g is for…

gracias. 

gracias to my wonderful parents and family members who have ALWAYS been there for me, who have cheered me on during my life’s highs and picked me up during it’s lows. i really wouldn’t be half the person i am today if it weren’t for each and everyone of you. and although today we’re 5,500 miles apart i’m thinking of all of your today. we have our going away dinner tonight with all of the students and staff of IFSA. they are bringing in turkey to honor thanksgiving. regardless, dad, i’m putting you in charge of having seconds (no wait, probably thirds) to take care of my portion. remember, i like olives, cranberry sauce, lots of stuffing, and cheesy potatoes. and don’t forget the apple pie.

gracias to my friends. near friends, far friends, old friends, new friends, best friends and even just acquaintances, thank you. wherever you are in the world, i am thankful for you today. thank you for challenging me to become a better person. thank you for all of the laughs, all of the tears (both happy and sad), and all of the wonderful conversations that make getting out of bed each morning so much easier.

gracias to susy, my CRAZY host mom who has taught me so much over these past four months. thank you for correcting my articles and my improper use of the subjunctive. thank you for laughing when i want to cry. thank you for the countless good meals you have provided and even the few meals i didn’t really enjoy but stomached anyway. thank you for taking me in and making me a part of your family and of your life. i will never forget these four months on emilio jofre.

gracias to the country of argentina. your landscapes, breathtaing. your people, incredibly warm and welcoming. your food, fattening but delicious (minus the glandulas and morcilla). and your climate, always sunny and dry.

gracias to my (terrible) improv professor. thanks to your class, i have met some absolutely wonderful people. i have spent the past four months putting myself out there. yes, i’ve made a few mistakes (okay more like a million), but i have learned. i will never forget that corazón is a masculine word. and i have had my argentine theater debut and i hate to admit, i actually enjoyed it. also, thanks to you, i WILL, after all be able to spend a week travelling uruguay. 

gracias to whoever is out there controlling the universe for somehow always managing to work things out. you never fail.

happy thanksgiving!

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this, too, shall pass.

They warned us plenty of times that when studying abroad, there would be good weeks, and there would be bad weeks, happy days and sad days, frustrating moments and rewarding ones, too. This week was a rough one, without a doubt.

I started this post sitting home alone on a Friday night having ordered pizza (my Spanish skills are to the point where I can have a solid phone conversation and that’s something I’m incredibly proud of) from a restaurant which delivers some of my favorite foods including some delicious papas fritas, some super good empanadas, and my favorite Sunday meal, pollo con chimichurri. After devouring my fair share of the pizza muzzerella, I searched through the online movie database Cuevana and found a movie called ‘The Better Life’, a story of Mexican immigrants in the US, a tear jerker to say the least, just what I wanted. I pulled out all of the stops in order to try and overcome my terrible case of homesickness that’s got me loca this week. How could I be homesick and bumming around in such a beautiful place where I wake up in the mountains, speak Spanish all day long and occasionally sip on wine from local grapes? Here’s why.

After a great weekend in Chile, we got back into Mendoza Monday night around 8:30pm. After a long day of travelling and a near death experience on the edge of curve number 22, I was exhausted and happy to be home. I was happy to be home, but not excited to retell the tales of my weekend. Along with the explanation of the fact that we went to Chile without any real plans and therefore ended up walking around the city of Viña del Mar on Saturday for a few hours looking for a place to stay, apparently came the invitation to Susy for all sorts of critiques of our so called ‘winging it’. ‘I wondered why you didn’t plan out where you were going to stay, what you were going to do, and when you were going to come back before you left for Chile. Especially with the long weekend.’ Okay, yeah, maybe we overlooked the fact that it was a long weekend and it might be a little hard to find a place to stay in the beautiful resort town of Viña with all the Argentines have fled across the border to celebrate Día de la Raza, but also we were a group of 6 intelligent 20ish year old girls and we figured we’d play it by ear so we wouldn’t be so restricted by a schedule. After all, that’s what travelling is all about, improvising. It’s nice to see you too, Susy.

Here’s what I’ve discovered this week. Living in someone else’s house is really emotionally restricting. I can’t cry, I can’t go to Susy and explain to her how I’m feeling. My problems are nothing compared to the emotions I know she is feeling because of the recent death of her novio. I have no one to go to and just vent. And I’ve tried with Susy, but it doesn’t work. She’d rather tell me about the latest gossip within her circle of friends or the most recent drama of Tinelli (the name she gives a scandalous local dance show). She’d rather talk than listen. The fact that emotions are incredibly hard to explain in another language doesn’t make it any less restricting. ‘I just had a really rough day and  don’t feel like sitting and chatting with you and the 5 other sixty-five year old friends that are here for afternoon tea’ just doesn’t sound the same in Spanish. I haven’t figured out how to explain to Susy that the fact that I don’t really want to sit and talk for an hour is nothing personal. It’s just that I’m exhausted and would love a nice little siesta after a long day of class. Because of these obstacles, I just have to keep it all inside. Let’s just say that’s not helping my slight wave of homesickness.

