Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

¡Hola! Hello! こんにちわ !

One month ago today (August 26th, 2019), I landed in Ezeiza International Airport and my new life in Argentina began. As short as one month seems, a lot can happen; with going to school for the first time in 3 months, to integrating into the culture, to trying dulce de leche with bananas (so good), and many other new experiences, I think it is time for an update (also my mom has been asking for one… hi Mom!).

During my first week of school, I noted many, many differences (which is a topic to be discussed in a later post). But it is normal to see and feel these differences, it is called culture shock. The way of life is just different than what I am used to, not better or worse. I am making it my intention to observe, ask questions, and learn about Argentina on a deeper level before forming opinions or jumping to conclusions. But not to be mistaken, I really enjoy getting to know my classmates, and encounter this normal and genuine part of a teenager’s life in Argentina. I came on exchange to experience and learn about a new reality. I think that waking up at 6 AM to go to school, doing the assignments, and engaging with my classmates makes this a real life. It would definitely not be the same if I came to Argentina just for a vacation. After my first week of school was complete, I was exhausted and was under the weather for about 4 days. It could have been due to the season change (the US and Japan are located in the northern hemisphere and Argentina in the southern hemisphere) and also getting used to a different daily routine. After I felt better, I began trying different activities. For example, I tried out to a Jazz-Contemporary dance class and art class, both of which I loved and hope to continue!

The second weekend here, I went to a neighboring town called Alberti to meet and spend time with my host dad’s family. Alberti is a small town less than half the population of my city, Chivilcoy. As I stepped into my host-grandmother’s house and into her kitchen, I felt warmth coming from an old fashioned stove, and I smiled when I saw my host grandmother rolling dough by hand for ravioli. Then, my host dad took me out to the back of the house where I was met by my host grandmother’s beautiful and lively garden, empty pig pens, a horse, and 7 or 8 hens. I picked some ripe fruit from the kumquat tree (kumquat is similar to an orange the size of a grape) and washed them in the well right before I popped them into my mouth. The sun was out and I listened to the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds singing. I really enjoy this essence of my host grandmother’s house; down to earth, charming, and comforting. My host mom and host grandmother are both amazing cooks, they make many dishes from scratch such as ravioli, pizza, bread, etc. (there is a deep Italian influence in Argentina). Some of the most memorable times so far have been when I was helping in the kitchen, and of course, the food turns out delicious. Evidently, in two weeks, I gained two kilograms!

My third weekend here, I went to a festival called “Rural” where farm animals are auctioned, tools and trucks are sold, complete with live folklore music and food. I live in a small city surrounded by lots of country and farmland, so at this festival people can buy their farm supplies and create business relations. At Rural, I met up with my Rotary counselor, two Inbounds from France, and a Rotex (past Rotary Youth Exchange student) who went to Germany last year. Later that day, I went to Alberti with my host family and enjoyed some choripán (a type of sandwich with chorizo, similar to the American hot dog) while watching dances for “La Semana de la Juventud” or “the Week of Youth” with my host cousin and her friends. The next day, I woke up late and enjoyed a delicious asado complete with fresh vegetables from my host grandmother’s garden. Then, I went to the birthday party of one of my classmates! Later that week in school we celebrated the coming of spring, which is called “the Day of Spring”, and “the Day of the Student”. Really, these are just good excuses to celebrate, all of which I have been enjoying! My class decorated the common area of my school, drank mate, and enjoyed food together. When the day of the celebration arrived, there was music playing throughout the school and the whole school sat in the court yard watching funny games/activities which were played by teachers and students of all grades. Now it is officially spring; the flowers are blooming, the days are becoming warmer, the sun rises earlier. I like to enjoy the nice weather by going on walks with my host mom/friends and jogging in the park.

