During my time abroad, I have probably had coffee with dozens and dozens of people, a second “merienda” (snack) with half that many, and a third dinner with only a handful of people. At first the temporality of these relationships abroad scared me. Although, as a “people person,” some of my favorite moments have been the excitement of meeting people, I felt I should have moved out of the meeting-new-people-phase and into the making “real” friends phase. Back at home at my cozy little liberal arts college, the people I am surrounded by have known me for years and feel like a second family. Before college, I went to a K-12 school and grew up with the same group of five since I was six. My point is, my approach to friendship was one of permanency, therefore, when I found myself at week six while abroad with numerous people whom I only knew abstractly and no one who I felt completely comfortable with, I began to feel as though I had done it wrong. “A ti te gusta boludear!” My tia, Tia Yeye, yells as I open the door, a chuckle emerging from her lips as I smile back at her. It was Tuesday, 9:10 A.M. in the morning, and I had class at 10:00 A.M. I tell her that I love her and I close the door, hopping down the stairs as I walk hastily to the subtle stop, Line A, 3 minutes from my home. I stop by the local bakery in which I ordered empanadas regularly, one of spinach and one of chicken, along with apple juice on the go. Listening to 90s Latin rock with my headphones, I walk down to the station and swipe my card, catching the subway by lucky chance. I live with my host family in the barrio of Caballito, a beautiful, vibrant part of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Slowly I began to realize that these one time coffee dates, walk through the parks, and art nights offered me something new that had greatly enriched my experience in Buenos Aires. With each person I met, I learned something new about their culture, a new spot to explore in the city, or sometimes even something about myself. Once I approached these relationships with curiosity, not expecting anything out of them, the opposite of my previous more serious framework of friendship, I recognized how special the opportunity of getting to learn from someone new was. The time I have abroad is temporary, so it makes sense that relationships will also be temporary. When else, in the very routine oriented life of a college student, do you get to share an experience with someone you don’t know the first thing about? How often do you meet someone with an entirely different cultural experience?
For these reasons, meeting people here who come and go in my life has become a gift. I have learned more and grown more as a person from these little conversations than any of my classes or books have taught me. My advice to those going abroad would be to push past your comfort zone and meet people who are different from you, approaching them with the mindset of curiosity rather than expectations. With that in mind, I am going to share some happy moments that came out of me talking to random people!
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I asked a girl where she got her purse because I had forgotten mine. She told me to get off at the next stop with her and proceeded to show me down a street that had dozens of stores that sold bags. After buying a bag she walked me back to my bus station and gave me detailed instructions on how to get home. Thanks to this person, I have my nifty little fanny pack and was able to tell other people in my IFSA program where the “purse” street was.
Milton, my hiking buddy for a full day trek in Patagonia. He is a professional 45-year-old roller blading teacher for adults in Buenos Aires who I met at my hostel. After 13 miles, I was filled with new rollerblading facts and had had incredibly specific conversations about the world of competitive rollerblading that I never would have imagined having.
While having drinks with some French international students I randomly met, one of them told me I was obviously American because I said my very bad drink was good. This led to a conversation in which I recognized how often I say everything is great instead of speaking my mind. Since then, whenever someone asks my opinion about a drink, I have been brutally honest. After class, I joined a group of students drinking mate, a tea Argentines drink socially. They taught me the rules, of which there are many, of how to drink mate, most importantly, to not move the straw!
I will never see any of these kind people again, but these little stories are just a few examples of times I have left with a huge smile on my face because meeting people just for the sake of sharing a little moment with someone new is invaluable.
Alondra Romero is a student at Bowdoin College and studied abroad with IFSA through the Study in Buenos Aires Program. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.