Tomorrow night, I will board a plane at Pajas Blancas Airport and watch the city lights of Córdoba disappear through an airplane window. Argentina will fade away, and 22 hours after I take off, I will arrive in Boston, Massachusetts where my family and reality await me. Although I am leaving, I think a small part of my heart will always be in Argentina.
This past winter, I logged onto the AIESEC opportunities portal without any real intention of going abroad. I wasn’t even a member of AIESEC at that point. As I scrolled through the opportunities and skimmed their descriptions, I stumbled upon an opportunity that really caught my eye: six weeks in Córdoba, Argentina, teaching children at a community center in a poor neighborhood. Within an hour I had already sent in my application, and within 24 hours I was accepted. I was going to spend my summer in Argentina. I could not be more excited.
As I sit here and write this, I am finding it really difficult to put into words the experience I have had. I usually have no problem finding something to say (I am known to talk an ear off), but right now I am a little bit lost for words.
Where do I even begin? Undoubtedly, this journey has been difficult. If you have read any of my past blog posts, especially the more recent ones, you know that I have come face-to-face with some great obstacles. I have never been so challenged in my life. To be alone, young and a woman in a foreign country is hard in and of itself. Throw in flight delays, lost luggage, a stolen wallet and an emergency passport, and suddenly I am pushed to my limit. Although I have had some very hard days, someone asked me if the good days outweigh the bad days. Absolutely.
This trip has been amazing. Sure, like I said, to be alone, young and a woman abroad comes with its challenges. In a country that hegemonies machismo, it can be very intimidating to be a woman. I have been catcalled. I have denied many requests, some aggressive, for a dance or for a drink. I have been whistled at. Throw in the fact that I have freckles, green eyes, and blonde hair, and its like I’m a flashing neon sign that says, “come talk to me!” But it also comes with its victories. Learning to love myself, be on my own, be empowered and be my own protector is a huge victory. My self-confidence has skyrocketed since I’ve been here simply because I have had to rely on myself and be extremely independent. As cheesy as it sounds and probably is, I have learned to believe in myself and my strength. I am so strong. If I want to spend six weeks alone, halfway across the world, I am going to. And I’m going to kick ass while doing it.
I am not entirely my own source of strength, however. God has given me the beautiful gift of 10 angels who lovingly call me “seño.” The kids at Centro Comunitario Esperanza have changed me and my view of the world in so many ways. Most of these kids come from nothing; one girl lives in a one room house with four other people, with no heat and no running water. Yet, this girl and all of the other children are the happiest kids I have ever encountered. Despite what they face on a day-to-day basis, they rarely cry, and they never ever complain. They laugh. They play. They run. They drink their milk. They give me hugs and blow me kisses. They steal my sunglasses (way too big for their heads) and wear them for the rest of the day. They love playing with Snapchat on my phone, and they love posing for the camera.
These kids have filled my heart with so much joy and have been such a blessing. I wish with all of my heart that I could change their lives as much as they have changed mine. I don’t deserve these kids. And these kids deserve so much better. I just pray that they will find a way out of the barrio, away from the poverty they have had to learn at too young of an age and change the world like I know they can. They are so bright. They have showed me so much compassion and unconditional love. It breaks my heart that I need to say goodbye to these kids. If I could, I would pack them all in my suitcase and bring them with me. I don’t think customs would like that, though.
Tomorrow I leave the place I have called “home” for the past six weeks. Tomorrow I say goodbye to some of my best friends. Tomorrow I go back to reality, back to my family and friends. I go back to tap water I can drink without dying. I go back to school and work. I go back home, not “home.”
Argentina, te amo. You have my heart. I have fallen in love with your cities, your mountains, your food and your people. I know I will be back.
Love your neighbor. Step outside of your comfort zone or your country. Experience different customs and beliefs. Eat weird food. Speak a different language. Use your personal strengths to strengthen someone, or somewhere, else. Show compassion and get compassion back. I promise, it is so worth it.