Lessons of Abroad.


I’m HOME!! I meant to write this post a while ago, but time just seems to be going a little too fast (as it seems to have gone for the entire past few months!).

After 26 ½ hours of traveling, 3 different flights, and a lot of time staring at my luggage (or my life for the past four months…), I finally landed in Minnesota bright and early Sunday morning.

It’s such a bittersweet feeling being home. A relief in many ways, yet also hard to believe I said goodbye to so many wonderful places, experiences and most importantly people I met in Argentina. While many things seem to be just as I left them four months ago here at home, there are many things I can already tell I see in a different light or just from a slightly different perspective. There are also many things I never realized how much they meant to me before I spent four months abroad (It still seems weird to think that I actually lived in a different country for four months, even in retrospect!!!!)

So herein lies, MY BIGGEST TAKE-AWAYS AND LESSONS FROM ABROAD.

  1. People are more similar than we realize. This was a comfort for me while I was there. I remember looking at my host family and friends there thinking that they reminded me so much of people I knew from home. It makes the world seem so much smaller and friendlier when you see that most people are just trying to live as best as they can, happily, and with people they want to be surrounded by.
My wonderful host mom and some family friends.

My wonderful host mom and some family friends.

  1. Doing “it all” is never possible. There will always be something that you can’t squeeze in and can’t see, especially when it comes to studying abroad. Although I crossed a ton of things off my bucket list, it seemed to only get longer the more time I spent there while I learned of other things. While I can definitely say I had several thoughts of me wishing to do things I knew were out of my reach (whether due to time, money, or some other circumstance) I finally hit a point where I realized it’s a waste of my time to focus on what I might be missing when right there in front of me is my worrying taking me away from the experiences I am fortunate enough to have. With that being said, it’s also okay to do nothing sometimes. We live in a world that expects us to constantly be “on the go” and have been almost trained to feel guilty when we spend our time doing nothing. (I know I am guilty of this…) But yet, I don’t understand why. There is nothing as powerful and mentally healing as just taking a break.
Hiking in San Rafael.

Hiking in San Rafael.

  1. Patience is Virtue. I have heard this a million times and I always thought I had patience. That was until I spent the past few months waiting for everything in Argentina (literally…. lines and waiting everywhere!!!) I can surely say before I didn’t know the definition of patience. To be quite honest, waiting is not that bad. Waiting an extra 10 minutes in line at the grocery store won’t kill us. Having to wait for the bus that seems to never come won’t cause the end of the world. While it may not always be convenient, becoming upset and impatient gets us nowhere but unhappy and irritated. Yet, it still won’t make it go any faster. This is one skill I really hope I can continue to keep strong as I am back and may be one of the biggest changes in my day-to-day life. Studying abroad and Argentina taught me that everything might not always go as planned and that’s okay. Somehow, it will still have a way of working out how it should in the end. This I was shown time and time again.
Mount Aconcagua...truly breathtaking.

Mount Aconcagua…truly breathtaking.

  1. City Life is Way Different than Rural Minnesota. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there were some things that I anticipated yet were more drastic than I ever imagined. It’s a change getting used to having to depend on buses for transportation instead of having the luxury and ability to drive whenever and wherever. I had to learn to be cautious when I walked alone, something I admit I took for granted before. While I have not been completely oblivious before of my safety and have spent much time in larger cities, I have spent almost next to no time alone in large cities without the comfort of driving to my exact location. It’s unfortunate that in our world we have to be so careful about our own safety but the hard truth is unfortunately we do and we can only hope and pray that we can continue to each stay safe as well as our loved ones. Argentina has a very strong machismo culture and catcalling on the street is very, very common. This I will not miss one bit!! It’s not a flattering compliment like these men see it as, but to me and many other women I have talked to it’s threatening. While most were not too bad and fortunately were never more than a few looks and words, it still is frustrating to be objectified in such a way. Okay… I am realizing how negative this “takeaway” is getting and there definitely are not all negatives to living in a city!!! I also realized how much I love the convenience factor of living in a bigger city. Being close to so many parks, activities, and restaurant options had some great perks!
Being close to artisans and farmers markets = a huge plus (and perk in my opinion) of city living!!

Being close to artisans and farmers markets = a huge plus (and perk in my opinion) of city living!!

  1. Asking for help is OK. I like to think I can do everything by myself and have to admit I never liked to ask for help because I didn’t want to be seen as a burden. Being placed in several situations where asking for help was my only option (many more times than usual) I began to realize that people who you want in your life will want to help you. If they don’t, they aren’t worth having around.
Enjoying one of many vineyards around Mendoza.

Enjoying one of many vineyards around Mendoza.

  1. I’m more capable than I sometimes give myself credit for. It’s definitely easy to sell yourself short, think something is beyond reach, or assume you aren’t good enough. In reality, it’s such a waste of our time! We spend so much of our time preparing for failure when we should be prepping for achieving what we want to achieve. If you would have told me two years ago, that I would have been doing some of the things I did in Argentina (and some of them even by myself) there is a very likely chance I would have doubted you. Yet, I am happy to say not only did I survive by living essentially on my own in a foreign country for four months, I thrived and had some of the best and most liberating experiences of my life.
Amanda and I enjoying a hostel dinner creation!

Amanda and I enjoying a hostel dinner creation!

  1. Having a way to process and flush out your thoughts is a lifesaver. Nothing tests your limits and mental/emotional capabilities more than leaving for a country for four months where they speak a different language, have a completely different way of living, and without knowing anyone you will be spending the next few months with. There were plenty of challenges, difficulties, and moments where I felt a little overwhelmed to say the least. I knew I needed to find a way to keep myself sane. The first night (I think it may have been even before I left during my pre-trip jitters) I started to write. For the past semester, I wrote down feelings, funny memories, normal daily moments, and everything in between. It helped immensely. On the days I felt overwhelmed and even the days I was brimming with happiness from head to toe journaling became my outlet and eventually my routine (as I wrote almost every single day I was there.) I am also glad I will have something to look back on when I need a memory-trigger and am nostalgic for “that one time I spent a semester in Argentina”.
Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls.

