As I resettle into blogging while here in Argentina, I must admit that it feels different this time around. Though the initial “newness” of being abroad has faded, my appreciation for Mendoza’s beauty inside and out remains. As a month has passed, I am realizing that life abroad is much more complex than it seems initially. When I first arrived in my program, I eagerly awaited the day when the daily culture felt natural to me. After a time, I grew more comfortable with Spanish, developed a daily routine, and even made local friends. By the time I boarded the plane for the US for the holidays, I was certain I had accomplished the goal of study abroad and accepted Argentina’s culture whole heartedly. Over the course of this month, I am realizing that there are aspects where I do not agree, and that’s okay. While I discuss a conversation that affects us globally to begin, I hope reflect on the complex experience of life abroad.
Upon my arrival in Mendoza, I was shocked to hear about two young Argentine women who went backpacking in Ecuador. Just twenty-one and twenty-two years old, these women were killed days after losing communication with their families after accepting lodging from two men. Just arriving back in Mendoza after three weeks of travel with a friend, it upset me greatly knowing that I could have been a victim myself.
Initially, a fear of traveling alone sunk in. I no longer felt safe and the voices of family and friends holding notions of Latin America as dangerous stuck with me. With a whole semester ahead of me, I refused to allow this fear to stop me from exploring all the beauty there is here in South America.
Since then, I have received much encouragement through social media as women around the world are challenging society to change the conversation. They are demanding that women are not blamed for their decision to travel alone, to explore the world, and leave home. This movement is one I hold dear because my whole life, I have always been taught, “prevention, prevention, prevention.” While precaution is important, no woman deserves to be robbed of the freedom to travel alone and see every inch of this wonderful planet and return home safely. The recent revival of the hashtag, #ViajoSola or #Itravelalone is a reminder that the world is watching.
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, an empowered version of myself reemerged. Being abroad on this day was influential because I was able to experience the day from another part of the world, without discussions of the “proper” type of feminism, but with a more focused emphasis on global citizenship. While seated in the crowd at the annual festival celebrating the harvest of the grapes, making Mendoza renowned for its wine, a moment was taken to address all acts of injustice that affects women and more broadly society across the world such as racism and sexism. After, the names of Argentine women raped, killed, kidnapped, and lost were read out loud and people were brought on stage with signs. While] Mendoza is a place I call home, I will never stop demanding safety and respect. For myself. For my sisters (be it figuratively). And women all over the world.
Living abroad in a society described as “machista,” can sometimes make me feel vulnerable as black women. My skin color denies me the opportunity to blend in and at times, I attribute some of the frequent catcalling to my being fetishized. Here, street harassment occurrences are sometimes amplified because it is described in a manner that normalizes these daily actions. I have heard catcalling occurrences explained as simply the way Argentine men show appreciation for women they find beautiful.
I have already come to terms with how my identity as a black woman makes me hyper visible here in Argentina. On days when I feel confident, I take the piropos, or catcalls, in stride, but during moments when I don’t feel like being approached or spoken to, it’s impossible to avoid the male gaze.
In the US, the hyper visibility I feel here no longer applies, as there is diversity everywhere in New York City, my home. While catcalls exist there too, there is something to be said when a culture has rationalized catcalling. I feel as if women in the United States have spoken out more strongly against catcalls to where the understanding is that they are unwelcomed.
Over the past six months, I have come to understand that the various aspects of life abroad, be it gestures considered offensive, conceptions of time, or standards of beauty, are different culture to culture and tied to a history and a culture that I have the opportunity to learn about, explore, and take part in when I choose. This semester, I am promising that I will not just take situations as they are, but rather welcome the opportunity to disagree grapple with, and debate across culture. Just as the journey to cultural adaptation is filled with questioning and uncertainty, I welcome this process as I take in what it means to live abroad for an academic year.