A Thank You to All My Travel Friends

My life changed for the better the first time that I left the United States: my mind was opened to realities I hadn’t considered before, I was humbled by how much I didn’t understand about the world, but I was instantly ready and anxious to gain that understanding. I figure now is the best time to make such a reflection since the second leg of my South American adventure this May was back to where it all began. ¡Viva Chile!

Arrived in Chile yesterday exactly 4 years after I left my first adventure abroad! Look how far we've come. 🙂 #tbt

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If you’re one of those detail-oriented types, you’d notice that I went through Chilean customs 4 years to the day after I first left! How fun is that?

My first trip abroad was to Viña del Mar, Chile, as many of you know since that’s where Abi, Maddy, and I met. We had a blast roaming the relaxed beach town and actually spent only one day in the big city capital, Santiago. This time around, my entire stay was in Santiago, so I had a much different experience.

I’m not going to focus on the differences, though.

Instead, I’d like to highlight all of the lovely perks there are to having friends scattered throughout the world in order to encourage those who are nervous to take the plunge into international mingling and also to thank those friends of mine who have enriched my travels throughout the past 4 years.

1. You have somewhere to crash that doesn’t dent your budget and doesn’t keep you sleeping with one eye open at night. Two of the Chilean students, both conveniently named Javier, that helped with the Pitt program we did in Viña del Mar ended up being my hosts when I passed through Santiago. (One pictured above!) I’ll be forever grateful for having my own room with clean sheets and a friendly face nearby. Gracias a los dos!

Also, I'm pretty sure a hostel couldn't beat this view.

Also, I’m pretty sure a hostel couldn’t beat this view.

2. Getting a sightseeing recommendation from a local friend is a lot easier to trust than a guide book. Since I was on my own while the chicos were at work, they threw a few ideas my way to keep me occupied. I had some beautiful walks through the city, people-watched while shopping, killed a few hours in the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), and (I’ll publicly admit this) did some work-related research in a Chilean Walmart. They obviously understand my interests!

Neighborhood walk

Neighborhood walk

Never know what you might stumble upon.

Never know what you might stumble upon.

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Just hanging out at Lider. Look familiar?

Just hanging out at Lider. Look familiar?

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3. You automatically have someone to hang out with (and make plans for you). I had some pretty lazy days (read: woke up at 11am) while I was in Santiago, but the Javiers had plenty of other things in mind for when they got home. I tried my first CrossFit class, got delicious Indian food, crashed a work party, strolled through the biggest park in Chile, and went out in the trendy Bellavista neighborhood.

I was told this is "THE shot" to take of Parque Bicentenario. Check.

I was told this is “THE shot” to take of Parque Bicentenario. Check.

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A view from my last night walking through "Sanhattan", as they like to call it.

A view from my last night walking through “Sanhattan”, as they like to call it.

4. You don’t feel so out-of-place even if you are alone for a stretch of time. Those times I was sitting on a bench outside stuffing my face with empanadas or lugging my gawky backpack through a residential neighborhood, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my gosh, everyone’s definitely staring at me. I look like SUCH a foreigner right now. Please don’t question me on what I’m doing,” which is what I’d normally do on my own. Knowing you have some friends who are “in” with the local culture can really put your mind at ease. If nothing else, you know you can tell them an awkward, hilarious story when you see them later in the day!

... Like your struggles in using a Chilean espresso machine.

… Like your struggles in using a Chilean espresso machine.

Don't mind me carrying my whole life around.

Don’t mind me carrying my whole life around.

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You might make some new friends in the process.

You might even make some NEW friends!.

The main point I’m trying to make is that although it’s hard having to be apart from people who you’d like to spend more time with, knowing those people in far-away places is a privilege and absolutely indispensable when traveling. I couldn’t have had even half of the experiences that I’ve had without the wonderful humans I’ve met from all over the world.

So thank you to everyone that I’ve met so far… for opening your schedules and your doors to make me feel at home, for putting up with my language errors, and mostly, for being awesome people. Know that I’ll always return the favor!

PROOF: Both the Javiers in Pittsburgh along with a Frenchy and a Spaniard that I've seen in their home towns!

PROOF: Both the Javiers in Pittsburgh along with a Frenchy and a Spaniard that I’ve seen in their home towns!

– Alexa

What We Really Accomplished

Back in January, Alexa and I posted 10 Reasons Why We Need Argentina, a list of goals that we hoped we would accomplish during our time in Argentina. Well, now that we are all back safe and sound, we thought it would be a great idea to go back and see just how many we were able to accomplish (or which we completely failed at!) In italics is what we said in January, and underneath that will be our reflections for each one!

Abi’s

1. Improve Spanish skills
My main goal of this trip is to be fluent once I leave. Currently, I am sometimes too scared to begin a conversation in Spanish for fear of messing up. This is totally stupid and needs to change.

