Before starting this whole study abroad thing, I heard from everyone and everywhere that I would change as a person and learn many things from living in a different country. I couldn’t help but constantly think of this throughout my time in Argentina, and I tried to keep a mental list of things that changed about me. Well, naturally, I forgot that list. So, here’s 20 things that I can think of off the top of my head. Also, I’m actually writing part of this this on a bus somewhere between the towns of El Chaltén and Bariloche in Argentina, but I doubt I’ll publish it until I’m back in the States. With this being said, I can imagine I’ll think of a lot more when I spend a little time outside of the life I’ve been living for the past fiveish months. Stay tuned for more!
- I hope you’re sitting because this first one might knock you off your feet. I like waffles more than pancakes now! I’m not entirely sure why it took 5,000+ miles of flying and a foreign country to spark this revelation, but it happened in a café called Oui Oui in Buenos Aires. There was absolutely nothing spectacular about Oui Oui waffles, something just switched inside me. I also like tea now. I wrote about the drink they have down here called mate. It’s more or less tea, very bitter but the first time I drank it, I did so with an open mind and actually liked it. So when I was offered tea I liked that more than I thought I would as well. Before Argentina, I was never a tea or coffee guy. I liked green tea with citrus, but I feel as though that’s like someone saying they like coffee when they will only drink it with milk, sugar, a candy bar mixed in, a swirl of caramel, and topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate; is it really coffee at that point? Speaking of coffee, I came to drink that as well. It was common to drink coffee after meals here, so, again, to put myself in the culture, I drank coffee with them. I also had it for breakfast many times. It took me a long time to realize I like it best just straight black and the most bitter as possible. However, I didn’t get hooked on it in any way, I definitely won’t start my mornings with a cup of joe when I return. Given the choice, I’d probably choose tea over coffee anyways. One more thing, green apples are now better than red ones.
2. I enjoy international music, despite the language differences. I used to not enjoy music in other languages, because I can’t understand it, so I’m missing a huge part of the song’s purpose. But after spending enough time in a country that speaks a different language, I began to not mind not understanding the spoken world around me. Reggaeton and Cumbia are very prevalent in the music here (Latin America) so with just a little amount of time I came to enjoy it, most of the music anyways. There’s also just more international music played here than in the States. I feel this is common in just about any country besides the States, considering how large we are and how few surrounding countries we have. It’s unfortunate for us, but it’s understandable. Anyways, play a song for me in a different language and I’m much more likely to enjoy it now than before I flew across the equator.
3. My haircut. I think I can count the number of people who have cut my hair in my life on just one hand. This means I sit in the chair, they know exactly how to cut it, and in 15 minutes or less I’m walking out the door looking the exact same as a month before. So, when it came time to get it cut down here, I had absolutely no clue how to describe how to cut my own hair or what I wanted. I showed the person a picture of me taken just a few days after a previous cut, but I can’t imagine that shows a whole lot. Well, they got to clipping (and buzzing, a lot…) and I walked out with the shortest hair I think I’ve ever had. It felt weird for the first week, but I got over the different look and really didn’t care after. I figured that after a few weeks it will all grow back to normal regardless!