So, in the spirit of Argentine Mother’s Day (3rd Sunday in October) and my realizations after this long week, here’s a shout of to my WONDERFUL Mom! Thanks for always being there to let me cry. Thanks for listening. Thanks for paying attention to me when I have something to tell you, regardless of the fact that half of the stories I tell you, you probably aren’t entirely excited about. Thanks for taking my side (most of the time) when I tell you about something that happened to me. It’s really hard to not get annoyed when every five seconds the person you are trying to tell your stories to has to run off to let the dog in, go to the bathroom, call a friend, or remember to take her antibiotic for her sore throat. So thank you, Mom from the bottom of my heart, for always being there.

Here’s what else I’ve discovered this week. Living with someone who is not your mom is not only emotionally, but also socially restricting. I think I really take for granted the fact that I go to school out of state and live by myself. It’s a whole different world when you live with your family and commute to school. Here’s why I couldn’t live at home during college. After a long day at school this week; a CELU Spanish exam placement test, Spanish class, Improv rehearsal and Improv class, I headed straight from UNCuyo to meet up with a couple girls from Social Control and Violence class to study for our midterm that we had to take Thursday afternoon (My first midterm exam, mind you. An exam that covered almost three months of material on argentine political history, criminal law, current legislation, human rights, the Argentine constitution and all sorts of other related and equally challenging topics). I totally spaced and didn’t send Susy a message letting her know that I was studying and wouldn’t be home until later. When I got home she made it clear that she was not happy not only with the fact that I hadn’t been home all day, was getting home late, and hadn’t sent her a message letting her know my whereabouts. Okay, so maybe I should have sent her a short message letting her know I would be home late. But to be fair, she also never sent me anything to see if I was okay or if I was coming home soon. Like I said, I really take for granted my independence. That afternoon, I had plans to meet up with a friend that night as well and when I suggested to Susy that I just wanted to have something light for dinner before I went out she was appalled, and she didn’t think twice to make it obvious. She didn’t understand the fact that I didn’t need an extensive meal and that an omelet would be perfectly fine. So I sat and waited patiently while she gasped at the fact that all I was going to have for dinner was a ham and cheese omelet and got frustrated when I told her I was heading out to hang out with a friend. I know I’m an old soul, but hanging out with Susy wasn’t on my agenda for Wednesday night and I think I hurt her feelings. Too much to handle this week. Too much.

To top off all of my emotional distress, it just happens that this week I got to deal with the head of the theater department. How in the world could I have done that, you ask? Well, I didn’t think it was possible either. Until I showed up at my Improv class on Wednesday and the first thing the professor says is, ‘Tito, el director, quiere hablar con voz.’ Great, just what I wanted to hear, the director of the theater department wants to talk to me. As I walk up the stairs to his office, I already know what he is going to talk to me about. I made a comment to one of the IFSA program staff who is the tutor for the classes in the facultdad of artes y diseño. BAD IDEA. I told her about my not so great experiences in the class, the fact that the professor not only corrected my use of the improper article (its un corazón, not una corazón… yeah I’ll never forget that one) but also proceeded to say, ‘No entiendo porque me mandan chicos norteamericanos queines no pueden hablar el español.’ (I don’t understand why they keep sending me American students who can´t speak Spanish.) Last time I checked, Claudio, my accidental mistake regarding the proper article of the word heart didn’t invalidate my language skills. But then again, what do I know. Regardless of whether or not corazón is feminine or masculine, I think yours might have gone missing. Seem a little harsh? Eh, no. When I mentioned to him that I didn’t want my acting skills (or lack thereof) or my language difficulties to affect the grade of the other members of my group, he oh so kindly suggested that we come up with a creative way to avoid these problems. What was his suggestion? That I play the dead guy. NOT KIDDING. Needless to say, I’m a little bitter. So after a recap of all that had happened in the class and my frustrations with the professor, who also shows up at least a half an hour late every class, demands that we silence our cell phones, and then interrupts his completely unorganized and unplanned lecture to not only take a phone call but have a full conversation with a friend during class, I walked into Tito’s office prepared to explain my frustrations. Easier said than done. I asked him, trying to sound like I had no idea how he found out about my frustrations, what he wanted to talk to me about. He asked me what had happened in the class and why I was feeling frustrated. I told him a couple of the stories, the one about the misuse of an article and the anti-American sentiment. He insisted, without hesitation that his comments were meant to be lighthearted, jokes I guess you could say. I explained to him that regardless of whether or not those were jokes, the comments didn’t exactly make me want to perform in front of the class. Why don’t you just go back to class, enjoy the rest of the semester and have a better attitude about the class. Talk to your professors; let them know how you feel. I talked to them already and they didn’t mention anything about your difficulties with language, the only thing they mentioned is that you talked to them at the beginning of the class and you are going to be here until the end of the semester so you won’t have any problems getting a grade for the class. Hold on, wait, WHAT? You talked to the professors to get their side of the story before you talked to me. Okay well, thanks a lot. Now I look like an idiot who has been talking behind the backs of my professors. And, yes, I have been. But I really didn’t need for them to find out. Lesson learned, I guess. When I talked to the IFSA staff member, my only true intentions were to advise them not to have any future IFSA students take the course. Not only is the professor not the biggest fan of American students, the class is only worth 3 credits and I’m spending 5 hours in class each week and another 4 hours minimum outside of class rehearsing. All of that and I’m not even guaranteed a Hollywood debut? You’ve got to be kidding me. We do have to present our version of a Latin American short story at a bar, so at least I will be having my Argentine theater debut. Whatever that’s worth.

