Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hey everyone! In this blog I'll share a few reflections, my experience changing host families for the first time, getting ready to go back to school, and also talk about a few trips I went on! Hope you enjoy :)

With my first host family, I had the privilege to go on a six day trip to Merlo, San Luis. Merlo sits at the lower part of the Comechingones Mountain Range in the province of San Luis. In six days, we walked through rivers for hours, saw sunsets from the mountains, ate several river-side asados (one asado included a local goat), and even got stuck in a cloud (true story). I am grateful for their generosity in taking me on this trip!

Fun fact: The Village of Merlo is well known in Argentina for its micro-climate. Micro-climates are influenced by the topography of the land and are often different from the climates at similar latitudes. In this case, Merlo is surrounded by a mountain range, which changes the atmospheric circulation and creates a climate that is distinct from the climates of neighboring regions and areas. 

On another note, I have changed host families after being with the same family for six months. Rotary Youth Exchange students have anywhere between two to four host families in their exchange year. In my case, I have two host families, one for six months and the other for four. Back in 2018 as I was learning about exchange, I became instantly excited when I was told I would have several host families. Why? I think it was because I knew that meant I would have the opportunity to experience different micro-cultures of different families. Every family is very unique, and considering that my parents are two Japanese immigrants, I personally know that there are so many different ways of life, beliefs, foods, traditions, etc. that different families have, even in the same country.

I had been with my first host family for six months, and in that time we had really evolved so much that our relationship reflected a real family. I think we all felt as if I was not only an exchange student. My host parents really thought of me and treated me as their own daughter, and I thought of them as my real parents as well. From the time that I landed in Argentina to now, they have seen me at my best and at my worst, and they still accept me. I can't believe how this family that I considered strangers a year ago are now people that I laugh with, cry with, bicker with, and have opened up to. I am so grateful for all they have done for me.

As much as change is difficult at first, I also feel ready for the new, to keep growing and learning. I am now with my second host family, and I am happy to say that I have had so much luck with my host families here. My last family was incredible, but I know that I am going to have a great time in this home as well.

I also went to the coast of Argentina to a beach town called Pinamar with my second host family for six days! I am very fortunate to have been able to go on vacation twice with two different families this summer. The days at the coast were filled with uncontrollable laughter, unpredictable weather, lots of delicious food, and funny stories. I am so grateful to have these memories that make me smile.

Another fun fact (I love fun facts, if you can't tell): Pinamar in Spanish means pine tree ocean, but about 80 years ago, it actually lacked the very thing that it is now known for, pine trees! Pinamar's forests that are abundant now didn't exist naturally, but instead were planted to keep the sand dunes in place against the strong Atlantic winds. It wasn't until Jorge Emilio Isidro Bunge proposed the idea to plant the trees that the forests grew.
With summer coming to an end, I will share a few reflections. Recently, I have been contemplating the word authenticity. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of authentic is: "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character". I have been observing how it looks like, feels like, and what it is to me. I think that being true to who you are is really important, and personally, being authentic has its way of bringing abundance and clarity into my life. When I stay true to myself, so many things come to me with such ease; the right friends, activities, hobbies, opportunities, etc.

While observing the topic of authenticity, I have been realizing that it is not something that you search for, discover, and keep easily for the rest of your life. I think of it more as a muscle that requires the intention to exercise it on a daily basis, gaining natural strength as time continues. Someone who is authentic just shines from the inside out. To me, feeling really authentic is like an inner warmth that comes from a profound sense of inherent worthiness and acceptance.

Part of being really authentic is to accept and love all of the parts of me, the good, the bad, and everything in between. To embrace my story, where I come from, who I am, and where I want to go. I consider myself as courageous, sensitive, driven, sweet, intelligent, and kind. I think that those traits have positive and negative reflections sometimes, but in the end, that is what makes me who I am. My story is not perfect, and that is what makes me, me. I am my strengths and my flaws, my successes and my failures, my hopes and my doubts, my joy and my sadness. And right here, right now, I am exploring what it truly means to appreciate the unique person I am and staying true to myself.

Now that my summer is coming to an end, it means that it is back to school season. In a few days, I start school again in Colegio Santa Cecilia with the same classmates that I studied with last spring. This feels like a new transition, with a new host family, new academic year, and starting after-school activities again; I feel sense of readiness to get back to studying, and a lingering feeling of gratitude for the difficulties that helped me grow this summer, the memories that make me smile from within, and the moments where I felt happiness. 

Thank you for reading my journal! See you next time!

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