  1. I am so fortunate. Not only am I lucky to have been able to spend four months living in a different country, but also just fortunate for everything I have in my life. While Argentina is still not a third world country (I would say second world personally, but some may argue it could be considered differently) I was exposed to more lower-class living conditions than I have ever seen living in the United States. Yet these people still seem relatively happy. It makes me think twice about being a bit disappointed when I can’t have those new clothes or brand new phone…. It’s so easy to take for granted living in a home with enough food to eat. While to us it seems so basic, so many people in the world would do anything to have what we consider to be almost a guarantee. Also, of course I am fortunate and extremely lucky to have a family who has supported me financially and emotionally (without them this would have been impossible in so many ways). I am also lucky to have been blessed with a fabulous host family and friends I met in Argentina to pass the time with. So many people throughout this experience and beyond have been a blessing in my life and I truly don’t know what I would do without them.
My lovely fellow exchange student friends at our goodbye dinner. They were truly a blessing to have around the past few months.

My lovely fellow exchange student friends at our goodbye dinner. They were truly a blessing to have around the past few months.

11200905_10205923093669379_7863919712619493613_n

  1. And most importantly, MEMORIES and PEOPLE are PRICELESS. The more time I spent there, the more I truly realized how important people are and the memories you share and create. When you don’t have the option to drive an hour to see a family member or friend when you are missing them, it puts into perspective how much they truly mean to you. One thing I loved about Argentina was their collective culture. Family and friends meant everything! Their lives revolved around each other. In my host family’s house, I don’t think there was a span of more than two days that went by without a friend or extended family member stopping by our house for an overnight visit or a meal. Many Argentines would share any amount of food, item, advice or their time with you if you were ever in need. Something I don’t think is as common to see here, as so many people seem to be caught up in their own lives and interests to worry about others. Before I spend too much time rambling on, I guess what my main takeaway is that it is so pointless to focus on the materialistic things in life when great company is never too hard to find especially when you take the time and effort to be genuinely interested in others who are right there with you.
    One of my last views of the mountains on my last walk through the park.

    One of my last views of the mountains on my last walk through the park.

    I can assuredly say, my time in Argentina will be cherished forever. The memories, laughs, struggles, and experiences all left me with things I don’t know I could have gotten anywhere else. While it feels great to be home, I will always have a piece of my heart in Argentina.

Emotions.

To say that study abroad is an emotional roller coaster is an understatement. Before I arrived in Mendoza, several people had told me when you study abroad you have some of your highest highs and lowest lows. After spending a semester here, I could not agree more! As my time draws to an end, it seems that my emotions are even more apparent as I reflect on my the past few months, finish my finals, enjoy my last memories here, and think about my return to the states.

I have been feeling very APPRECIATIVE lately. It’s crazy how many people I have had to lean on. I would not have been able to do this without many of them. I am fortunate to have always known I have had the support of so many back home, but what I have come to realize in the past few weeks is how much support I have had here also. There are so many people here helping me it amazes me I didn’t know any of them existed a year ago! I couldn’t have survived without the other US students (which I don’t think I could have survived without their company!).  I also was extremely blessed with my wonderful argentine family. It cannot be easy letting a complete stranger live in your house for ½ a year, but they treated the situation with ease and made me feel like a member of their family. Even during the moments that when our language barrier and my lack of understanding was apparent, everything always worked out fine. My host mom left on a vacation last weekend and won’t be returning home until after I leave. It felt surreal to be saying goodbye and at times I don’t think it has really sunk in that I won’t see her before I leave. Before she left, I gave the family a thank-you gift and they gave me a gorgeous ring from her jewelry store. That was the first time the thought of leaving had really sunk in and I have to admit I was holding back a few tears.

My time here has been absolutely wonderful, but it hasn’t always been a breeze especially these past few weeks. There have been a several moments of extreme FRUSTRATION!!!! A few weeks ago, I was the sickest I have been since I have gotten here. (As in, the only thing I wanted to do and could do for one day was stay in bed😦 ) Luckily it came and went within a few days, but there was nothing fun about it. Being sick is always miserable and there’s nothing you want more than your own house and own bed. Although this place has definitely come to be my home, I was longing for and wishing I was at home in between trying extremely hard to beat my sickness without having to go to the doctor! (Although health services are free and apparently not too bad, I had no desire to test them out if I didn’t desperately need to.) Thankfully with a few days of rest and care from my host family I recovered and am now 100% better! It was however very frustrating for me to be sick, unable to do anything, and unsure of how much of the rest of my time here I would feel like this. But as I said, it came and went quickly and I am glad to say didn’t slow me down for too long!

Another frustrating thing has been getting used to the format and style of exams and disorganization of the schools here. A lot of your final grade is based on your final test/exam/presentation of the class. It has been NERVEWRACKING to think that so much depends on one thing. Trying to finish up hasn’t been easy dealing with the disorganization of the school system either. I cannot begin to tell you how many times we have continued to ask for clarification for information and only to be told different, contrasting answers every time. The most difficult situation ended up being when the day we found out we were supposed to take our Tango final was apparently a day that class was canceled (why I couldn’t tell you…. but that’s not too uncommon here.) Of course we also couldn’t get in contact with the prof but after spending a lot more time then I would have preferred trying to sort it out we luckily got it taken care of.

With that being said, I am RELIEVED! The only thing I have left to do for my exams is take the second part of my tango final tomorrow (which consists of the actual dancing portion….). Then I am officially done with all things school related! Crazy to think its wrapping up, but I survived! I could never have survived without the help from professors and other students (seriously, the argentines were so willing to help if need be, it was wonderful and so kind!)

I also have ANXIOUS feelings increasingly on my mind as I near closer to home. Although I have been loving my experiences here, I have to admit I do miss home especially family and friends. There are some parts of home I cannot wait to have back in my life! Yet, it still feels surreal that I will be back in the states in a few short days. I’m not sure what it will be like to be back after having been away for such a long time. Living here is definitely very different and I don’t know if it will be easy to jump back to life at home or it will take some adjusting to… but none-the-less knowing that I will be on to other adventures shortly (even if they may not seem as exciting or big as here) leaves me feeling anxious and ready to see where I’m headed next.