I’m definitely not fluent, but my Spanish skills (mostly listening and reading comprehension) have improved tremendously! When I made this goal, I didn’t take into account that I would be living with 15 other Americans and let’s just say that we were all a little lazy and didn’t speak too much Spanish in our residencia! However, taking all my classes in Spanish and just having to speak to locals in Spanish greatly helped my confidence, but my speaking skills aren’t as good as I expected them to be.

2. Try new foods
I am one of the pickiest eaters ever. This also needs to change. My goal is to try at least two new food items per week.

I’m proud to say that I did come out of my food shell a little bit and I think I accomplished this goal! (Elda’s fabulous cooking every night definitely didn’t hurt the cause either!)

3. Be more adventurous

As if moving across the globe isn’t enough, I want to branch out, try new and exciting activities, and meet as many people as possible!

I think Alexa had the biggest affect on me accomplishing this goal because she was the one who usually made me stop being lazy and convinced me to go out and try new things! Thanks, Alexa 🙂

4. Stay in touch with friends from the US
I am pretty bad at staying in touch with people, but I hope this blog will help out a little!

Thankfully with Facebook and Skype, I was able to keep my friends and family updated with my life and keep up-to-date with what was going on in their lives.

5. Stay in touch with new friends once I return home
See #4.

See #4

6. Enjoy life!
No waiting tables for 6 months? Yes, please!

I absolutely enjoyed life in Buenos Aires! I had the time of my life and I think this experience has definitely changed me and made me see the world a little differently (I know it sounds cliché, but its true!) When I came back to work earlier this month, one of my bosses and a few of my co-workers commented on the fact that I did seem slightly different, saying I seemed more confident and comfortable with myself.

One other accomplishment that I didn’t expect to happen: journaling daily. I didn’t think I was going to keep a journal of my time in Buenos Aires (this blog was supposed to be a substitute for that), but after 2 or 3 days there I decided to write down what happened every day. A lot of the people in our program started out journaling or blogging as well, but gave up a few months in. I’m proud to say that Alexa and I successfully journaled and blogged throughout our entire trip!

Alexa’s

1. Become fluent in Spanish
I want to practically forget how to speak English.

I accomplished both of those things at least part-way! I can definitely have a conversation in Spanish without too many problems unless my conversation partner starts getting fancy with their vocabulary. I’ve noticed since I’ve been home that when I try explaining things to people, I can always think of the words I want to use, but they’re not always in English. Let’s say my Spanglish has definitely been mastered.

2. Take the right risks
Being cautious isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes over-thinking a situation has held me back from a great opportunity. This will happen no more!

Since we lived with so many other students in one house, it was really easy to stay in because there was usually someone to talk to that would bum around with you. That being said, I think I explored all areas of the spectrum between being too cautious and being too risky. There were lazy days that I just couldn’t make myself leave the house, scary days when I would trust someone that I had just met when maybe I shouldn’t have, and then perfect days where I would try something new and have the best time possible. Although I was a little confused at times, I think that floundering around allowed me to set my own boundaries and find the things that I really like that were worth blindly trying for the first time.

3. Appreciate the small things

Rushing through life – it could be a North American trait or maybe the habit of a college student. Either way, I want to learn how to slow down and notice the more subtle beauties around me. What better place than in a country that appreciates each meal for almost two hours!

There were more than enough chances to take advantage of the slower pace of life while we were in Argentina! I’d like to think that I was a pretty calm person before I left, but I feel that I’ve chilled out even more since. Just in the past few days being home, I can feel all of the deadlines and lists of things to do creeping up on me that I hardly ever felt threatened by in BsAs. In the city, although it was almost always chaotic, I learned to take a break and just look around without thinking about my to do list. This goal was accomplished, but it’s going to be difficult carrying over what I learned once the hectic college life at Pitt starts again.

4. Find my place in the world
This should be taken both literally and figuratively. Yes, I expect to learn a lot about myself, but I also tend to have no idea where I am on a map. It’s my hope that I can make some improvements in regard to that issue.

By the end of our trip, I had mastered the use of the Guía T, the BsAs bus guidebook, and had navigated more than a few of my own excursions around the city. There’s my chance to brag. I also came back and immediately got lost while driving around near my hometown. What does that say? I’m not totally sure, but I’m still really proud about the conquering of the BsAs public transportation system. Besides literally figuring out where I was in the city, I learned a lot about myself on this trip. It’s possible that some of the typical Argentine high self-esteem rubbed off on me; it could have to do with being surrounded by very confident people for so long or with the fact that I managed to live in a foreign country without any problems for half a year. Either way, I’d say that I’ve changed for the better. I still don’t know where I belong in the world, but this trip showed me that I could definitely live and work in another country (sorry, parents).