Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of content, with a Rotary trip, the end of the school year, going into summer, getting sick, and more, the end of October and November have been quite packed.

I went on a Rotary trip was from October 28th to November 4th. For these 7 days, I traveled through the Patagonia region of Argentina with 30 other exchange students, which was quite crazy! In every country, Rotary offers these special trips for exchange students to visit attractions and points of interest. For example, my friend in India is also on a trip that goes through Southern India, and my friends in Europe have "Eurotour" where they visit about 20 countries all around Europe.

The trip began with a night in Buenos Aires (the capital city), which was fun because I live quite far away from the capital and don't get the chance to go often. The next day, we woke up at 3:30 AM to head to a city called El Calafate, which is also known as the National Capital of Glaciers. El Calafate is an important tourist destination, because it serves as the hub to visit different parts of the Los Glaciares National Park, including the Perito Moreno Glacier. The first day in El Calafate, we had a free day to eat lunch, go to Lago Argentino, walk around the city, etc. It was such a beautiful, sunny day and I had a lot of fun walking around El Calafate! El Calafate is situated on the border of Lago Argentino, which is the largest lake in Argentina and the third largest in South America. I learned from a tour guide (in Spanish!) that the water of the lake is just melted glacier, and it gets its clear turquoise color due to a very fine powder produced by glacial abrasion. In the winter, the lake is used as an ice skating rink for the locals of El Calafate, and it is 1570 square kilometers large (although it becomes a little larger every year because the glaciers are retroceding).

Another thing I learned about El Calafate/El Chalten in general was about scattered rocks in the semi-arid landscape. There are rocks scattered here and there in the fields, and according to the same tour guide, it is actually due to the past glaciers. The glaciers from the Andes Mountains that once reached those areas had literally taken out rocks from the Andes, brought them there, and when the glaciers melted, what was left were those rocks! It was interesting to learn information about the place we were at while seeing things for myself.

The second day, we went to Perito Moreno Glacier which is just absolutely beautiful. First, we went to the sightseeing area, it looked like a picture taken directly out of Google. We were close enough to see the general details, but also far enough where we could feel the enormity. Then, we cruised across the lake on a boat to reach the glacier, and that is where we began a mini-trek on Perito Moreno Glacier itself! We went trekking on the glacier for about an hour and a half, which was quite an adventure. From drinking water from the melted parts of the glacier and trying to walk with spikey shoes, it was a very fun and unqiue experience. Here are a few fun facts about Perito Moreno Glacier that I learned from the tour guide:

1. Perito Moreno is named after Francisco Moreno, who was a prominent explorer and academic in Argentina. He was often called Perito Moreno as "perito" means expert in Spanish.

2. The glacier itself is 250 square kilometers! To give it a comparison, the city of Buenos Aires is 203 square kilometers.

3. If you pay attention to the glaciers surface, it appears as an upside down V due to the varied speeds of movement in different parts of the glacier. The center part moves at approximately 2 meters per day while the sides at approximately 20 cm per day due to more friction of rigid surfaces and rocks.

The third day, we traveled to El Chalten, and while there are less fun facts to be said, I had so much fun in El Chalten! El Chalten is known as the National Capital of Trekking. Evidently, in the two days that we stayed in El Chalten, we walked more than 16 kilometers and completed 3 treks! El Chalten has to be one of my favorites, for seeing so many different things and climbing various mountains. It is one of my favorite feelings in the world to sit at the top of a mountain, a little out of breath, and view the world from a higher perspective. In the two days, we saw snow fall as well as lakes, cascades, rivers, valleys, and it was just so beautiful. It feels pretty crazy to be doing these things while all of my peers back in the US and in Chivilcoy are in school.

After El Chalten, we went back to El Calafate, spent a night, and then the next day we took a 2 hour plane ride to Ushuaia, also known as the southernmost city in the world. When Argentina first claimed the territory they wanted a population there so that Chile does not occupy the land. However, no one had the desire to live in Ushuaia, as the journey to the town itself would be very long, and life there would be cold and dark. Therefore, it became a town where convicts were sent. Eventually, there were more than 600 convicts that occupied the cells of the prison until its closure in 1947.