I am also feeling a bit HEAVY-HEARTED along with everything else! We had opportunities to volunteer while studying here. Worried about adding a huge time commitment to my schedule, I opted to learn how to knit a blanket for a baby in need. I finished just in time to donate it today! (The last few rows were finished last night…yeah I cut it a little close…) We ended up taking the blankets to an orphanage. Although we didn’t get to physically give the blankets to the babies we were able to chat a little while with some of the people who run the orphanage and met a few of the younger kids who were there. I was so glad to have donated a blanket to help but my heart also broke meeting the kids. One girl, Belen, wanted a blanket so badly yet unfortunately they were too small for her as they were made for babies. In that moment if I could have I would have done anything to make it bigger for her to keep. Fortunately, our coordinator promised her when she brought the rest of the blankets, she would bring one big enough for her. She was very into hugs, interested in what we were doing, and loved to ask questions. I really wish we could have stayed longer and spend more time with her. Although the blanket wasn’t much, I am glad to have helped even if only in a tiny way and I may have developed a new side hobby of knitting!

I thought I should throw in at least one picture for this post.. So here's the blanket I knitted before we went to donate them imperfections and all!

I thought I should throw in at least one picture for this post.. So here’s the blanket I knitted before we went to donate them imperfections and all!

As we near the end, of course I am starting to get SENTIMENTAL. Goodbyes are always hard and it’s weird to be saying goodbye to people and places that I have known to call home for the past few months while not knowing if I will ever have the opportunity to return or not. (But I surely do hope so!!) We have our final program goodbye dinner tomorrow night that I am sure will be filled with fond memories. It also however is kinda scary as it makes going home even more real. It will definitely not be easy leaving this country I have known to love. As I have spent a lot of time over the past few days reflecting, I am so pleased to say I am leaving with many, many fond memories.

I Had Visitors!

It has been a busy and fun-filled past week or so to say the least. My mom and brother came to visit!! It was a wonderful experience to have them in Argentina to experience a little of what my life has been like the last few months and spend some time exploring a little of what this country has to offer. I also got to cross of a few more things on my study abroad bucket list I still hadn’t gotten to!

IMG_3718

Arrival

To say I was excited is probably an understatement. After not seeing anyone from home in three+ months, I was looking forward to seeing them. I was fortunate enough to have my host mom accompany me to the airport and help me pick them up. Of course she was snapping away pictures of our reunion and I am glad to have had her capture it as well.🙂 After they arrived, we ended up making a quick stop at my host family’s house before heading to the hotel to meet some of the family. They definitely showed them the traditional Argentine hospitality by the cheek kisses and placing tons of food in front of them when Jonathan said he was hungry after being stuck on airplanes the previous 24 hours. I think he got more than he bargained for, but got his food nonetheless! It was also great to show them my home for the past few months yet very odd to have them sitting around the table where I have eaten so many meals and meeting my host family. Yet I couldn’t stop grinning as they met and both sides probably understand more than words and pictures can explain.

It's a little blurry, yet still a great picture to capture our reunion :)

It’s a little blurry, yet still a great picture to capture our reunion🙂

Sitting around the kitchen table with my host sister and host grandma. (and of course all of the food!)

Sitting around the kitchen table with my host sister and host grandma. (and of course all of the food!)

Termas Catechuas

On one of our many little adventures, we spent a day at the Termas Catechuas, a set of hot springs in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It was absolutely stunning! I heard they are one of the ‘must-do’ activities in Mendoza and am glad I finally made it there. We woke up fairly early and took a drive (with some spectacular views) to the hot springs. It was definitely a cool, brisk morning when we arrived, but we were excited to jump in. The hot springs were almost carved into the mountains and the views were spectacular. It was extremely relaxing and peaceful. As the day grew on, we were joined in the springs with more and more people, but never too many. (Luckily this isn’t high tourism season for Mendoza). After a morning spent jumping from pool to pool, we passed the rest of the day walking around the tiny town located where the springs are. There was a neat bridge crossing the Mendoza river, many cute shops, restaurants, and bars. It was a relaxing and wonderful day enjoying each other’s company with some incredible views.

A few of the outside pools and the mountains.

A few of the outside pools and the mountains.

Jonathan and Mom enjoying one of the pools!

Jonathan and Mom enjoying one of the pools!

Asado

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to have them try an Authentic Argentine asado. My host family invited us to their friends’ home in the country (which I had been to a few times before and was where they took me on my first full day in Mendoza). It was a day filled with lots of food, interpreting (at least for me🙂 ), pictures, and views. As we sat around the table, I think they were both amazed at how much food, especially meat they have. At the asados it never seems to stop coming! After our meal, I took Mom and Jonathan for a walk through some of the vineyards behind their home. It was fun being able to casually stroll, take our time, and enjoy the views. Unfortunately as the harvest was just in March there weren’t really grapes on any of the vines but it was still beautiful and enjoyable.

Friends and family at the asado!

Friends and family at the asado!

Bus Tour and Cerro de la Gloria

Another day in Mendoza we went on a bus tour of the city. I knew we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity (or desire) to walk everywhere I wanted to show them, so thought the bus would be a nice way to see the city and more of San Martín Park. Unfortunately for them, the tour guide spoke in Spanish… but I did my best to try to translate and chime in what I knew about many things we saw. The highlight was definitely Cerro de la Gloria, the hill/mini-mountain in the park with a monument dedicated to General San Martín and incredible views of the Andes.

On top of Cerro de la Gloria.

On top of Cerro de la Gloria.

Wine Tours

Of course because Mendoza is known as the wine capital of South America, we spent a fair amount of time testing out many different wines and two full days of touring wineries. We ended up touring six different ones. The first day we decided to do a bike and wine tour. It was such a fun experience! We were dropped off at Kaiken Winery and later biked to Vistalba Winery then biked to our last stop, Nieto Senetiner Winery. Each, provided us with a tour and tasting. The last stop also included an extremely delicious steak lunch. Although most of the tour consisted of biking on tiny dirt roads, we were able to bike through the vineyards as well, which were absolutely stunning accompanied with the backdrop of the mountains. Definitely an unforgettable experience! Ironically in our tour group was another Minnesotan family of a mom traveling with her two college-aged children, a boy and a girl. Small world, huh?!

IMG_3678

Kaiken Winery.

DSC03763

IMG_3698

Rockin the bike helmets!