4. I have a beard? Per my last blog, after classes ended I traveled south to Patagonia. I figured there was really no point to shaving, so I didn’t. And as a result, I have the longest facial hair I’ve had in my whole life. Let’s be honest though, it’s not a beard, it’s overgrown scruff that hasn’t been shaved in three weeks. Like traveling solo, I’m still not a huge fan of it, maybe because I’ve never grown it out this long before, but either way it probably won’t last long after I get back home. Maybe if I trimmed it and made it look like I put at least a little bit of care into it I would like it more? Who knows…
5. My diet. Everything about it was different, from what I ate, when I ate it, how much of it I ate; it was outrageous! The amount I ate at each meal was different from my normal routine; breakfast here is tiny, and dinner is HUGE! The times I ate food was out of whack; breakfast being normal, lunch usually taking place after three and dinner never before 10pm. That will be a fun adjustment to make when I get back! I ate significantly more meat and almost no dairy. Fruits were eaten as desert and vegetables, well… RIP vegetables. Having a salad meant eating lettuce doing the breaststroke in a pool of oil and balsamic with a shower of salt. Despite the loads of meat, mountains of bread and cheese, and piles of sugar I consumed down here, I didn’t gain a single kilo, as well, I didn’t lose a single pound. This is where I stop and give thanks for my familial genetics and having the metabolism of a 22-year-old long-distance runner. For five months, I’ve been wondering how this entire country isn’t overweight with a high blood pressure epidemic. Everything I’ve known about eating a healthy diet went flying out the window faster than a Mendocino who’s about to miss kickoff of a fútbol match. It’s true that people here walk nearly everywhere; I probably spent 2-4 hours every day just walking to or fro. But is that all it takes? Maybe the food is more fresh and free from added junk and that makes a difference? It’s a mystery that will bewilder me for years to come.
6. I think I speak slower now. In English. I always thought I spoke a little fast, in the last few years I’ve noticed more often people not understanding things I say despite me knowing that I spoke each word correctly. Then again, maybe I constantly slur all my words and I just don’t notice myself? I assume someone would tell me and I have yet to get that excuse. Though, if I do will someone please tell me?! Anyways, after spending almost five months in language limbo it’s actually made it more difficult for me to speak English quickly. Partly because I get stuck in Spanish mode and have to force myself to speak English words. And also, because whenever I want to speak Spanish, I am forced to speak slowly in order for my mind to keep up. Otherwise I would say things like lidbhsha, djdufikkos sjeppsotes, and huwkksilo. So, I think I just got used to thinking more before speaking (not a bad thing). A friend’s dad flew down here to meet him at the end of the semester. I met them and I’m positive his dad thought I was drunk or on drugs. Moments before I was talking to someone in Spanish and then when I went to meet him my mind knew to use English but my mouth and tongue were still moving to the groove of Spanish. What came out was enough to elicit a question regarding how many drinks I had had that day! Oh, the entertainment value of learning a new language!
7. I made sense of the metric system. The only time I’ve used metric measurements was in high school science courses, as well as random math questions where the unit of measurement was completely arbitrary. As a result, coming here if you asked me to drive 40kph for 3km in 20° weather in order to buy 500 grams of chocolate and fill the gas tank with 10L of fuel I would have had absolutely no clue what you were talking about, as if speaking a different language! Kilometers was easy to get used to because city blocks were designed in a 100m grid. The temperature was also simple because I changed the setting on my weather app to show Celsius and just learned what the temperature felt like. I already know I’m not going to enjoy the transition from 40° here to 0° back in Omaha. I still don’t have a great concept for weight, but buying fruits and vegetables did help a little. Liters was pretty easy because I hike with a 1L water bottle and I’ve seen 1L and 2L soda bottles all my life (though it was common here to have 2.25L bottles).
8. I can recognize foreign languages better. I met a decent amount of people from Germany and France here, so I got used to hearing those languages, though, to be fair, they are pretty distinct languages no matter the circumstances. As well as the Spanish accent (someone from Spain that is). And, I can pick out someone speaking English without hearing the words. Each language and each accent as a sort of rhythm to it, and I became pretty good at picking out the sound of English against Spanish and French in crowded areas despite many people talking. One of those pointless skills only I will be proud of 😊
9. I want to learn more. Specifically, languages and the guitar. Not knowing a second or third or even a fourth language is entirely a phenomenon in the U.S. It’s another one of those unfortunate but understandable things. The United States is a massive country, with some states being larger than many countries of the world (fun fact: the state of California alone has the sixth largest GDP in the world!). On top of that, we are only bordered by two other countries. Basically, it’s super easy for us to not speak other languages because we simply don’t have the need. Half of the population has never left the country because we have such a large and diverse country that there’s always someplace new to go that’s cheaper than going abroad. So, me spending time in a place where it was totally normal to know a combination of Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, French or Italian inspired me. French sounds like so much fun to speak. Portuguese would allow me to explore Brazil, and German would unlock at least a few European countries. Obviously, I want to keep learning Spanish so I’m not sure how I’m going to accomplish these desires. Oh, yeah, the guitar! There were countless times where we were in a group here and someone was just playing a guitar and people were talking. Anyone who knew how would take their turn playing a few songs and pass it off again. I realized that the guitar is one of those universal instruments that can probably be found anywhere in the world (maybe the piano is more prevalent, but good luck traveling with that). So now, I want to learn how because I think it would be just another awesome way to meet people traveling the world!
