By Maddie Blasberg
Ever since my feet hit the uneven tiled sidewalks of Argentina, my goal has been to blend. I try not to speak English, try not to whip out my map in the middle of crowded plazas, I don’t wear a camera around my neck or a fanny pack around my waist. Therefore, unless I start speaking Spanish I think most of the time I can fly below the tourist radar. Safe to say that a fairly conspicuous blip showed up on the radar when my travels merged with 37 other Americans and a giant tour bus. Blending was no longer an option.
A week ago, I met up with the IFSA Butler group in Buenos Aires. In our army of 38 students, we represent states from Washington to Texas to North Carolina, all levels of Spanish fluency, hardcore back-packer-granola-eating-mountain-climbers to fiji-water-only-five-star-hotelers, and a smidge of everything in between. We spent two days together in the capital, where we ate decadent meals, stayed in a swanky hotel and rode around on cushiony bus seats. Then we jumped on a tiny plane to Mendoza, and the comfy tourist bubble we’d been living in suddenly burst. Enter the herd of host families.
Needless to say it’s a little terrifying to stand with your luggage in the middle of the airport, watching a sea of people you don’t know eager to take you away from your friends, to a neighborhood you cant locate, with a street name you cant pronounce, to live for several months with people you’ve never met. Sound sketchy? It really isn’t; it’s just a little bit of a jolt.
Each family stood with a name card of the student they had been paired with, waving it and smiling. My sister Ximena (he-may-na) found me instantly. Then she took me home to meet my mamá and my other sister Carolina. We asked and answered the standard questions – how old, what hobbies, brothers and sisters etc. – and adjusted to the idea of being a family of 3 + 1.
And now I am celebrating my one-week anniversary of meeting my new family and moving to Mendoza. It has been a week of highs, lows.
Being able to understand 85% of the Spanish I hear? High.
Not being able to piece together a response in under 2 minutes? Low.
Living with 3 women who love to cook, love to talk, and love to go into the city? High.
Not having internet connection to keep in contact with people at home? Low.
Having an adorable pet cat cuddle up with me to watch the Oscars in Spanish? High.
Having to wrestle away a mostly dead bird from cat’s clenched teeth in the middle of the night? Low.
I think you understand. And the thing I am beginning to understand is that “Good days” and “Bad days” don’t really apply to this trip. Everything is moment to moment. One moment I’m weaving through the streets of Mendoza to buy flowers, the next moment I realize I have stepped far off my limited mental map and am now utterly lost. Some days the language comes easily and I speak fluently and the next moment my conjugations crash and burn in a spectacular mess of spanglish nonsense. And while I can’t truthfully say that everyday it gets easier, I can say that everyday brings something new. I’m up and down, minute-to-minute and moment-to-moment, but I’m not complaining. Too much stability and a person can forget what it feels like to be alive.