The second day of winery touring was just as enjoyable as the first. We stopped by Navarro Correas, Luigi Bosca, and Alta Vista wineries, as well as the olive oil factory I had visited earlier, Pasrai. It was so neat to tour all of the different wineries and see the differences. Each had such a distinct feel and design and each tour provided us with different information. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Alta Vista. This was a perfect end  to our two days of wineries, with hopefully some recollection of some of the information we learned.🙂

Vista Alba Winery.

Vista Alba Winery.

Our first course (yes, there were courses to our picnic...!) came in these cute little boxes!

Our first course (yes, there were courses to our picnic…!) came in these cute little boxes!

After visiting a total of nine different wineries in Mendoza after these six with Mom and Jonathan, I have to say my favorite to visit was Kaiken. While I loved several of them for different reasons, this one still stands out in my head. I loved the vibe and the atmosphere of this winery and the naturalistic qualities here. This winery also had biodynamic vineyards. Along with avoiding artificial fertilizers by planting barley, rye, spring onion with the grapes, they also had sheep, geese, and chickens that naturally fertilize the land. Such a neat concept in my opinion. My favorite tour and tasting (most likely because of the tour guide) was at Luigi Bosca. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and had a way of describing the wines and the winery that cannot be described other than as exquisite.

Kaiken Winery

Kaiken Winery

Luigi Bosca Winery

Luigi Bosca Winery (with our wonderful tour guide in the background).

After experiencing so many wineries in Mendoza, I can definitely tell why this region is known for its wine!

Buenos Aires

After a week in Mendoza, we headed off to spend a few days in Buenos Aires. It was nice to have them explore another extremely different city in Argentina and I am glad I had an opportunity to go back!

We spent a LOT of time walking around the city and trying to see some of the main attractions in Buenos Aires. Several for me were repeats, but it was great to go back and spend a little more time looking around and catching a few of the things I missed. We decided after our long day of all walking to take a bus tour to relax and rest our feet more than we had the day before. Luckily for us, we planned it perfectly, because it rained for quite a few hours that day while we were on the bus!

On the bus tour with our lovely headphones for the guided tour.

On the bus tour with our lovely headphones for the guided tour.

One of the highlights in Buenos Aires was our trip to the Tango Show on our last night. Although I am positive it was extremely touristy, it was still great to see. We got quite a long and good laugh over our photos with the tango dancers too. Before the show a partner of dancers were walking around with a photographer taking pictures with the audience. Together we took a group picture and then it was time for the individuals. While Mom and I were taking our pictures with the male dancer they told us, “leg up!” At first we were extremely confused and then realized we were mimicking a tango-dancing pose with him. Needless to say we were both laughing in our pictures as well as Jonathan in his when the female-tango mimicked the same thing with him. We got another laugh when they brought the pictures around to show us. (If only they wouldn’t have been $20 each to buy, it would have been a hilarious souvenir…tourist trap!). But the show was enjoyable and very impressive to watch the dancers and musicians. My favorite was a pair of dancers in which the girl was blindfolded and was flung all around stage with scarves and over her partner’s shoulders along with doing what looked to be some pretty complicated steps. I also have to admit after spending a few months taking a tango class; it looks hard, but is even harder than it looks!

I don't have too many pictures of the tango show, but here's one of very few I managed to capture that night!

I don’t have too many pictures of the tango show, but here’s one of very few I have shows Mom and I enjoying each others’ company.

Our last day, we ended up going to what may be one of my favorite places in Buenos Aires…the Japanese Gardens. As Buenos Aires has a fairly decent amount of Japanese immigrants this park was created for the many immigrants, as well as to symbolize the bond between Japan and Argentina. Once stepping through the doors of this garden, it was like we were transported out of the city and into a Japanese garden in Japan (or at least what I imagine one may look like). It was beautiful and very peaceful. We ended up eating Japanese cuisine in the garden after our walk. While it definitely isn’t a typical Argentine diet, I have to admit it was a nice refreshing change to have a little sushi🙂.

A view of the Japanese Gardens.

A view of the Japanese Gardens.

My sushi meal...which I enjoyed a lot!! A nice change from my common Argentine diet. I also realized how much I miss eating fish here!

My sushi meal…which I enjoyed a lot!! A nice change from my common Argentine diet. I also realized how much I miss eating fish here! (as they don’t have too much of it here)

I know I have missed many things in my detailing of their time in Argentina, but these were some of my highlights along with simply  the opportunity to spend a few days with them. It was weird yet wonderful to have them here. Up until this point, it felt that as if I was living a different life completely unique from my world back home. Suddenly they finally meshed. While it was hard to see them leave, I am still super glad to have had them visit me here and Argentina. While it wasn’t always easy playing interpreter, I would have done it again in a heartbeat.

Now I am on the home stretch of my time left in Argentina, it is definitely met with bittersweet feelings of returning home and leaving this incredible country I have come to know these past few months. So, here’s to surviving all of my final tests, presentations, projects and enjoying my last few weeks here!

Waterfalls, Bus Rides, and Wild Animals

Last week, was our “Spring Break”. While some of the other US exchange students still had some of their classes at the Argentine Universities, I was lucky enough not to have any of mine. So of course, I jumped on the opportunity to take a trip across Argentina!

My view for 30+ hours!

After a few days of rest and packing, Amanda and I left Mendoza on a bus headed to the city of Rosario. I surprisingly didn’t mind the long bus rides. At times they were almost soothing. It was neat to see the countryside and smaller towns we passed. Some areas of this trip were cornfields and plains. They seemed so similar, yet just different enough that I have to admit I felt a tiny ache to see Minnesota countryside again. However, the views still intrigued me and were magnificent to see. I also enjoyed the fact that our seats were the front row on the top of our bus. This meant more windows right in front of us and a bit more space for our legs and feet. They both definitely helped make the 13+ hour trip more enjoyable, but I was still extremely relieved to be off the bus.

Paraná River in Rosario.

Paraná River in Rosario.