10. Knowing which knob to turn and which bathroom is appropriate for myself. What??? Explanation: in an English-speaking country, if I need to use the restroom I walk through the door with a big letter “M” because that typically means “Men”. Doing that here would get me in trouble, because I’m an Hombre, not a Mujer! Every once in a while, a restaurant will try to be cute and use other words like damas/caballeros, chicos/chicas, and I recall even seeing just “O’s” and “A’s”, playing on the use of the letter “o” for many masculine words and “a” for most feminine words of the language. It came down to just hoping there was a little figure with a straight body and avoiding the door with the triangular-bodied figure. Also, turning the “C” knob when I desire cold water here means a steamy stream of agua because it’s not cold, it’s Caliente (or calor, I guess I never thought about that…). To make it more confusing, hostels sometimes try to cater to English speakers and will put the Caliente knob on the right, where cold typically comes out. Basically, I don’t trust knobs anymore!
11. I’m a wine snob. Okay, I wouldn’t go as far to call myself a snob. I’m more than willing to drink a 50-peso bottle of wine, but I definitely know way more than any 22-year-old from Nebraska should know about wine and how it’s made. I spent four months in one of the world’s wine capitals, so you can be sure I took tours of wineries and tasted many varieties. As I said, I’ll drink cheap wine, and actually prefer it because it costs less (a property of being “cheap” wine), but I think if anything changed, I now have a greater appreciation for better wines and can tell a difference between the 30-peso boxed stuff and the 350-peso bottle with a cork instead of screw-top. Wine was drank at nearly every meal, so to me it is almost a part of a meal, not a separate drink. And when I think of wine, I think of Malbec. That’s the variety that Mendoza is most known for, so naturally there’s a lot of it here and it’s the ‘staple’ variety. I remember a few times tasting other varieties and thinking, “Wow, this tastes different! What is it? It can’t be Malbec!”
12. I’m a beer snob. I’m more serious about the snob term this time. I’ve never liked beer all that much, I just feel gross drinking it for some reason. I spent four months in a wine capital, and I also spent ten days in Bariloche, a city with “cervesaria artisinal” printed on every other bar sign. This means they sell their own craft brews. I’m all for trying new things, so try we did. I learned that I actually do like beer, it just has to be special and have flavor. Does that sound snobby enough? And of all that we tried, I typically liked IPAs the most (that’s right Dad, you know what they say about apples falling from the tree!) If you ever find yourself in the Bariloche area I recommend stopping by a place called Lowther as well as Manush; good selection and unique tastes. So, if someone offers me a beer when I get back, I’ll probably still reject it, unless it’s special! 😉
13. I don’t need much to enjoy life. I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat of a minimalist. But I learned how little I actually need both in Mendoza and traveling the past few weeks. In Mendoza, I only had what I could fit in my hiking backpack. At first there were a few things I wish I would have had, like a second pair of jeans. But I had no options, so I just got used to it. After just a short time I didn’t think about not having things anymore. What I had was totally sufficient. Recently, traveling has shown how even fewer things I need to live. I lived out of my school backpack for ten days in November. The past few weeks, I’ve lived with three t-shirts and one pair of shoes. Not having my laptop is annoying when it comes to these blog posts and pictures, but my phone is getting it done, nonetheless. I’m not saying that I’m going to throw all my clothes away when I get home (I already own them so that would just be silly). But I now know that if I move or when I travel, I’m totally fine with the minimum. The most fun in my life was when I owned the fewest things.