I apologize for the extremely bitter and pessimistic tone of this post. Please forgive me a have a good laugh. I’m sincerely trying.  Today was better; we had an excursion with our program to a couple of local vineyards. The weather was perfect, the wine was wonderful and the lunch they served us outside amongst the vines under the beautiful Argentine sun was spectacular. I’m so incredibly blessed to be living here and even more blessed to be learning. I’m Learning not only the proper articles for my slowly expanding Spanish vocabulary (corazón is masculine, don’t forget that one!), but I’m also learning a lot about myself. As cheesy as it may sound, I’m learning how to be patient, how to be understanding, how to be humble, and how better to live in a culture that is not my own. And that’s what I’m here for, to STUDY abroad, to LEARN. Regardless of what I’ve actually learned in my classes, I’ve learned a lot. Period. So here’s to the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad days, the happy moments and the sad ones, all for learning’s sake.

cuentos de la cubana; aventuras en argentina.

Please forgive me for my lack of recent updates; I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to share all of my cultural experiences with people who are thousands of miles away. I’ve also been incredibly busy and trying to soak up every bit of culture while it is right at my fingertips. I’ve accumulated a bunch of anecdotes of life here in Argentina and tried my best, to little avail I feel, to share them with you all here. Please, if nothing else just LAUGH. With me or at me, just laugh.

¿Sos colombiana? ¿Sos brasilera? ¿Sos mexicana? ¿Sos venezolana? ¿Sos puertorriqueña? ¿Sos cubana? I know my Spanish is progressing, although I am nowhere near perfectly fluent, because this is a relatively accurate account of the series of questions I get when I first meet someone. I am often told that I speak with some sort of rhythm; as if my words are dancing out of my mouth, something the Cuban’s as well as other Central American’s tend to do. When I finally give in and tell these new acquaintances that I am from the United States, questions usually follow along the lines of ‘Do you have Latino parents or relatives?’… ‘No? Well then where did you learn your Spanish?’… ‘Where did you get your Central American accent?’ Most are shocked when I explain that I have studied Spanish for about seven years and have learned a majority of what I know in an academic setting. With each and every colloquialism that I pick up, I’m getting closer to tricking people into thinking I’m Argentine.

NO ONE voted for the president, but somehow she got elected. I am living in Argentina during a pivotal time in their political history. On August 14th they held a set of obligatory primary elections (fines supposedly imposed for those who don’t vote). 2011 is the first year they have held these national primary elections which, according to the majority of Argentine’s who I have spoken to reveal how the actual elections will turn out. In order to avoid a runoff election in October, the winning candidate, most likely Christina, will have to hold at least 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent of the vote and 10 points lead over the closest contender. With Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner holding about fifty percent of the primary votes of the country this country will likely see another term with a woman in office; a somewhat unpopular woman, as far as everyone I’ve talked to is concerned. The likelihood of any of the other hundreds of political parties coming even close to 30 percent of the nations support would be almost impossible. My host mom made a comment the other day about Christina being in office to the effect of ‘I don’t know how she won because NO ONE voted for her’. It’s been really hard for me to grasp this concept; the fact that someone who received no votes can be elected. Somehow, in this country it has managed to happen. One thing is for sure, it had nothing to do with intoxicated voters; see below.

Don’t drink and vote. The first ever primary elections took place a couple of weeks ago, Sunday August 14th. From around 8pm on Saturday night until late Sunday night, stores are not allowed to sell alcohol. This happened again in the capital of Mendoza province, Ciudad de Mendoza, where I live this past Sunday as they held separate elections for the mayor of the city (even the locals don’t know why they have two different voting days). I had no idea that these mayoral elections were taking place and was confused when the beer display at the front of the store was wrapped in caution tape. It almost seems to me that they monitor drinking and voting here in Argentina more than they do drinking and driving – I saw a man drinking out of a liter of Quilmes at a stop sign as I was walking home one night last week.

