Joe Kind: A Guy

by Joe Kind | 5/10/16 5:04pm

Two years ago today, I was on my 20-hour return busride to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had just spent the long weekend in Bariloche, Argentina’s equivalent of Vail or Vancouver. This trip occurred a little past the halfway point of my Spanish LSA, during the dead quiet of Bariloche’s fall season. The town was pretty sleepy, waiting patiently and eagerly for snow — unlike Hanover during any of my four fall quarters at Dartmouth.

Not that I minded wandering through empty museums or winding roads on those cloudy, aimless days.

There was the time I tried a McDonald’s Big Mac for the first time in Argentina. I had never seen a McDonald’s franchise so well-furnished and posh, yet still so comfortably full of the same familiar clusters of people I see in fast food restaurants at home.

Beef is a major export of Argentina, and fast food restaurants across the country offer a decidedly premium experience.

I took my combo meal and eagerly shuffled through the scenes of random old people, awkward teenage couples and families with young children, looking for my own table. I eventually sat down at a table upstairs just above the front entrance, next to a large window. I sipped my soda, finished my burger and dipped my French Fries — still signature — in my little ketchup cups, as the time passed.

Back on the 20-hour bus ride, driving from the west to the east, I sat in a plush, fully retractable armchair. I nibbled on my crackers and apricot jam, courtesy of the bus company. It was well into the night, and our third or fourth movie of the trip was playing. I could only understand bits and pieces of the scenes with lots of dialogue. Being away from my host family and my classes, all taught in Spanish, probably didn’t help. And my social interactions with my friends on the program in Bariloche definitely didn’t help.

Coincidentally, I would go on to rewatch one of the movies from that bus ride in one of my classes.

I remember thinking how weird it was for me to be speaking Spanish with a whole new set of locals in Bariloche. In a tourist destination, the people I met were used to all kinds of language barriers. They didn’t mind my hesitations at all. They put up with my improper r’s, which I could only sometimes roll successfully. And they embraced and validated my excitement about exploring. To be fair, the interactions locals — used to expats and English — have with tourists in bustling Buenes Aires do not figure as prominently in their incomes. The incentives are simply different for people in Buenes Aires than for locals in Bariloche.

I spent one of my days kayaking on a beautiful lake not far from where I was staying. I had opened a brochure in my hostel and called up two guys, in their late-20s, to pick me up and take me out on the water. Neither of them were originally from the area, from what I remember. And they lamented my poor timing during this dead time of the year. It was the one week, they said. The one week where nothing is really happening.

Yet throughout that week I could not help but think of everything that was happening. Laying back on my sofa-chair, still 12 hours or so away, I open up my laptop and begin writing. Eventually I type:

“I am going through an evolution, not a change.”

Two years later, I still think about my time abroad quite a lot. The people and the places. Really whatever I can remember.

I wonder if I will look back at my time here in the same nostalgic ways, if college is its own kind of four-year study abroad program. In Argentina, most young students live at home with their families while attending college. My parents at home would joke about that outcome if all else failed during my senior year of high school.

Part of me thinks I will remember things fondly, though I know I will also never forget a lot of my challenges here. Does the “bad” outweigh all of the good? Maybe on some days, but not others.

One of the hardest things for me to do while abroad was to test the waters of Tinder, a mobile app hailed as a dating service. I was initially concerned for my safety and my privacy, but I ultimately gave in after two of my friends on the program found success on the app. My friends and I shared stories from our conversations with locals, translation errors and all. We somehow made enough of an impression to meet people in person, at a café or for “mate,” the go-to social beverage in Argentina.

Like everything else, Tinder became another way to pass the time. And to think, I almost chose to keep my iPhone at home.

And there I was, practicing my Spanish with the luxury of time to look up words I didn’t know. I learned some useful slang. I saw photos of how young locals lived their lives in one of the largest cities in the world. I connected with people over shared interests and gained confidence in my own independence and freedom.

I returned to Buenos Aires late in evening, eager to head straight home to my host family. I curled up in my bed and checked my Tinder before getting some real sleep. I had a full day of school the next day.