Torero Life Abroad chronicles the life of a University of San Diego student as they participate in the study abroad experience. This is Matt Hose’s final reflection of his real-life adventures traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina, through the USD-affiliated program CEA. After his study abroad time had ended, Matt chose to take a few weeks to travel throughout South America. Matt is an international relations major with a minor in Spanish, graduating in 2015.
As I sat in a South American passenger train puffing through valleys between the green thickness of the Andes Mountains, two couples spoke English to each other across from me. One couple spoke with an Australian accent, the other with an American one. The waiter came up to me, and after briefly looking at my face, he asked me in English what I would like to drink. It was the first time in four months that I felt I didn’t have to rack my brain for the right Spanish response to his question. This was also the moment when I realized that my true study abroad experience was over.
I was heading to Machu Picchu, Peru, over two miles above sea level and thousands of miles away from the place that I had begun to call my “home” in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Though my head was swimming with anticipation of the hike straight up the Inka Trail to get to the lost city of the Incas, my heart was still back in Buenos Aires with all the memories and friends I made over the semester.
Now, sitting comfortably from my living room in the United States and going through some of the photos of the past five months, I can honestly say that the best and most life-changing experience I have had was not traveling and seeing some of the most amazing sights and cities in South America. Rather, it was the day-to-day activities, misfortunes, and trivialities that now give me a homesickness for my Argentine family.
With an entire semester dedicated to learning about this one mega-metropolis of Buenos Aires, there wasn’t any rush to “do-this-and-this-and-this.” In other words, life could slow down a little bit. Some days during the winter (which occurs during our summer), sitting beside our gas-lit fireplace and playing cards felt better than exploring the city. It was these days that really solidified what I feel South America is all about. It’s about sitting with groups of friends drinking maté, the Argentine tea drunk out of a cup shaped like a goblet which is meant to be shared with a group of people. It’s about realizing it’s okay to sometimes be a couple of minutes late for a meeting because your house mom wants to tell you the ingredients in tonight’s dinner. It’s about slowing life down and learning to appreciate the people that you live with and around. For me, this was the experience of “living” during study abroad.
“Living” was the day-to-day experiences that I didn’t think much of at the time. In hindsight, they have stuck with me more than anything else. Living was going to my classes every day, slowly having the Spanish-spoken lessons change my perspective of the world. Living was making a weekly trip to the laundromat and playing a game of charades with the deaf woman who worked there to try to understand what she was going to do to my clothes. Living was the cashier at the supermarket a stone’s throw away from our house, a woman who remembered me every time I came in and would sometimes give me discounts. Living was the cartoonish old white-bearded man smoking a corncob pipe and walking his equally cartoonish old white-bearded dog down our street, all the while looking at the clouds and (I can only assume) figuring out the meaning of life. Living was my house mom chain-smoking cigarettes in the kitchen, cooking dinner and waiting for one of her 15 foreign hijos (children) to come home and tell her how his or her day was.
Living was also day-to-day frustrations. It was avoiding dog poop planted on the sidewalks like land mines. Living was the waitresses at the cafe on the corner who couldn’t be bothered with giving timely service to these annoying English-speaking yankis (pronounced john-kees, a sometimes-affectionate, sometimes-derogatory epitaph roughly translating to “yankees” that was directed at us by locals). Living was wanting to give up when, even after my fourth or fifth time trying to express myself, a cashier still didn’t understand what I was saying. It was the arguing that inevitably occurs when you live with more than a dozen people your own age in tight quarters.
Then, after my classes were finished, came the other experience of study abroad: traveling. This involved squeezing as many different places that I could visit into a short period of time and absorbing information from each one at breakneck speed. While traveling, bringing a camera was a must at all times, as I thought I might miss something that I could never see again without it. Traveling is about planning, arranging for tours. It’s about seeing the parts of a city that someone else has decided it is good for you, as a tourist, to see. There is no time for breaks, no time for relaxation. The stimulation is constant, and at times it could be overwhelming.
But, traveling was also about expanding the horizon of my understanding of South America that I had narrowly gotten from the one city I lived in. It was about deciding that looking out the windows of long-distance trains and buses is more important than catching a few hours of sleep. It was suspending that skepticism about life that made us think it was okay in Buenos Aires to sit and watch English-spoken shows on Netflix for hours at a time. Traveling was about making new friends in every situation, whether it was a person sitting next to me on a nine-hour bus ride to Chile through the sunset-struck Andes, or the group staying at our hostel in Santiago with whom we went to a discotheque.
Traveling culminated in Machu Picchu, a place crawling with so many tourists from the United States that I sometimes had to remind myself I was thousands of miles away from home.
Being born and raised in New Orleans, a city that is crawling with tourism year-round, I tend to avoid tourist traps at all costs. But Machu Picchu was different. It is one of those places that I can really say there is a reason that so many tourists flock to it every year. Situated high in the Andes right in a layer of fog that perfectly burns off mid-day, it is a truly incredible sight to see. Many of the people there tended toward silence as they contemplated the sheer power of it all. It was by far the best part of my traveling experience.
However, I still could not say that it was what made my four months in South America life-changing. Buenos Aires still holds my heart and my soul in that regard, through all of its beauty, ugliness, friendliness and frustrations.
I did all of the touristy things to do in Buenos Aires, too. But those aren’t the things that I am taking back with me to the United States. I am taking back with me the idea that, not only did I travel to South America, but I also lived there. I survived; I lived in a place that beforehand was so foreign to me in so many different ways. I can now hold a conversation in Spanish with a local (and I do it with a semblance of a Argentine accent), and I came out with friends who don’t speak a word of English. I learned to navigate foreign bus systems, train systems and school systems. I had discussions about Argentine politics. I learned how to eat and party like an Argentine, waiting to go eat dinner until 10 p.m. some nights and waiting until 2 a.m. to go out.
The feeling that I can go blindly into a society completely outside of my comfort zone and then come out the other end with successful memories is more powerful to me than anything I have ever done. It is truly something that I will never forget.
— Matt Hose ‘15