14. I’ve discovered that people are a really good resource of information. Go ahead, make fun of me and my generation, but I’ve grown up with technology that is quite literally more intelligent than many human beings I’ve met in my life. This means that when I have a question, I first, and oftentimes only, ask the internet. What time does the grocery store close? Where is the park that we are meeting at? What is the best company to get a bus ride through? For all these and many other questions I could have more than 1.4 million answers in less than 0.00074 seconds from my best friend, Google. So why bother asking a human? I quickly learned that many companies and businesses just don’t have websites here in Mendoza and Argentina in general. Even the most basic information like opening and closing hours. The only reliable way to find out was to go there in person or ask a person who knows. Many places I went to were also somewhat or very touristy, so there were many reviews on websites like TripAdvisor. It didn’t take me long to discover these usually led to one of three results:
- Overpriced whatever because they know they’re highly rated and unknowing tourists are going to go.
- Extremely unsatisfying experience for the same reason as option 1.
- Missing the local goldmines because they aren’t discovered on TripAdvisor or Google yet.
The vast majority of people who write reviews are those who either had a spectacular experience or something that was absolutely horrible. Basically, you don’t get the average opinion that most people experience. How many times have you written a review for something you completely expected and received? TripAdvisor also gives the opinion of a foreigner who is not used to the culture (a U.S. McDonald’s employee could give better service than even the best restaurant server I experienced down here). By talking to actual people, I learned so much more about the places I was in and where to actually spend my time to have a better experience.
15. I’m shameless now. Not being able to communicate your ideas does a stupendous job of knocking any amount of shame out of someone. Example: In El Chaltén, where I was spending a few days hiking, it rained all day one day. Me and a few others went to a different hostel (hostel B) to play cards with a different friend who was properly staying there. We played for hours, so eventually we got hungry. Instead of walking back to our hostel, we just cooked food in hostel B, where we were playing cards. A kind woman even let us borrow her oil, salt and pepper not knowing we weren’t even staying there. She offered, we accepted. We even bought ice cream and asked if the employee would keep it in their freezer. The next day our friend who was actually staying in hostel B left for a different town. I remembered that we never ate the ice cream the night before. Do you think I left it in hostel B? Absolutely not! I walked over to hostel B, told the receptionist that we forgot about our ice cream last night. She seemed confused, a fair reaction to someone who wasn’t staying there, but went to the freezer and got it for me. I took it back to my own hostel and promptly shared it with a friend. Yum! I think before this trip I would have felt rude doing these things, but now I don’t feel any remorse. I wasn’t stealing that woman’s oil, I washed the dishes I used, and if they didn’t want us hanging out all day they easily could have told us to leave (maybe I did steal their water and gas to cook with…). Basically, I’ve adopted a new mindset that it never hurts to just ask, and if someone is offering something to me it means they don’t mind me using it. So, be careful what you offer me!
16. I’m more grateful for the little things. The two examples that I can think of right now are screwdrivers and wall outlets. The wall outlets here are a different configuration than the States, so I needed an adapter every time I wanted to charge my phone or laptop. Doesn’t sound like a big problem but it’s a little thing that I will forever think about back in the U.S. when I plug something directly into the wall. I also miss having basic tools to fix basic things. The converter I bought for the wall outlets had three ports, but the middle one didn’t work from the very start. I guarantee it’s just one tiny disconnected wire, but I lacked the tools to open it up and see. Again, not a huge deal but something I will be thankful for when I come back.