I have gotten together with many people, including the family on my host dad's side, several birthday parties, and other get-togethers for food, mate, or walks around the city. But one of the most memorable times so far was when one of my classmates invited our entire class to his grandmother's house in the countryside. School ended early on Friday and most of my class (22 people out of 29) took a little afternoon trip. A few of my classmates built a fire and cooked everyone hamburgers for lunch, which was quite yummy (not because of the quality of the meat, but because of the plain fact that we all chose to be there that day, eating hamburgers in the middle of the nowhere together). Later, we all walked to the middle of a grass field while listening to music. We just sat on the grass in a circle, feeling the sun on our skin and the wind in our hair; some people took a mini siesta while others chatted and joked around. No one was on their phones, it was just us, food, and cows and sheep here and there (how beautiful?). There were several times that afternoon when one or two of the boys would run after the cows and sheep which made us all crack up! It was nice to be in a different, more free environment with my classmates. I got to know them in a different way, the classroom environment is very distinct from an afternoon in the country side. Here in Argentina, the teachers move to the different classrooms instead of the students. Therefore, I am with these same classmates all day everyday, and I am really enjoying laughing with them and getting to know them.

I also have been involved in several Rotary activities these past 4 weeks. I went to my first Rotary meeting at the Rotary Club of West Chivilcoy (my host club) and presented in Spanish for about 15 minutes. I had the opportunity to sit at a table with a Paraguayan, French, Argentinian, and Italian for dinner! On another occasion, the president of my Rotary club took Max (french Inbound at my school) and me out of school early to have a chat with the mayor of my city (which was filmed and aired on the radio and TV!). As an exchange student, there are countless moments like these to represent your country, no matter how small or big it is. I have experienced here that manifesting my purposes of going on exchange, which I talked about in my first blog, do not always come in extravagant forms such as talking on TV and speaking to large audiences at events. But it comes little by little, through genuine conversations with the people sitting right next to you at lunch or maybe building up the courage to talk to someone new. Progress does not come all at once, rather one step at a time. A mile is traveled foot by foot. A house is built brick by brick. A staircase is climbed one stair at a time. I am living the life that I dreamed of a year ago, and it all started from something so small as going to the interest meeting and turning in an application. Many things may seem big and significant, but when you look closer, it is made up of many small and insignificant things.

With the mayor of Chivilcoy during the interview

On my fourth weekend here, I had the opportunity to go to a welcome camp held by Rotary Youth Exchange in Chascomus, a city 3 hours away from Chivilcoy. At the camp, I met 36 exchange students from 16 different countries that are living in Rotary District 4905 this year, and it was a beautiful and interesting experience. Really normal experiences such as eating pizza can be interesting when you are sitting next to Finnish, Thai, French, and Danish teenagers all at the same time. We played games, participated in group activities, played cards, went swimming, traded pins, and more! As I reflect on how only 7 weeks ago I was in Japan, 4 weeks ago I was in the United States, and now I am in Argentina where I met teenagers from 16 different countries, I realize how distinct each culture is and how unique every person is. Yet simultaneously, we have so much in common if we chose to see it and embrace the similarities that we share.

It has officially been one month since I have left behind everything that I have ever known. My family, my friends, my school, the food, the language, the customs, the daily routine, everything. Although this life that I lead here in Argentina is completely different that anything I have ever experienced before, I am growing to love the people and life that I have here and enjoying every second of it. One month ago, I boarded an airplane that would take me away from my home for a year. And now? That the airplane I boarded did not take me away from my home, but brought me to it.

Time truly goes by in the blink of an eye and a quote I read while ago by Chaim Potok resonates with how I feel. It says, “The blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.” I think it is saying that purpose and meaning is not automatically given to time, but the life that we can fill time with can be rich in meaning. It is this sense of living every day, consciously being me, Keiko, that can fill this speck of time with some meaning. In school, this looks like engaging with my classmates, having conversations with teachers, and proactively asking questions when I am confused at the material. At home, cooking with my host mom and saying yes to every opportunity. In dance class, art class, or when I am out and about, I like to meet people in the most genuine way possible and get to know them as people.

I am so grateful for everyone, especially my host family here in Argentina, my family in the US and Japan, and Rotary Youth Exchange, for allowing me to take on this incredible adventure, for supporting me through the difficult times, and for celebrating the happy ones with me. It is crazy to think that one month out of ten has now passed and that this is just the beginning!

Thanks for reading!

¡Nos vemos! See you! またね!

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