We only spent 2 nights in Rosario with only one true day to explore. Rosario is the third largest city in Argentina, after Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Rosario was definitely interesting to visit, but I have to admit was not my favorite place I have been on my trip (It may not have helped that no one in the entire city seemed to be able to give us directions to an ice cream store… we literally asked 3 or 4 different people and they all led us no where! But the ice cream from the grocery store after waiting in line for 20 minutes was a nice replacement) I am continuously amazed how each city in Argentina has such a distinct and different vibe. Nonetheless, we still managed to find some pretty neat things to see and do in our one-day exploration of Rosario. We wandered down the streets and spend the majority of our time wandering through parks and alongside the Paraná River. It was odd getting used to the heat and humidity in comparison to Mendoza. It’s now fall in Mendoza and the weather has started to cool down drastically. Also due to the fact that Mendoza is a desert, there is almost no humidity if any. Rosario most definitely is not a desert and a little farther north and closer to the equator, so this was a change. I can’t complain though, I enjoyed a little warmer weather for a while.

Monumento de la Bandera

Monumento de la Bandera

The highlight of our time in Rosario for me was seeing the National Flag Memorial. I was amazed at the grandeur and size of the monument. The monument not only is a tribute to the flag of Argentina, but also is the crypt of Manuel Belgrano, a revolutionary Argentine leader and the creator of the Argentine flag. It was beautiful and neat to see.

Our excitement to be heading to Iguazu...before we realized how long the first two hours of our trip would be....

Our excitement to be heading to Iguazu…before we realized how long the first two hours of our trip would be….

After our quick stop in Rosario, we were on our way to Puerto Iguazu! This meant 22+ more hours on a bus…. yay.:/ And the first two hours of the bus ride were miserable. As I mentioned earlier, it was warm in Rosario (and continued to be as we went further north to Puerto Iguazu). We got on the bus and it was really sweltering. We hoped it was because they had just started the bus but soon enough discovered that the air-conditioning was broken. They were working to fix it but weren’t really sure how. I kept telling myself that it can’t be that bad without it and air-conditioning hasn’t always existed/not everyone has it. Unfortunately, after a while these thoughts weren’t much help. There were no windows near me and the temperature continued to rise. We looked at the thermostat and it read 38 degrees Celsius which for those of you (like me🙂 ) who prefer Fahrenheit….100.4 degrees. Ughh! Fortunately, this only lasted for two hours and they were able to fix it at our next stop. Later on the trip I was grinning and ecstatic that it was cool enough for me to use a sweater and blanket to cover up. Although the trip after that was long it wasn’t too bad! We watched a few movies the bus had playing (they were pretty decent choices too!), read, slept, talked, and were even given a dinner similar to that on an airplane (nothing amazing, but better than I expected). Our bus was an overnight bus, I took more of what one would call naps than a nights worth of sleep, but when I woke up from my last “nap” around 7ish I could not believe my eyes! I had woken up in the jungle!!!

Puerto Iguazu is the Argentine port city closest to Iguazu Falls. Technically, it is considered a sub-tropical region and not yet completely the jungle, however as a person who has never truly gone to an actual rainforest, this seemed pretty tropical to me. It was a small tourist city that I am almost sure is only as big as it is because of the tourism.

Behind me to the left is Paraguay. The other Side of the River on the right is Brazil.

Behind me to the left is Paraguay. The other Side of the River on the right is Brazil.

The first day, we spent walking through part of the town and along the Iguazu river. I was amazed at the beautiful scenery and with the stunning views. We ended up reaching the intersection of the Iguazu River and Paraná River. This point is where the countries of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet and are only separated by the rivers. Unfortunately, we never set foot in Paraguay or Brazil but I didn’t mind at all as Argentina had plenty to offer.

DSC03664

The next two days we spent at Iguazu Falls National Park. I could have stayed forever. The waterfalls were some of the most mesmerizing, beautiful, and incredible things I have ever seen! The picture perfect views were too many too count and serenity is unexplainable. What surprised me most about the waterfalls is that they aren’t all in one continuous line. Iguazu falls is made up of many different falls along the river and they aren’t all linearly placed side by side. For me, this was a pleasant surprise and seemed to make every viewpoint interesting because you never knew what exactly you would find or see.

DSC03631

Garganta del Diablo

DSC03636

Garganta del Diablo and looking down the Iguazu River

We started at Garganta del Diablo. This is the largest waterfall of Iguazu and was quite a walk to see, but entirely worth it as we were right next to the top! The sound of the rushing water was so loud you had to shout and it wasn’t possible to see the bottom of the river because of all of the water splashing up. The wind carried water for miles and it seemed nearly impossible not to get wet. We continued on the rest of the day walking past and exploring the other smaller but still absolutely stunning waterfalls.

A Coati. In my opion, this guy must have been crazy to try and touch it!

A Coati. In my opion, this guy must have been crazy to try and touch it!

Other than waiting a while for the little passenger trains to transport us to different parts of the park and difficulties with the ATMS (but those are just a typical day in Argentina😉 ) we were having an impeccable day. That is, until lunch…. We had decided to eat our packed lunch where we could view a waterfall and stumbled upon a perfect place around lunchtime where very few people were at the time. It seemed perfect and started off to be everything we had hoped. Then we were ambushed by the coatis… Earlier in the day we had seen these raccoon-like animals with long narrow noses. They looked cute and we took pictures thinking they were a little strange but seemed pretty harmless. I still had no intention to go running up to one and pet it like I would a dog.

They seem very similar to raccoons, especially with their ringed tails.

They seem very similar to raccoons, especially with their ringed tails.

We were starting to finish eating our lunch and we both only had about half of a sandwich left. Amanda mentioned it may be smart to put away our Tupperware and apple cores before some animal comes along and handed me her sandwich to hold while she grabbed the Tupperware. Then two coatis started to come up towards us and I thought we had started packing up in time. Holding two sandwiches, one in each hand I started to back away from the coati and where Amanda was. Then Amanda turned around and there was another one right by her backpack. She tried to shoo them all away but the one would not leave and kept trying to grab her backpack. I stood and watched her struggle and was not really any help at all. I was too afraid that if I went up to them with my hands full of food I would have coatis crawling all over me. So I watched not sure of what to do while Amanda tried to swat them away. Luckily another girl who was passing by with her family came over and swatted them away with her jacket. After the fact, I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous this whole incident must have looked to any passersby. After this moment, the coatis were definitely not my favorite. I am sure if you would ask Amanda, I was a little too cautious around them and would go out of the way to avoid them. (I once convinced us to take a different, longer route because there was a coati almost the size of a beagle in the path….). But they were pesky, tricky, and ravenous for human food. At every train station and area full of tables, they got as close as they could to humans. We even watched one steal a pacifier from a toddler (we couldn’t believe the kids parents let it get that close to her!). Over time, I became a little bit more comfortable when they came close and did less to avoid them but I still saw visions that they were going to grab on to my bare legs with their claws if I got to close.