There are no lines at stores in the United States, right? As we jumped behind four or five carts in line at the grocery store one day last week, my host mom asked me a question that caught me incredibly off guard. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when she asked me, as to confirm something she had heard before or seen on TV or in the movies, oh so seriously if we had to wait in lines at stores in the United States. I had to try to explain to her that yes, indeed we too have to wait in lines, and yes, sometimes they are long, and no they do not just have unlimited cash registers to open up to avoid said lines.

Getting a job in the United States is based solely on what you know, not on who you know, right? I don’t know who brought this rumor to Argentina but I once found myself chuckling as my host mom and a couple of her friends tried to explain to me how important connections and contacts are as far as getting a job in Argentina is concerned. After they explained all of the politics of the job market, they asked me ever so seriously, “Pero no es así allá, en los Estados Unidos, ¿no?” Luckily I had prepared myself because I knew it was coming, “It’s not like that in the United States, is it? I tried to let them down as easily as I could and I explained that yes, it truly is, and I am afraid it always will be “Who you know, not what you know”.

Take a number and take a seat. And bring a book, a LONG one. I had to ‘run’ to the bank the other day to pay some fees in order to get my student visa. I needed to run some other errands downtown and my host mom was headed there too so we hopped on the bus together and after taking passport pictures, I headed to the bank. Thinking I could just hop in line and pay the 30 peso fee, I told her I would meet her back at her bank as soon as I was finished. I walked up to the counter to ask one of the bank staff if I could pay these taxes here at the bank. When he responded enthusiastically, “Si, los puede pagar acá” (Yes, you can pay them here), I for some reason thought that ‘acá’ was referring to this counter I was standing at. I thought I could pay these taxes right then and there. I thought, wow that was easy, I can’t believe I didn’t have to wait behind ANYONE in line. Little did I know his ‘acá was actually referring to the bank in general. He chuckled a little and then told me to grab a number and take a seat. As I looked at the waiting area which resembled an airport gate three minutes before boarding, I doubted that all of the people were waiting for the tellers just as I was. Then I looked at the number I had just pulled; it read 274. I held my breath and crossed my fingers then looked up at the panel on the wall at the front of the bank; it read 105. Optimistically hoping that there was an error with the panel or that they had to insert a new roll of numbers and we would magically skip to 200, I took a seat. After about 30 minutes, good people watching and a few good chuckles to myself, I quietly rose from my seat and RAN out the front doors of the Banco Nacional Argentina.

Don’t quit your day job. I’m taking an Improvisation class in the theater department at la Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. There are no words to describe this class and the fact that I’m clearly a misfit; except for maybe HYSTERICAL. Each week we have to present trabajos prácticos or short skits that we put on for the class. My argentine theater debut was a short skit that was to combine multiple artistic ‘languages’ as they are called; music, dance, theater, painting, etc. Our group decided to do a mixture of song and dance; through song and dance we identified each person’s individual interests and then came together at the end with a song and a short verse of poetry that united us all. Let’s just say I’m no actress, I’m no singer, and I’m no dancer. And although I’m having fun, my cheeks definitely got red when the professor said to our group, “Si hemos aprendido algo hoy, hemos aprendido que hay algunas personas quienes no actúan bien, otras quienes no cantan bien, y otras quienes no bailan bien. Lo que tenemos que hacer es improvisar con lo que tenemos y elegir y distribuir roles que nos sirve mejor”. [Translation: If we’ve learned anything today, we have learned that some people can’t act, some people can’t sing, and some people can’t dance. What we have to do is improvise with what we have and learn to choose roles for the members of our group that fit each person’s talents best.] Don’t expect to see my face on the big screen or to see me to be walking the red carpet ANYTIME soon.

Horoscopes tell all. Since I’ve been here in Argentina, I’ve been asked countless times what sign I am. I’m an Aires. Which means, according to my astrology savvy Argentine friends means ‘tengo mucho carácter’ which basically means I’m a lot to handle. As if I didn’t know that already. I can’t tell the number of times people have told me who I get along best with, who my astro-spirit clashes with and how I am as a person in different areas of my life. I wish I could fully believe everything they tell me, but for some reason I’m not fully convinced – probably the fact that I’m an Aires. It is interesting and slightly comical to see how people make assumptions and truly believe they can understand the ins and outs of the universe based simply on astrology.

I doubt many of you made it to the end of this extremely long and excessively divergent (you can blame my Aires spirit for that) post. However, if you did (bless your heart), before you go on with your day, take a second to find a joke in language other than your first. Send that puppy through Google translator and have a good laugh. As I have found, there is nothing more rewarding than laughing in a foreign language.