Up until recently I have been on a high throughout this entire experience, taking everything in and becoming infatuated with the culture I’m trying to assimilate to. But now, I’m starting to see more of the authenticity of what living and traveling in South America is like. I’ve learned that not everything works out the way I’ve planned.
We flew to Buenos Aires for a long weekend in late September. The San Francisco-Italian influenced city had me awestruck, with its various barrios each illustrating their own unique story, but I also found myself coping with stress for the first time since I’ve studied abroad.
We tried to get an Uber that never showed up, we were on foot for an average of nine miles every day, we had to walk back to our hostel in the pouring rain, and we almost couldn’t get back to the airport on the last day because we didn’t have enough cash on us. While all these small mishaps were never a part of my plan, neither was coming across an Argentinian couple painting a vibrant mural on their building and chatting with them for half an hour, or having a friendly police officer ask me about my stay in the city and wishing me safe travels while I waited for our Uber on the street outside of our hostel. But these moments are parts of my exchange that have impacted me the most.
Last week after aiding English classes at La Escuela Virgen del Carmen, some of the teachers and I went to eat. I made sure to leave early so I could catch my bus home, but after waiting at the stop for over thirty minutes I came to the conclusion that I was stranded in el centro. A little surge of panic that shot through my body. I was standing there alone, in the dark, in a foreign country, without the ability to send texts. Eventually I got an Uber, although I’m not keen on riding in a car alone with a man in a foreign country either. But this ride was different. When I got in the car the driver actually talked to me about my day, where I was from, and how I’m adapting to Chilean culture. It was one of the best conversations I have had with anyone since moving here two months ago, and I remember going home and feeling thankful that my bus never showed up.
I’m starting to realize that traveling is not always a vacation, and that I’m definitely not always relaxed. Traveling and living in a different culture, I think like anything else, takes practice and it takes work. Even though I’m a compulsive planner and seldom elect to leave things up to chance, some of the best moments I’ve had here have blindsided me. After the worry, there has always been beauty in the unexpected.