On the beach of San Martín Island.

On the beach of San Martín Island.

Now back to the waterfalls…we spent the rest of the first day walking the trails and found ourselves headed to San Martín Island. This island was in the middle of the river in between some of the falls. We took a tiny boat across part of the river, walked up a lot of steep stairs, and once again were in awe of the views. It was also neat to see views of the waterfalls from the level of the river. It was hard to believe they could seem any bigger! After a long day of hiking, we left exhausted yet pleased and excited we planned to spend another day at the park.

IMG_3624

Day Two was even better than the first day. I had vowed to myself that I would take very little pictures and simply enjoy the views because I had taken enough pictures the first day. (I am happy to say I kept this promise and the only pictures I took were a few of us!) It was so nice to just look and not worry about trying to capture it (although the pictures will never compare). We wandered along a trail we had the previous day in the morning before we embarked on our safari/boat adventure. The ‘Grand Adventure’ as it was called, was most definitely the highlight of the trip. We first got in a jeep that went through some of the park where a tour guide talked about the park, some of the wildlife, and climate of Iguazu National Park. It was interesting to hear and neat to see more vegetation. We ended a little ways downstream from the waterfalls where we boarded a boat. Hearing that we would get wet, we brought our rain jackets, had on flip-flops and athletic shorts we didn’t mind getting a bit wet.

11295731_10202642725228363_865733177735248698_n

Boating through the Falls is an experience I will never forget!

The second the boat took off I couldn’t help but grin. The landscape was beautiful! We passed coves of beaches untouched by humans and tiny waterfalls. I had never seen anything like it. Then, we arrived at the falls. I could try to describe what I saw but there are no words that can truly explain it. Absolutely breathtaking. We were all in awe. Then we saw one of the workers put on his rain suit and we knew we were about to get wet. We ended up going into the foot of two different waterfalls both a few times each. It was so much fun and the entire boat was laughing and screaming. The water was forceful and powerful, but it felt wonderful. I couldn’t believe that I was under and getting soaked by Iguazu Falls!!!! I also gave up on attempting to stay dry. I kept my hood down for most of it and just embraced getting soaked!! We got off the boat drenched, exhilarated, and still in shock over what we were just able to do. We concluded that it was pointless to bring the rain jackets and laughed at the looks other travelers gave us as they walked past us dripping from head to toe. We decided to make one last trip to Garganta del Diablo to have a last glimpse and dry off a bit before we boarded the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.

Seeing Iguazu Falls was one of the most marvelous sights I have ever seen. I have always loved the natural beauty and wildlife of our world, but this brought my love to a whole new level.

More Mountains and Wineries

DSC03514

Last Friday, I took the chance to head to Parque Provincial Aconcagua. We woke up bright and early and were at the bus station at 5:30AM! But I definitely can’t complain too much because our day was well worth it! We took a bus to the Andes on a roughly four hour-long bus ride. We made a few quick stops in a couple smaller towns on the way there to pick up and drop off other passengers. The majority of the time was spent sleeping and staring at the views of the changing fall leaves, occasional towns we passed by, and of course the mountains. As we got closer we weren’t exactly sure where our stop would be and how we would know it when to get off. (The buses that travel from town to town do not “announce” where you are and signage is not always clear.) Luckily, we had a decent idea and there were other travelers on the bus headed to the park as well that we kept an eye on. (We thought if they are still on here we must be fine…right? Although, they were probably thinking the same about us… haha). Eventually the bus driver stopped on the highway in front of the main entrance of the park and we got off. The bus continued on it’s route and we were literally left standing in the middle of the Andes Mountains, in front of a small visitor center, signs in the park, a handful of cars that were parked in the parking lot, and approximately 15-20ish other people that we saw all day in the park.

11164573_10206996258690627_2255899997097440421_n

Goofing off at the end of our path! The rest of the trail was closed off for the season.

I had prepared for a cold day (with a hat, scarf, mittens, and layers) having been forewarned by my host mom and others that it was extremely cold and there may be snow. I wasn’t too worried about the weather thinking that my Minnesotan blood might come in handy. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad at all! Yet, I am glad that I had thick socks and a hat and scarf. There wasn’t any snow, only a teeny bit of ice in places, and a LOT of wind!!! Without the wind it would not have been cold at all but the wind made it a bit chilly at times especially later in the afternoon.

1017543_10202573117608216_3675184934809496275_n

I could have sat here for hours just looking at the view!

We made a quick stop in the office to grab a map and check out where we could explore in the park. He showed us a walking loop that was supposed to take a few hours. We later found out that they calculated a bit more time than we would need. We started our hike for the day and were in awe of how peaceful and beautiful the mountains were. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before! So quiet and so grand. In Minnesota, the landscape is nothing like this and while I spent some time in the mountains on a trip to Montana, they were completely different here. No trees, only small vegetation, a few streams, rocks, and dirt. Yet I couldn’t stop marveling at how a landscape that in essence seemed so simple was so interesting. I’m almost sure it was simply the enormity of it all. We continued along chatting and taking in the sights. After a while, we came upon the “official” lookout point for Mount Aconcagua. The true reason why we drove the four hours while yes was to go hiking, but ultimately was to get a close up look at Aconcagua. Mt. Aconcagua is the tallest point in the world outside of the Himalayas. Unfortunately we couldn’t climb it (It’s too late in the year and without a guide and training we wouldn’t have been able to go too far) but I was definitely not too bummed with the amazing views of the peak we found. We continued along the trail as far as we could until we reached the point where it was closed off at this time of the year. We stopped for some lunch along the river with a little bird befriending us for some crumbs. After lunch before we headed back, we spent time walking along the river, climbing on some of the bigger rocks, and sitting in silence gazing at Aconcagua. We eventually made our way back to the visitor’s office to warm up for a while before our bus came back to pick us up. We had about an hour so we drank some mate and looked at the many posters about the park before we headed out to wait for the bus. The next bus wasn’t for another 5 or 6 hours so we did NOT want to miss this one! It was a littler cooler and windier now so we were anxious for the bus to arrive. After a while, the bus rounded a mountain on its way to pick us up. Never have I ever had a bus stop on the side of the highway for me, until now! I am extremely glad I took the day to check out Mt. Aconcagua as the experience and views truly are indescribable.

