etc.) and is a cake decorator. Nothing is better or worse, just different, but I have definitely been enjoying this completely different family life here.

My host parents are some of the most loving people I have ever met. They love me for who I am. They love me at my best. They love me at my worst. They love me despite the distance that will eventually separate us. I am their 5th exchange student and 7th child (they have 2 biological sons). They have sons and daughters, in the US, Germany(x2), Belgium, and now another in the US and Japan. Through the many stories and conversations I have heard, it is obvious that they have so much love for every single son and daughter, despite the eventual distance, despite the flawed characters, despite hard times, despite everything, they have so much love. This is love, love accepts us for who we really are, even if we are not perfect. My host parents also let both of their (biological) sons go on exchange, and I know that it was not easy for them to do so, but love allows you to go places, to experiment, to soar, and always keeps the doors open at home. This is love, love liberates. Every single day, they live with so much love, and I truly admire them for the wonderful people that they are.

On my birthday (October 14th), I invited about 11 friends to a casual get together to eat hamburgers for lunch and after, to the afternoon drinking mate. This day, I saw so much beauty and felt loved, in the way my host mom tried her best to make me feel comfortable in this home, how everyone who I invited to my birthday came and shared their time with me, how my school friends got me a mate set, my favorite candies, and a set of cards (very appropriate since we always play cards!). For me, who was chosen to come to a small suburb of Argentina, the little things are the ones that have made me feel fulfilled. Laughing uncontrollably alongside my host parents, who are now like my real parents, making bread with my host mom every Saturday morning, playing cards with my classmates during break, joking around with my friends, staying up late having interesting conversations, these little things with beautiful people are what fills my heart with joy.

If there has to be one thing that has helped me most with integration, it would be respect and acceptance. To fall in love with a new country, new people, and a new culture, also means to embrace the act of acceptance and to always respect. Nothing is perfect; I have traveled back and forth from the US and Japan countless times and every time that I travel between the two, the flaws and strengths become more and more apparent. Even in Argentina, of course, there are flaws. It is not possible for something to be flawless. But I have learned that the places that I see the most flaws or see things that I don't necessarily like, are also the times that I must remember to accept and respect before anything else.

This concept, I have been trying to use everywhere I go. It is so important in school, at home, in art class, to accept and also respect one another for how we are. We are often met with words, appearances, and actions of people, and sometimes what we see on the surface can provoke preconceptions or assumptions about people. But in the end, it is important to realize that every person is a world, completely unique and very complex. To truly get to know someone, is important to interact with a genuine curiosity in who they are as this beautiful, layered, and unique person. I've seen how the world tends to categorize people as a certain type of person, because it is easier to do that instead of realizing that we are a little bit of everything; layered and simple, beautiful and flawed, and we are a living image of our past, present, and future. We are all on our own path with a history, and that is enough for respect. There is something about the act of total acceptance and respecting, that brings everything into a positive light.

I hope you enjoy ;)

Thanks for reading!

¡Nos vemos! See you! またね!

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