Our entire IFSA program was loaded onto the Buquebus terminal to head from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Colonia, Uruguay for the Thanksgiving weekend. We had all heard about this traditional IFSA trip to Colonia, and then the beach, and had been waiting all semester! Since today was Thanksgiving, we were so ready to arrive at our IFSA director Mario’s house to chow down on some turkey. My friends and I boarded the huge ferry and took our seats near the little café. My friend Emily was tired and thirsty and she begged me to go buy coffee for her, so I went and stood in line. In a split second decision, I bought a coffee for myself too (because why not?) and waited in the pick-up line for the tray of coffees. “Careful” the server said, “they’re hot.”
I handed Emily her coffee, sat down and tried to take a sip of mine. The server was right, the coffee was way too hot, so I placed it on the tray in front of me. A few seconds later, my friend Allie, who was sitting in front of me, discovered that her seat could recline. And in just one simple push, she ruined my holiday weekend.
The seat moved, the tray moved, the coffee moved. Toward my lap and straight onto my legs and blue shorts. The pain was delayed at first, but soon I jolted up. My legs were on fire, and I couldn’t put it out. Spitting profanities and wanting to take my pants off, my friends processed the accident and went into help mode. A few rushed me to the bathroom while others searched for ice and gave me another pair of shorts. The older ladies in the bathroom were confused by the whimpering blonde girl, but then gave smiles of encouragement when they realized what had happened.
The rest of the hour-long boat ride was a blur, but I was very aware of the fact that my entire groin area was blistering. When the IFSA chaperones found me in the bathroom, they were quick to find me cream, ice, and ibuprofen. As we docked in Colonia, they supported me when I limped out of the boat. We met Mario at the gate and he ushered Victoria, one of the IFSA staff, and I into a taxi to go to the emergency room. I tried to remain calm, but tiny blisters were beginning to form on my thighs. Luckily, the doctors realized my situation so they took me to an examination room while Victoria offered to sign me in with my passport.
Looking back, I don’t think about my legs and I instead focus on the moment that followed the pain: the moment that made me realize how thankful I was.
While the Colonia emergency room was small, their staff size was not. Eight nurses and doctors entered my room one after the other to check out my burn accident, and all offered their sympathy. “You won’t be able to swim or be in the sun, since your body needs to heal,” the doctor said. I realized then that my dreams of a beach weekend were over. I thanked the doctors for taking care of me and paid for the medical visit. I met Victoria to take another cab over to Mario’s house to rejoin the group for our highly-anticipated Thanksgiving meal.
I was in quite a sour mood during the thirty minute drive. I had second degree burns on my legs from a coffee accident! Coffee! How could this have happened? Why hadn’t I taken more care with the hot coffee when I had bought it? Why had I even bought coffee in the first place? I was frustrated with myself because this sort of accident wasn’t supposed to happen when I was abroad. I didn’t have my parents, I wasn’t in my normal hospital system, and the doctors hadn’t spoken English.
Victoria tried to cheer me up as much as possible by talking about our private cab and our “glamorous” late arrival. But as soon as we arrived at Mario’s beautiful house, with lemon trees for miles, the pain and anger left my body. My friends handed me a lemonade and asked if I survived dealing with the emergency room in Spanish. By this time, my scary emergency incident was behind me and I was ready to dig in to some turkey and stuffing. As we took our seats (I sat down quite carefully) in Mario’s gazebo, I couldn’t believe I felt so calm in what could have been a very horrible medical experience away from home.
Looking back on that difficult Thanksgiving morning accident on the ferry, I don’t think about my legs and I instead focus on the moment that followed the pain: the moment that made me realize how thankful I was. I was thankful for the IFSA staff, who all ended up giving up parts of their weekend to bring me to the emergency room for gauze changes. I was thankful to my friends who sat with me in the shade when I couldn’t swim at the beach in Uruguay. I’m thankful to the doctors, who took care of my injured body when I felt most vulnerable. But most of all, I’m thankful for my study abroad experience that taught me how to automatically speak Spanish in times of stress, that accustomed me to expect the unexpected, and that inspired me to keep seeking adventure and challenge around the world.
Linnea Cederberg is an International Business student at the University of Pennsylvania and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2014.