Enjoying mate in the Visitor's Office!

Enjoying mate in the Visitor’s Office!

The next day, we went on an IFSA excursion with all of the US students in my program to the Zuccardi Winery. The third-generation family owned winery is one of the most well known, award winning wineries in Argentina. It was the most beautiful winery I have been to here and a treat to see. We went on a tour of the winery where our tour guide told us about the process of wine making, facts about the Zuccardi Winery, among other things before we were able to taste a few wines. My favorite fact is that Malbec and other red wines can actually be white. When they are fermenting and the skin of the grape is separate from the liquid, the liquid is white. It isn’t until the skin of the grape is mixed in that it receives the red color. After our tour of the winery, we ate at Casa del Visitante, the winery’s restaurant. It was a beautiful day and our table was on the lawn beside the restaurant. Such a peaceful atmosphere. The food was incredible and we had more than enough food! They brought plates upon plates of different sandwiches, beef, cow tongue (which I did try, but was not a fan of), bread and cheese, meat and cheese trays, sun-dried tomatoes, other vegetables, and I am sure more foods that I am forgetting. After all of that, we finished up with a dessert of fruit and cookies. Before we headed back, we took a stroll through some of the vineyards. I had another “I can’t believe I am doing this!” moment and continued to soak up the sun before we made our way back into the city stuffed and content.

DSC03572

DSC03577

Two awesome experiences in a country that I am continuing to fall more in love with!

Normal.

For this post I don’t really have any momentous trips/food/travels to tell of, but I realized it’s been over two weeks since my last blog post so I thought I should fill you all in on what I have been up to lately. I am also very proud that I have been able to keep up with my posts on somewhat of a fairly consistent basis!

The past few weeks have been a little more low-key than previous weeks but still busy and filled with experiences and memories. I have been studying for midterms, spending time with friends and my host family, and wandering through the city of Mendoza a bit more.

Sometimes I forget how “un-normal” my life right now is in comparison to what it was 2+ months ago. I was sitting on the bus earlier this week and had a crazy realization. It felt so normal sitting on the bus yet before my semester here (being a girl from small town Minnesota) I could practically count on my hands the number of times I had taken public transportation, let alone have any sense of it feeling somewhat ordinary! (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but you see my point J ). It is weird to think how normal for me my life has started to feel. Yes, I still feel like the foreigner (with the reminder of the Spanish words and slang I have yet to pick up on and my very un-Argentine blond hair and blue eyes) but living with my host family, attending my classes at the universities, constantly switching between English and Spanish everyday, eating the food, and so many other parts of my daily life here don’t seem so foreign. Don’t get me wrong there are some things I miss about home and I would be lying if I said I never had a moment when I just wished to be home, but I am so relieved that my life here has and can feel “normal”.

Right now, I am about a little past the halfway point of my time studying here. And that means the middle of the school semester and midterms. Yes, unfortunately I do still have to do school work while exploring this fascinating country… The past week I took two tests along with one take home test for my “parciales”. I have one more mid-term in a few weeks. It’s a little difficult to explain but in many ways they were very similar to exams I have taken in the states, but also extremely different.

One Saturday afternoon, with a couple other exchange students, I ventured to the Mendoza Green Market in the “suburb” of Godoy Cruz. I absolutely loved it! It was so neat to wander and look at each of the stands. It reminded me of farmers markets I have been to back in Minnesota. There were a few stands selling products, but the large majority was a types of home-grown and home-cooked food. We passed pizzas, jams, yogurts, desserts, sandwiches, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. I of course had to try something and ended up getting a pumpkin soup. It was delicious! I am sure due to the fact that this was the first soup I have had here and for the fall-like weather that is starting are two attributes that helped me enjoy it further.

Mendoza Green Market

Mendoza Green Market

One of the many different booths.

One of the many different booths.

It may not look like much but the Pumpkin Soup was amazing!!

It may not look like much but the Pumpkin Soup was amazing!!

While there I also picked up my second journal of the trip. I was just in time as I was just about to finish my first one. Each day I have been here I have been writing a personal journal for myself. It’s been a great way to process my thoughts, feelings, and memories and I am absolutely amazed and proud that I have continued to do this. I have tried to keep journals in the past but never have I ever been this consistent. Now it has become part of my routine and it feels weird when I forget. (A few times I have woken up, realized I forgot, and written an entry at 4 in the morning because I can’t go back to bed without writing it.) It’s funny how much it has helped put me at ease when I am stressed, worried, anxious, or missing home. I also know I will appreciate being able to always look back and remember the little details that may have slipped my mind.

I also love the fact that my new journal says Mendoza on it!!

I also love the fact that my new journal says Mendoza on it!!

Another night this past week, I spent time with my family at a cousin’s birthday party. I am constantly amazed at how open and welcoming my host family continues to be. I am blessed to have such a wonderful family willing to include me in their daily lives, celebrations, answer my questions, and show me patience when I can’t seem comprehend fast enough. Celebrating this birthday was an absolute blast! However in Argentine fashion we didn’t arrive until 10pm and stayed until 2am. It was by far the latest birthday party I have ever attended! (I’m sure we would have stayed later too if it wasn’t for my host sister working early the next morning.) Other than my host family, there were very few of the extended family I had met. Yet they treated me like part of the family and were adamant in making sure I had enough to eat and drink. After we talked, ate, and talked a bit more, some of the family busted out a few guitars and a drum. We spent the next two hours listening to them play Argentine folk songs (while the rest of the family would switch places and join in. Of course, I just listened and took it all in because I didn’t know any of the songs, but now would LOVE to learn them). I couldn’t stop smiling. Hearing all of their songs was so neat. I couldn’t stop thinking about how special what they had was. I am constantly shown how much the they value family as well as their culture. Two things of which I have learned to appreciate in ways I didn’t know I could before I got here.

