I felt a surge of panic as I boarded the plane to Argentina. All of my doubts and insecurities about the next five weeks crept forward from the back of my mind and began to nag at me. Suddenly I began to remember how just two short summers ago I found myself in the bathroom, nauseated from homesickness, after only one week in a small town an hour away from home. How could I possibly survive five weeks on another continent, 4,700 miles away?
Well, this daunting challenge wound up being one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, and one that I would never exchange. Stanford OHS’s exchange program with the CELE not only drastically improved my Spanish, but also my sense of adventure, people skills, and knowledge about the world and traveling. Adventurous excursions, spending time with the natives, and having the opportunity to watch Argentina make it to the World Cup finals are priceless memories that cannot be replaced, and were the highlights of my time abroad.
Mendoza, Argentina, the city we stayed in, is adjacent to the vast and majestic Andes. Near the city the mountains take on a dusty, faded green hue, but near the outskirts of Mendoza, the peaks are dusted with fresh, powdery white snow. The majority of our excursions took place in the breathtaking setting of the Andes. We embarked on many hikes through the mountains (including hiking the base of Aconcagua–the highest peak in the Americas) and witnessed the diverse and plentiful landscape, filled with various types of plants (such as the jarilla.)
A few of the more adventurous activities included zip-lining, rafting, skiing and horseback-riding through the Andes. As the outdoor activities increased in difficulty, my weak skill level became more apparent. However, despite my meagre athletic ability, I gave every activity my best effort. To do otherwise might have left me with much remorse in years to come. Swooping through the air on a cable, gripping the side of a raft as it tumbled through a rippling river, and clumsily skiing down a bunny slope desperately trying to slow down are all outdoor activities that I would have never done on my own time. But now that I have, I have the courage to try my hand at them again, as well as more new adventures in the future.
Aside from the nature-based excursions, my favorite day trips included the visits to the city, the shops, an olive-oil plant, and a bike tour of world-renowned wineries and an artisanal chocolate shop. I loved walking around the city with the other students or my host family. Noticing the differences and similarities between the United States and Mendoza was fascinating and engaging. Perusing shops and trying on shoes are always favorite pastimes for me, along with noting different styles and clothes. My absolute favorite excursion was a bike tour to two wineries, a small, family-owned chocolate shop, and a traditional Argentine lunch at a delicious restaurant. Witnessing the winemaking process, partaking in an authentic Argentine lunch, and sampling various different flavors of dulce de leche made the day one I will keep in my memory bank for years to come.
The most rewarding aspect of my trip was spending time with the Argentines. Meeting new people while practicing my Spanish made my experience memorable. I cherished every moment spent with my host family, whether we went grocery shopping, baked cookies, or even just went to the pharmacy to buy cough drops. They treated me as if I were their own daughter and sister, including me in every occasion and making me a part of their daily lives. While staying with a host family, not only was I completely immersed in the culture, but I also met a family whom I will consider my “other” family for the rest of my life. Apart from my host family, meeting other host siblings and interacting with teenagers around my age was the highlight of my trip. Watching movies, going on walks, playing board games, and going out to dinner with other host siblings and their friends brightened every day. The people truly made my trip special by showing me kindness and generosity, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Before visiting Argentina, I had never really given much thought to soccer, but I was soon to witness the nation’s passion for the sport. Yes! I was there during the World Cup! The roads were bumper-to-bumper following each World Cup victory. Kids were let out of school early. Students crowded in the cafeteria of the Filosofía y Letras buildings as the World Cup soccer match was projected against the screen. The tension in Argentina was high as the entire country gathered around a television, gasping at every close play and cheering at every goal. I can remember the rush of adrenaline as I waved the Argentine flag out the car window, hearing people cheer on the streets as we drove by. I feel fortunate to have been in Argentina during the World Cup, and to have seen them play all the way to the semi-finals.
My experience in Argentina was life-changing. I will remember it for the rest of my life. The excursions, the people, and the World Cup made my stay unforgettable, and I hope to return sometime in the near future.