In Ushuaia, we had a different tour guide than we did in El Calafate and El Chalten, but he had many stories to share from his own travels. I learned about his adventures that he had collected through his travels to countless countries, which was very interesting. I think travel allows us to meet new people and hear new stories, which can be really valuable and eye opening. The remaining days of our trip were lived fully in Ushuaia, which we spent by walking around the city, learning about its history in a museum (which actually used to be a prison), going to the National Park of Tierra del Fuego, a boat ride through the Beagle Canal, and we shared more meals, laughs, and special moments together with the exchange students.

Being with all of the Rotary Youth Exchange students for a week made me think about how incredible this opportunity is for teenagers to learn, grow, and mature as global citizens. The motto of Rotary Youth Exchange is "building world peace one exchange student at a time". On a fundamental level, what do we perceive as world peace? Is it a world with no war, no conflict? Is it when there are no differences of opinion?

As I am learning on exchange, world peace is not when we all think, feel, and believe the same thing, but that world peace is achieved moment we are okay with the fact that we all think, feel, and believe differently. Why? Because this means that despite the inevitable differences, we are able to love, respect, and accept each other. Perhaps accepting and loving despite our differences requires much more strength than living with judgement, hate, and bigotry, but I truly think to move forward together in this world, we must accept and love more. I believe that Rotary Youth Exchange truly does manifest this purpose of building peace because on exchange, as teenagers are able to soak up a new reality, a new culture, a new world. I think it makes closed minds more open, it makes followers into leaders, it makes judgement into acceptance.

There is a quote that says “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” by Benjamin Franklin. I find myself resonating with these words. In Rotary Youth Exchange we are not sitting in classrooms being taught about different cultures, languages, and ways of life, but we are involved in it. This program has completely involved me with a different country, culture, language, and community, as it has for the 35 other exchange students in my district, and the 9,000 teenagers that participate in Rotary Youth Exchange around the world every year. How amazing is it that at 16 years old (although I was 14 when I applied), I have such an amazing opportunity to learn, experience, grow, and travel away from everything I have ever known? This learning is something that brings me true joy and happiness, because I feel that I can move forward with these lessons, stories, and experiences to make the world a more peaceful place.

To me, this feels like education. Education brings new knowledge, perspective, and thoughts and helps people make the world a more peaceful place. But when I say education, I mean that which does not have much to do the mind, but with the heart and the soul. There is a whole other world of learning that has nothing to do with the traditional classroom. It is of encountering people and creating experiences together. It is of personal struggles, victories, fails, and triumphs that hold so much potential for new knowledge. As I am learning more and more in this world outside of school, I found 3 things that were helpful to keep in mind:

1. I have to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, different, and vulnerable. To embrace who I am, a 16 year old Japanese-American girl living in Argentina, and continue pushing the line where my comfort zone ends.

2. To keep the positive side of me always stronger than the negative. There is always light and dark in everyone, but what we choose to feed is what we become. The times when things don't go my way, or maybe it went the opposite way, are also the times that I must see the light.

3. When things are going our way, we feel like we are winning, and when our hearts are full of light, it is so important to feel grateful for the people who lifted you up when you felt down, remember where you started, and also remember that this is just the beginning.

One thing that may seem surprising is that I was happy when the trip ended. I felt a sense of happiness and comfort came with returning to my normal life here. Yes, this 7 day trip with 30 exchange students was a once-in-a-lifetime, crazy experience and I am so grateful for it. But the moment that I walked through the doors of my home was also when I realized that my sense of fulfillment, happiness, and joy on exchange is not derived from picture perfect moments and fun excursions. Trekking on a glacier, flying to the southernmost city in the world, and hiking up beautiful mountains are all incredible experiences, but my exchange would not be half as meaningful without laughs, conversations, and moments that I share with the locals, who are now my family and friends forever.

Now I am back to normal life; cooking food with my friends, drinking mate and terere in a nearby plaza, talking about the details of my day with my host mom, and a million other small moments that make up my daily life. I cooked gyoza, a Japanese dumpling, on two occasions, as well as another Japanese summer noodle dish called hiyashi-chuka on another occasion, which was really fun. I also got sick and went to the doctor 3 times in 4 days, but now I am better, and as I write this I am getting ready to go to another Rotary orientation where I will take a Spanish test and present about the USA.

I have also finished up the school year! I now do not have school for 3 months until March, which is quite crazy for me since I also had 3 months of summer vacation before I came to Argentina. What am I going to do this summer? I am planning on jumping on whatever opportunity that comes my way and seek new adventures to make the most of this summer and my exchange.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this journal!

See you next time!

Click HERE to read more about Keiko and all her blogs