“I once had an interview and the woman asked me, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ so I said ‘Celebrating the 5th year anniversary of you asking me this question!’. She was not amused” – Mitch Hedberg.
On Sunday I’ll be celebrating the one year anniversary of arriving in Argentina. I left Boston on August 20th and so the real date should have been on the 21st, but if you’ve been following along since the beginning you’ll remember that I got stranded in Washington D.C. after my connection was missed due to a lightning storm and United Airlines did nothing for the stranded passengers. It’s hard to believe that another year in South America has gone by, and with so much that has occurred in the last 12 months in Argentina, my head is simply swimming in memories, good and bad, trying to figure out how the time went by so quickly.
I arrived to this country tired from the overnight flight and not nearly as enthusiastic as I would have hoped. The missed connection threw things off, and coming in from the highway to La Boca, where I spent the first month, was a harsh introduction to Buenos Aires. Add on that it was cold winter with bare trees and hardly any heating. My first thoughts on Buenos Aires were, “This is it? I could have stayed in Ecuador for this.” Of course, as time went on, things changed a bit. I was able to get a job within two weeks, and because my friend Kristine came to visit a week after I arrived, we went traveling around before starting work in mid-September.
I’ve moved four times since arriving here, which is way too much for anyone’s well being. I’ve battled it out with bureaucracy as I struggled to get my citizenship papers cleared through, finally getting success on the 13th visit. I’ve been more than fortunate in my travels, and though I travel far less now than when I lived in Ecuador, I’ve seen a great portion of this country between two large trips. In Ecuador we had many long weekends and vacations and taking a bus a few hours was easy, but Argentina is so large and spread out that I hardly ever take weekend trips.
It definitely hasn’t been an easy experience here, and all I can say is that I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes and setbacks I’ve had. Upon arriving I started the search for a job, new apartment, studying for the GRE, applying to grad school, getting citizenship squared away, trying to make friends and also see the city I wanted to explore my entire life. In other words, too much at once. It seems like every time I made a good friend, their short stay ended and I had to move on looking for new friends again. This repeating cycle of short term friends is tiring and demoralizing, and though I’ve deleted more numbers from my cell phone than I care to count, I’d estimate it up to around a minimum of 20 numbers of people I called friends who left.
What would I recommend from my mistakes? I preferred to have an apartment ready to go to focus on the job directly on arrival. This was a bad call because first, I hadn’t seen the place except for photos, and it turned out to not be a good fit for me. Second, it held me back from those first days experiencing the city as new with other travelers who also would want to check things out. It also could have been a way to make friends right off the bat.
I thought that having a contract on an apartment would be wiser, saving money in the long run and guaranteeing stability, but all it did was complicate things and limit my mobility when times got tight. Foreigners here generally pay higher, but a reason for that is that we can avoid getting leases and co-signers, which is often very difficult even for Argentinians. Likewise, after previous issues living with roommates, I wanted my own place. That could work well with if you have an established group of friends, but living alone cuts you off. It doesn’t help you meet people, whereas roommates, even if you don’t get along too well, bring in new faces.
My initial expectation was to have some expat friends, and then I only wanted to meet Argentines once those friends started to leave. But breaking into those circles is incredibly difficult, as this is a society of confidence. I would often walk by groups of expats joking together and wonder, “Why can’t that be me?” Don’t shun the foreign community just because they’re foreign, and truth be told is they can relate to many of the things you are going through as well.
The list could go on but it’s not worth airing how many times I’ve done something unwise. If you look through the archives you can find examples anyway. I’ve still got another year or so left here, and I’m hoping to make the most of it, even though at some point I’ll have to start thinking ahead and how I’ll manage grad school, loans, scholarships, etc. Basically, the last thing I want to be doing while down here. Yet I’m in and here now, accepted for the most part, and trying to get in a few more steak dinners as opposed to homemade ham and cheese sandwiches. I’ve seen all of the tourist sites, but continue to find little nooks and crannies that I really enjoy. And as always, I’ll keep my readers posted on how things are going. So here’s to another year in South America.