Monday, May 1, 2017

Month 1: A Whirlwind of Ups & Downs

Well friends, it has been over a month since I took the long journey from Peoria, Illinois to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The past month and a half has consisted of many ups and downs. I have had a chance to visit some of the beautiful sites Argentina has to offer, from the wineries in Mendoza to the rivers of El Tigre. The classes I am assisting in have gone well thus far, and I feel as though I can bring my own knowledge to the content as well as gain new understanding from the coursework. On the other hand, I have faced extreme difficulties that, despite my previous experience living abroad (not to mention contracting the chickenpox my last two weeks in Spain), I was dearly unprepared to face.

The Ups

Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and El Tigre

Thus far I have had the opportunity to visit three cities - Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and El Tigre. Mendoza is the capital of the Mendoza province, which is only about 3 hours from my city. It is a beautiful city located near the Andes Mountains. I spent a weekend there with two other Fulbright ETAs. We had an amazing, relaxing weekend composed of a bike winery tour, a visit to natural hot springs, and a stroll through the city's large park. If you ever have the chance to visit Mendoza, I highly recommend doing a bike winery tour. For under $10 we each rented a bike for the day and toured wineries that are very generous in their wine portions and reasonably priced. We visited two wineries and an olive oil shop before ending our day at the bike rental shop's tapas bar. It was a nice weekend getaway after our first week in our host cities and dealing with the chaos of trying to get into the flow of our new lives.

I returned to Buenos Aires during the week of Easter to meet up with some Fulbright ETAs once again. We had a chance to visit many of the city's most popular sites that we were unable to visit during orientation week. Some of the highlights of our stay was going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo de Eva Peron, Punta de Mujer, and the San Telmo Street Market. There was much more we could have explored, however, Buenos Aires is a massive city with many great neighborhoods. Four days was nowhere near enough to explore it all! There was a street performance, open market, or event going on at every corner, making Buenos Aires an endless sea of opportunities.

While staying in Buenos Aires, we decided to take a day trip to El Tigre, a smaller city about an hour away by train. The city is located on a river delta, so we of course had to take a boat tour. After that we went to a local amusement park and experienced the thrill of riding rides that probably weren't at the safety standards we are used too...it was a fun-filled day that also included a stroll through El Tigre's Chinatown and a nearly endless street market on the port.

The Downs

The Apartment Dilemna

I regret all the times I complained when living with a host family on my past study abroad experiences! Little things that annoyed me like my host mom in Spain not having my clothes washed for a weekend trip to Paris seem trivial to me now. Why? Because finding a place to live abroad is one of the inconvenient obstacles I have ever faced. Typically when you study abroad with a university program you get placed in native family's home, which can really help the process of accommodating to the the country and culture. However, as a Fulbright ETA, I had to find my own housing. This wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't for the fact that the housing also needed to be furnished (unless I wanted to buy furniture and then leave it here at the end of my grant). The city I'm living in, San Luis, isn't as accustomed to having international travels living abroad temporarily such as cities like Buenos Aires or Mendoza. Therefore, using resources like Airbnb or HomeAway to find a furnished apartment to rent temporarily didn't work for me. After moving four times in the past 6 weeks, I finally moved into an apartment that is spacious, safe, and completely equipped to fit all my needs this past weekend. Thankfully, my two mentors in San Luis have helped me through this strenuous process and provided me with endless assistance in moving and contacting apartment owners. I have officially unpacked ALL of my suitcases and can now begin the process of making this apartment my home away from home.

Tragedy Back Home

When going abroad it is inevitable that unexpected things will happen back home. However, nothing could prepare me for the two phone calls I received during Easter weekend in Buenos Aires. The first call was from my husband telling me that his grandpa was not expected to live much longer and the second was from my mom saying that my grandma had unexpectedly fallen severely ill. I thought that the best option for me would be to return home so that I could be with both my families during the difficult time. Thankfully, both the Fulbright Commission and Ministry of Education in Argentina gave me permission to fly back to the USA soon after contacting them. It was a very hard time for me knowing what I would face when I arrived back home and that I would have to eventually leave my family again and return to Argentina. I am grateful I was able to say my goodbyes to my grandpa and grandma and get the closure I would not have had if I had been thousands of miles away. When going abroad, people always tell you to expect the unexpected, however, there are some things that no one can ever prepare for.

Moving Ahead

Now that I am back in Argentina, I am trying to stay positive that this experience can only get better from here. I have two pending projects/classes with my institute to work on and I am trying to find more ways to get involved in the community. I have made contact with the San Luis Rotary Club and plan to go their meeting this week. Additionally, I have more trips to look forward to including a 5 day conference for Fulbright ETAs in Rio de Janerio and my family coming to visit me in Buenos Aires in July. My journey here has barely begun and I know it will all be well worth it in the end.

Saludos desde San Luis,

Katy

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