17. Communication is easy. This kind of goes along with being shameless, but talking to people and asking questions in English is really easy now. For some time, it was difficult to convey even the smallest idea of mine, then conversing with people was difficult. Basically, it was and still is difficult to convey my ideas to people down here due to the language barrier. So, when I speak English to people and can convert almost any feeling or thought into words, well it just makes talking to people that much easier now. When I first thought about this, I wondered how anyone, including myself, ever miscommunicated things when speaking the same language. Obviously, people can gather meaning differently as well as apply different meanings to words. I struggled to do this in the most literal form my entire time down here. So, if I’m speaking English it’s easier for me now to understand why someone might misunderstand me, and I can make changes because of that. Talking is easy!
18. I learned to dance in the rain because rainy days are for dancing! Literally, and more generally, even if plans don’t go as planned, fun can still be had — sometimes more than what was originally intended. To improperly quote/paraphrase the words of a friend: “Making the most of a rainy day isn’t about being prepared with an umbrella; it’s about embracing the chance to dance in the rain.” I’ve preached over and over how I’ve spent my entire time down here planning one day at a time and making lots of plans. Inevitably, some of these plans didn’t work out as we first wished. We could have made a plan B, but considering our plan A was, at best, loosely made up the day before, it was easier to just roll with the punches. I got really good at making up stuff to do on the spot with what we had available. Sometimes we did things that turned out to be more fun than our once amazing original plan.
19. I’ve slowed down time, my time that is. I’ve worn a watch every day for many years, so I’ve always been in tune with time. In the states, I always have somewhere to be at a certain time, but here it was more like having places to be within a certain amount of time. I think I made it to class on time a total of three times this whole semester, except I was only late once. How does this equation work? Well, my classes started at 2pm each day, but we would usually wait at least 20 minutes for someone to unlock the classroom and bring in a projector. I can only remember one time where I got to class and everything was ready to go except for me. So, even though I was 10-25 minutes late to each class, I was perfectly on time. That also sums up just about everything here when it comes to the timetable of life. I already know I’ll be late to things when I return to the States. Unless it’s gravely important, I’ll probably be late. And if it is that important, I’ll be right on time.
20. I value human relationships more than I used to. Wow, that makes prior-me sound terrible! I’ve already said I would talk more about the culture here and the concept of people being the focus of society, but I’m going to put it off again for a different post when I have a real keyboard to type on. I’ve come to love talking to people and getting to know them. Another quote from the same rain dancing friend: “Everyone you meet knows something you do not.” Quick example, some languages have a disconnect between their written and spoken forms. Written Spanish is very similar to it being spoken, where words are written how they phonetically sound. English is a little more separated, like all the times we use the silent ‘k’ or how vowels change sound when used with certain other letter combinations and sounds. I was made aware of this by a girl from Germany that sat next to me on a bus. We were bored, so I told her to teach me German; that’s what I learned (German is worse than English, according to her, by the way)!
21. No proper list is complete without a bonus item, so here’s mine: I learned to speak Spanish. Obviously, right?! I wouldn’t say I’m conversational yet, but I’m definitely confident that if you dropped me into the middle of a Spanish-speaking country, I’d chose the scenic route home. I think what is holding me back the most, now, is grammar and sentence structure. I can, more or less (less), think of the vocabulary when I need to, but now I need to learn how to put the words together in a better fashion. I plan on reading books in Spanish when I get back, so that should help improve that situation.
22. Bonus #2: I’m a Frogger master. It took me a few weeks to get the hang of it, but I can dodge traffic with my eyes closed now. Drivers here expect pedestrians to wait for them making it really easy to judge their speed and when you can cross a street. At first, it was madness to me. But just a few weeks in, I was tackling one of the busiest streets in the city without the help of
lights. Yes, crosswalks do exist. No, I wasn’t going to wait until could easily cross. Or I wasn’t going to walk the extra 500 meters to the underpass when I can just run across the highway. All right, I should probably stop scaring my mother. But seriously, it was so much easier to cross streets here than in Omaha where I don’t know if the driver is going to stop for me or keep cruising by at Mach 3!