While I have to admit, knowing that everyone back home is wrapping up the end of their semesters has made me a little antsy here, I am excited and glad I still have many upcoming adventures to look forward to in Argentina. Along with continuing on with my “normal” yet Argentine life, I have a busy upcoming weekend, a “spring-break” filled with plans of travel, a visit from my mom and my brother (😀 yay!!), and so much left to learn and explore!

Perspective

It’s hard to believe that I am almost at the halfway point of my time here in Argentina. Some days I feel as if I just arrived and other days it feels like I have been here for so much longer. Lately I have found myself in situations were I have been thinking a lot about perspective. Not only of my own perspective of the world but how it compares to others and how it has been evolving with each interaction and experience I have had.

I truly believe that people around the world do have their differences, but there are also more similarities than we realize. Our definitions of success and happiness do vary, but if you strip down all of the layers and just listen to other people it’s amazing what you find. Yes, unfortunately there are some exceptions and corruption is evident in society, but it amazes me that in this complex world we live in that sometimes the greatest, most liberating and humbling things are so simple. Sometimes all you need is a little conversation or an chance to just stop and look at something to and its amazing what you find.

This past weekend, my friend Amanda and I, decided to go off on another “mini-trip” and headed to the city of Córdoba, the second-largest city in Argentina (behind Buenos Aires). It was a beautiful city filled with parks, museums, shops, and great food. I also found myself in the perfect environment to question the ideas of perspective further.

Córdoba. A beautiful yet lively city.

Córdoba. A beautiful and lively city.

On one of the first days we were there, we took a bus tour around the city. It was a great way to familiarize ourselves with Córdoba and learn about the rich culture and history. We ended up sharing the bus and tour with a group of middle-aged Brazilian women. They were kind, fun, and very interested to talk with us. Before we even had a chance to introduce ourselves they had invited us into their group picture.

The next few days we spent exploring the city and its many museums and parks. We browsed through Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa, Ferreyra- Museo Evita, and the Museo de las Mujeres among a few others. I enjoyed some more than others but my thoughts on perspective kept circling through my mind in each museum we toured. It’s interesting to think about what can define something as art and how does one decide what is special enough to be put into a museum? I also find it amusing that every person has a different association and correlates different meanings to what they’re seeing that may or may not align with the thoughts of the artist.

DSC03444

Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa

The museum that resonated with me most was the Archivo Provincial de la Memoria Museo. It was definitely a humbling experience to say the least. It stands in the place of the former Department of Intelligence (D2) in the historical center of Argentina. During the 1970’s and 80’s when Argentina was under a military dictatorship, D2 kidnapped and tortured suspected opponents of their regime. The museum is filled with stories and memorials to those still missing. It reminded me of how lucky I am to have the liberties and freedoms I do, yet also a twinge of frustration and sorrow for those who have and are still battling injustice such as this.

Outside the Memoria museum. The walkway is aligned with the pictures of those still missing from the abductions in the 1970s and 80s during the Military Dictatorship Regime.

Outside the Memoria museum. The walkway is aligned with the pictures of those still missing from the abductions in the 1970s and 80s during the Military Dictatorship Regime.

We also strolled through the largest street market I have ever experienced in my entire life. I am almost positive you could find any type of bracelet, dish, leather object, garment, drawing, or practically anything else if you truly looked hard and long enough. I also had to laugh when I saw some older cell phones on one of the antique tables. Never thought I would see that…

Another day we took a day trip outstide the city of Córdoba to the tiny town of Alta Gracia, another town rich in culture and history. It was an adorable and peaceful area. We spent the day exploring a few shops and vendors in the streets, looking at a few historic monuments including Che Guevara’s childhood home.

The main park in Alta Gracia. Absolutely beautiful and so peaceful.

The main park in Alta Gracia. Absolutely beautiful and so peaceful.

One of my favorite memories of the weekend was when we stumbled upon a building with a roof that seemed to be a park semi-resembling a slide. We noticed that many kids were sliding down on pieces of cardboard. We stared with smiles on our faces and tried to decide if this was intended to be a slide or an ordinary person’s idea of cheap and easy entertainment. Naturally I had to try it, so I walked about halfway up and slid down on my butt. A father who was waiting at the bottom of the hill/slide/whatever you want to call it pointed out a few pieces of cardboard laying around that we could use. We grabbed them and headed all the way up to the top, opting for the slightly smaller hill not wanting to end up with a broken arm or scraped up knees if something were to go haywire. It was really fun. I had to laugh when I looked around me before I slid down and saw only children under the age of 12 sliding down. But no one seemed to care, they even were cautioning Amanda when they were worried she was too close to the side to turn. (Later when we drove past it on our way out of town, it was absolutely packed with people! I can guarantee there were older people sliding down then too J ). Our little slide stop reminded me how some of the most simple, unexpected things can bring you so much joy. With just a piece of cardboard and the company of others, we all were smiling and laughing along with each other.

The giant

The giant “slide” we found.

We also spent a lot of time meeting other people around the world in our hostel and around the city as well. We met people from Brazil, France, Holland, Great Britain, Australia, and of course Argentina. It was fun to hear and compare lives, opinions, travels and perspectives. I have found that especially with other travelers, there are not too many questions that are considered off limits or rude. At times it makes for many interesting yet great conversations. Talking and conversing with other people, especially from different backgrounds and parts of the world really makes you think about a lot of things. I realized how strong my thoughts were about some things yet not in other areas and that there really is an unlimited amount of ideas and mindsets.

An asado at the Rivera Hostel one night of our stay with some of the guests, employees, and some of their friends. Such kind and wonderful people there.

An asado at the Rivera Hostel one night of our stay with some of the guests, employees, and some of their friends. Such kind and wonderful people there.

While I have always loved and enjoyed the company of others and simple experiences, the longer I am here I find myself discovering the richness of each one. I am constantly surprised by how important your perspective can be or how easily it can change depending on what you know/think/see. For some reason or another, this weekend really reiterated that for me. I’m glad to say that it has left me thirsting for more encounters with the perspectives of others and opportunities to continue to shape my own.