I passed two little boys the other day, walking with their dad down the glacier pathways and discussing what would happen if the glacier was turned on its side and came crashing down into the lake like a tower of blocks. They were going at it passionately, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen as I listened to the crashes of the calving glacier. Seeing the boys trotting alongside their dad reminded me of my own family vacations as a child, bickering with my siblings and tagging along behind my parents. So much of studying abroad has made me both nostalgic for childhood and simultaneously grateful for where I am. There are certain things about being in a different country and speaking a different language that have made me feel like a kid again: Having to discover how everything works from scratch, feeling misunderstood constantly because I can’t quite communicate the way I want to, feeling overwhelmed by the mere idea of walking out of my apartment.
I’ve been traveling on my own for the past few days, which is another experience that has brought me back to my childhood in odd ways. On my first night at the hostel, I felt like the shy kid on the first day of middle school, barely able to start a conversation and awkwardly out of place in this new environment. I was catapulted back to adolescence, not sure what to say or how to be. It seems obvious now, but I didn’t expect the awkwardness of navigating a wholly unfamiliar culture and language when I first came to Argentina. I also didn’t expect all of the ways that unfamiliarity would bring me back to my most basic and childlike self. After multiple days spent figuring out how to get my phone working, all I wanted to do was have a little treat and take a nap. I got grumpy when tired or hungry (honestly, this has kind of always been true). I had a hard time sitting through class. Basically, I was 21 and 12 and 2 years old all within the same day. Sometimes within the same hour. All of this has forced me to be a lot more intentional with how I treat myself and how I react when I feel particularly out of my element. At the same time, all of the unfamiliarity has also made me feel childlike in my wonder.
When everything feels new, even the little things become exciting: A new favorite snack find (the pimiento y queso Messi potato chips), discovering a new park just minutes from my apartment, riding the bus successfully for the first time. This rediscovered sense of wonder has carried me through the lower moments of study abroad but it’s also something I want to continue cultivating wherever I am.
Like right now, for example: I’m sitting in an airport on hour 12 out of what will end up being over 24 hours of travel, but when I got off my plane and went to pick up my luggage there was a dog who went wild with excitement the moment it saw its owner (so much so that its kennel was bouncing up and down), and in the last hour I’ve watched three family reunions and two tender goodbyes and now the airport worker standing in front of me is braiding his coworker’s hair as they stand about. I’m still a bit annoyed about my missed connections and nearly vomit-inducing flight but it’s balanced out some. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I passed those two little boys in their blue raincoats, deep in discussion about the imaginary glacier-tower and its eventual collapse, I remembered why I appreciate big questions and bigger feelings. For a moment, I snapped back into the wonderful silliness of childhood imagination and the simultaneous seriousness of it. I remembered that it was possible to hold both of those things together.
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I'm a junior sociology and anthropology major at Carleton College in Minnesota. I'm also a prospective Spanish minor and I'm both excited and nervous to dive into a semester of Spanish immersion in Argentina. Although I go to school in a small town, I love cities and am endlessly fascinated by their different cultures and dynamics, so I'm especially excited to be living in Buenos Aires this fall. At school, I play club frisbee and write for my college's news site, and in my free time, I love to lounge with a good book, cook meals with my housemates, and enjoy the outdoors.