Redefining Home: It’s Where the Heart Is
As I sit outside on the patio on a gorgeous spring day, I am amazed at how fulfilling my three months have been. I look back on how nervous I was as I first met my host family and how slow they spoke as I first arrived. With time, I’ve learned how to make conversation, gained a connection that allows us to joke and laugh, and begun to consider what aspects of Argentinian culture have melded into my own identity and the way I want to live my life when I return to the U.S.
I would characterize studying abroad as a journey. While I have had plenty of amazing moments here, before my perception of home evolved, there were tough days. The ritual of becoming accustomed to the water and food here made me miss Poland Spring and a 6pm dinner time for quite a bit of course. But, homesickness became intense for me as I began working on my relationships here. Relationships are the most important aspect of life to me. I see them as how I connect to others. I grew up having a large support system that I fostered by investing in relationships and although my study abroad program served as the base of this system here in Argentina, I doubted whether those relationships would grow.
Coming from a family of six, I was always accustomed to sharing dinner, teasing my younger brothers, and laughing with my parents and grandmother. The first few weeks with my even bigger family here, my siblings’ hugging and teasing surrounded me but I couldn’t join in. I really missed being able to just feel close to my family. Similarly, before coming to Argentina, being social was never a problem. Phrases or words I used were always understood, even if at the very least people just understood them as part of my quirks. As I initially tried to make conversation with people, a moment always arrived where someone would tell me they didn’t understand what I meant.
For me, the greatest solution has been to not pull away in the face of these difficulties. Instead, I have worked to connect with different members of my host family over different things be it soccer, music, our dog, or going out in Mendoza. As for my Argentinian friends, spending time together is what brought us closer—something I value no matter what country I’m in. Over time, I began to pick up on typical gestures and phrases and in turn, my friends began using phrases I use like: “I’m crying” when I can’t believe something happened or “Work.” When someone has a great outfit or is just beaming.
As I think of “home,” I now keep two sets of images in my head. One of my apartment in Rockaway where I await the hugs of my family members mid-December and the Christmas movies I will have on repeat, particularly my favorite: “Holiday in Handcuffs.” I think of the Val sits with my friends at Amherst, the events and speakers we got excited for, spring weekends we dressed up for, and the many photos that serve as memories. And the other set consists of my red house on calle Newbery (Newbery street), the canopy of trees that overlook the streets of Mendoza as spring sets in. I picture the mountains my host aunt first told me to look towards in case I ever got lost. I think of the study sessions, the late night pizza, and the laughs I’ve had with my Argentine friends, and finally, of family Sundays with my cousins, uncles, aunts, and siblings here gathered around the table for lunch and dinner, laughing and being together.
As these images are different, neither feels more normal than the other. Though I saw junior year as an opportunity to study abroad, it has translated to so much more: building connections with people, finding my way in a completely different culture, and figuring out who I am. While I initially planned to see two cultures my junior year and study in another Latin American country this spring, these moments of happiness: with friends and family here have led me to call Argentina home in a way that makes me unable to leave so soon. With that being said, I’m pleased to announce that I will be studying in Argentina for the academic year. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to continue building friendships here, improving my Spanish, and seeing how I will grow in another six months.